From the Shelf
Setting the Scene, Acting Like People
"I would not change the beginning for anything," Darcy O'Brien writes in A Way of Life, Like Any Other (NYRB Classics), quasi-fictionally describing his 1950s childhood as the son of fading Hollywood movie actors. "Oh what a world it was! Was there ever so pampered an ass as mine?"
It gets much darker after that, but I kept thinking about O'Brien as I read Linn Ullmann's novel Unquiet (Norton), in which the daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman conjures a family dynamic: "I was her child and his child, but considering that they, too, wanted to be children, things sometimes got a little difficult."
Then there's the silent daughter of a successful theater actress in Linda Boström Knausgård's novel Welcome to America, translated by Martin Aitken (World Editions): "I was always quiet before, at the theatre, too. Mum was annoyed by it, but there was so much for her to do that it got lost in everything else."
Or... "Of themselves, Jane and Serge would never have given up more than they wanted.... Their daughter Charlotte never let a paparazzo penetrate the mystery of her chronic shyness," Véronique Mortaigne writes in Je T'aime: The Legendary Love Story of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg (Icon Books).
For an essay recently collected in I Used to Be Charming (NYRB Classics), Eve Babitz had interviewed Jackie Collins about her novel Hollywood Kids (1994): "The truth is, Collins feels sorry for Hollywood kids," Babitz writes. "A great sadness seems to hang over their decadent little monster heads--the result of never really getting to see their parents or feeling they can never match their parents' success, all while being raised in the lap of luxury. What fascinates her is the knowledge that, though the world envies these kids, they themselves realize what a sour prize celebrity is."
By the way, I love all of these books. The End. --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Leigh Bardugo
YA powerhouse Leigh Bardugo does not disappoint in her adult debut, in which one young woman fights to unravel a conspiracy among Yale's magical secret societies.
by Laura Ruby
Against the (distant) backdrops of World War I and World War II, a ghost and an orphan buck norms in this blend of YA historical fiction and fantasy.
The pieces in The Collector of Leftover Souls give an idiosyncratic look at the people of Brazil, forced to deal with the collateral damage of their rapidly modernizing nation.
Review by Subjects:
10/20/2019 - 2:00PMThe Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips, a Health Book Talk & Signing Alexis Brink is the president of Jin Shin Institute in New York City and has been a practitioner of the Art of Jin Shin since 1991. She will discuss and sign The Art of Jin Shin: The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips ($19.99 Tiller Press). Balance your body, mind, and spirit with your own hands using this clear, step-by-step illustrated guide to the practice of the...
10/21/2019 - 7:00PMA Mystery Book Talk & Signing Author Scott Thomas will discuss and sign Violet ($17.99 Inkshares). For many children, the summer of 1988 was filled with sunshine and laughter. But for ten-year-old Kris Barlow, it was her chance to say goodbye to her dying mother. Three decades later, loss returns--her husband is killed in a car accident and Kris goes home to the place where she first knew pain. It's there that Kris and her eight-year-old daughter will make a stand against...
10/21/2019 - 7:00PMMusicians Getting Away with Murder and Behaving Very Badly, a Music History Book Talk & Signing Jake Brennan is a Boston-based musician who launched, Disgraceland, "a rock 'n' roll true crime podcast" in 2018 to great acclaim. He will discuss and sign Disgraceland: Musicians Getting Away with Murder and Behaving Very Badly ($28.00 Grand Central Publishing). This is an off-kilter, hysterical, and at times macabre book from the highly entertaining underbelly of...
10/21/2019 - 7:00PMHow Emme the Australian Terrier Changed My Life When I Needed It Most, an Animal Book Talk & Signing Rick Crandall is a writer, entreprenuer, an avid mountain climber, cyclist, and skier. He has documented his activities in blogs and print publications. Crandall will discuss and sign The Dog Who Took Me Up a Mountain: How Emme the Australian Terrier Changed My Life When I Needed It Most ($15.95 Health Communications). This is the uplifting story of two unlikely...
10/22/2019 - 12:30PMThirty years ago, China’s human rights issues were showcased to the world by the bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. Join Active Minds as we look at how modern China’s economic growth has often come at the expense of human rights. We will highlight the ways in which the Chinese has repressed political dissent, as well as ways in which ethnic minorities have been negatively impacted. For information on Active Minds go to www.activeminds.com. PDF of the ...
10/23/2019 - 7:00PMAn Illustrated History of Women and the Movies, a Film History Book Talk & Signing Jill Tietjen is the co-author of Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. Barbara Bridges founded Women+Film, a program in partnership with the Denver Film Society. They will discuss and sign Hollywood: Her Story, an Illustrated History of Women and the Movies ($35.00 Lyons Press). With more than 1200 women featured in the book, you will find the movie legends and...
Baseball Star Sean Doolittle Pitches Indie Bookstores
World Series-bound Washington Nationals star reliever Sean Doolittle also pitches regularly for independent bookstores, as he discussed recently on CBS This Morning: Saturday.
"A fifth part of The Tale of Genji, which was completed around 1010 by a woman later named Murasaki Shikibu, has been found in a house in Tokyo," the Guardian reported.
Pop Quiz: "Do you know what languages these words come from?" Merriam-Webster challenged.
Australia's "first published dictionary was dedicated to 'convict slang,' " Atlas Obscura reported.
"The Boston Public Library is offering four free wedding ceremonies," Mental Floss noted.
Rediscover: Every Man Dies AloneEvery Man Dies Alone is the final novel by German author Hans Fallada. Shortly after the end of World War II, Fallada was asked to write an anti-fascist novel to support ongoing denazification efforts. Fallada, who had spent the war in Germany and suffered Nazi prosecution, chose the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel as the basis for his book. The Hampels were working-class parents whose only son died during the invasion of France. They created postcards imploring fellow Germans to resist the Nazis and left them in mailboxes and apartment stairways. Because the contents of the cards were potentially a capital crime, most who found them promptly turned them over to the Gestapo. The Hampels were eventually betrayed and sentenced to death by infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler. Fallada included reproductions of several Hampel postcards in Every Man Dies Alone, bearing slogans such as "Mother! The Führer has murdered my son. Mother! The Führer will murder your sons too."
Hans Fallada (1893-1947) wrote Every Man Dies Alone in 24 days and died just weeks before its publication. His relatively early death at age 53 was caused by morphine addiction, alcohol abuse, financial stress and multiple stays in insane asylums. During a stint in a Nazi asylum, Fallada used a real but long and deliberately delayed assignment from Joseph Goebbels to receive paper. Instead of the ordered anti-Semitic piece, he wrote an autobiographical novel called The Drinker in overlapping text to avoid detection. Fallada's work was popular in Germany and several other European countries, but remained obscure in the English-speaking world until 2009, when Melville House published translations of Little Man, What Now?, The Drinker and Every Man Dies Alone. On September 10, Melville House released a 10th-anniversary edition of Every Man Dies Alone ($18.99, 9781612198262). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Akilah Hughes, Obviously
|photo: Natasha Janardan|
Akilah Hughes is a writer, comedian and YouTuber, residing in Los Angeles, Calif. She's been a digital correspondent for MTV, HBO, Fusion, Comedy Central and more. Her comedic YouTube channel, It's Akilah, Obviously!, has more than 150,000 subscribers and her collection of personal essays, Obviously: Stories from My Timeline, is now available from Razorbill ($17.99).
You're a comedian, writer, correspondent for Pod Save America, YouTuber and more. Would you tell our readers a little bit about your journey to this point?
I'm originally from Kentucky and, during my first week of undergrad, which was probably halfway through my Internet-life, Facebook let our campus on the platform. I had spent years prior on Neopets, Livejournal, Myspace, etc., and only a few months after joining Facebook, I joined YouTube. Long story short: after always being a fan of Oprah and going to college with the express goal of copying her major and minor (Broadcasting and Theater), I saw the Lonely Island's "Lazy Sunday" video on YouTube. It was the first majorly viral, not-animated video that seemed made especially for the Internet. Once that happened, I knew that getting my hands on a camera and teaching myself to edit was going to be my way to be Oprah. I am from a very small suburb, and having exactly zero connections in Hollywood, this was my strategy for making a portfolio.
So I made videos. I made A TON of videos. And then I graduated college and made more videos. Then I moved to Orlando and made fewer videos--but still made videos. I moved back home to Kentucky/Cincinnati and made more videos, and then I moved to New York City and continued to make videos while also taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in improv and sketch. Within a year and a half of living in New York, I had a video go viral: Meet Your First Black Girlfriend, a guide for dating black women and not embarrassing them or yourself. That video led to a writing and acting offer from MTV for their original web series division and after that I started freelancing for every outlet you can think of--2013-2016 was a golden era for independent creators. In 2017, Crooked Media reached out to me about contributing and I was super hyped because I love Pod Save and Lovett or Leave It. After flying around the country to do their shows for a year, they finally popped the question: "Will you be on HBO with us?" And I was like, "I THOUGHT YOU'D NEVER ASK." The journey to that was long and winding, and still it feels like it's only the beginning.
Have you always wanted to write? What made you want to write this book in particular?
I always loved reading, but high school essays really killed my love of writing. I was just writing for a grade and never about a topic that interested me. When the Internet and blogging got really good, I had a little bit of an itch to do it.
The book came about in a pretty untraditional way. I had lunch with my friend and now-editor and her boss, and it was just a casual lunch. About a week later, I had coffee with another Penguin team member and they were like, "So what's your book?" and I was like, "Um, huh?" So, I started writing up a few ideas for the way the book could be, and they told me to give it a shot.
Why did you want to write for a young adult audience?
Most of the stories in this book are about growing up in a place where I didn't feel my experience reflected, and having to forge my own path. I think younger people understand and appreciate stories like that more: the idea of trying to make things you love that don't currently exist. I also don't think of this book as a memoir (though John Green's absolutely lovely blurb disagrees) as much as I consider it lessons learned and advice for surviving. Gen Z also understands YouTube and that world more. I was never interested in convincing adults that YouTube is legitimate as a career or as a form of entertainment, and if Donald Glover, Justin Bieber and Lilly Singh had a hard time breaking into the mainstream, why did I think I could do something different? I think it would have been a much more defensive and explain-y book if it hadn't been YA.
Were there any particularly positive takeaways from your experience writing the book? Anything that sticks out to you as being fun or interesting or joyful?
When I finally got over telling people that I was writing a book (I was definitely worried for a long time that people would think, "why does SHE get to write a book?" and "how can a 20-something tell anybody anything?"), I found that it was easier to be honest in my writing and feel less self-conscious or less consumed with how other people might perceive it. I found a very peculiar kind of peace--I want people to love the book, but I won't be destroyed if they don't because I'm proud that I finished it. This must be how marathon runners feel. They're not competing for first place (well, most aren't), they're competing with their own will to finish.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I want people who feel different from the people in their town, in their school, in their family, to feel like there's a path for them to be happy. Growing up in a small place with little diversity, every day was a fight to feel good enough, like I wasn't so weird or that my aspirations weren't too far from the mainstream. I wanted to fit in so bad. And now everyone I worried about judging my online life and my outspokenness has gushed over my Internet career. They can't believe I "get to be friends" with some of the wonderful people who also do what I do. You just have to try hard and trust yourself. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
by Jon Clinch
"Marley was dead: to begin with," as Charles Dickens wrote in the opening line of A Christmas Carol, but as a matter of logic there must have been a time in Scrooge's life when he was not. In Marley, Jon Clinch (Belzoni Dreams of Egypt) imagines a hostile partnership, one that makes Scrooge's fortune and forges the chains that bound the first ghost who visited him in the classic story. From the time they meet in school, Marley shows a talent for persuasion and deception while Scrooge's gifts lie with managing the financial books. Their shipping company prospers while they skirt legality, but Scrooge's beloved Belle Fairchild, a member of a family of dedicated abolitionists, will not marry him so long as Scrooge and Marley deal in the slave trade. Even as the date for the trade to be outlawed in England approaches and eventually passes, Marley resists giving up the business, and he and Scrooge enter a shadow war to ruin the other while protecting their own assets.
Clinch's prose, both accessible and old fashioned, delights with sentences such as "The deliveryman has a wooden leg that belongs to him, and a horse and wagon that don't." Readers will be enchanted by the Dickensian atmosphere and style, whether it be a foreboding description of a sordid corner of London or understanding a character in a moment thanks to an aptly chosen name. This novel's humor, warmth and charm demonstrate Clinch's right to build on Dickens's legacy. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Marley offers a clever and atmospheric imagining of the events that might have brought Scrooge to A Christmas Carol.
The Girl at the Door
by Veronica Raimo
The girl of the title visits a pregnant woman and says the woman's partner raped the girl while the girl was his student. No names are provided in Italian author Veronica Raimo's English-language debut, The Girl at the Door. The monikers of Him and Her are applied to the couple, who tell their sides of the story in alternating chapters, and the girl is known simply as Girl.
Girl had a consensual affair with Him two years before he met his partner. The novel is set on an island called Miden, run by a utopian society, and the man is a professor of philosophy. One of the society's ruling commissions has convinced the girl she experienced sexual violence during the relationship, something she wasn't aware of, since the relationship was consensual; she even instigated it. The scandal polarizes the island inhabitants, costs the teacher his job, and causes the couple's banishment from the island.
This is a he-said/she-said saga that's sure to incite debate among readers. There's plenty of blame to go around, too, since the relationship went against island rules, yet no one reported it. Complicating things further is the notion that Him and Her aren't passionately in love but are bound together by the impending birth of their child. The method with which the community gathers evidence involving the scandal threatens to ruin their utopia.
Raimo's novel brilliantly examines jealousies, sexual proclivities and gender prejudices, making The Girl at the Door a powerful and timeless statement. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: Accusations of rape threaten a couple's livelihood on a utopian island in this incisive modern parable.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Leigh Bardugo
A drop-out, former drug user and the lone survivor of a brutal multiple murder, 20-year-old Galaxy "Alex" Stern may look like a typical freshman, but she's nothing like her sheltered, carefully cultivated classmates. Recruited for her ability to see ghosts, Alex works for Lethe, the organization that oversees Yale's Ancient Eight secret societies and the arcane rituals they use to garner power and shape futures. While an Ivy League education in the arcane sounds like a dream, Alex finds the reality more difficult than expected. She's failing her classes, the local ghosts have grown aggressive and her mentor, Darlington, a courtly senior student, recently vanished in a mysterious accident. When a local girl is found stabbed to death, clues point to the Ancient Eight, and Alex forms alliances both uneasy and otherworldly to seek the truth.
Hogwarts has nothing on Bardugo's alternate version of Yale. With its thriller-velocity pacing, Ninth House's strength lies in the blend of dark fantasy with real-world college worries like failed exams, empty bank accounts and on-campus sexual assault. Prickly Alex will win fans with her competence and no-nonsense attitude, and Bardugo's occult world is nothing short of engrossing. Although the murder mystery reaches a resolution, the conclusion leaves Alex and her allies poised to take a dangerous leap into a dark unknown in a sure-to-be coveted sequel. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: YA powerhouse Leigh Bardugo does not disappoint in her adult debut, in which one young woman fights to unravel a conspiracy among Yale's magical secret societies.
Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps
by David Heatley
In his second illustrated memoir, graphic artist David Heatley lays bare his family's fascinating struggles with 12-step programs. Though the premise of Qualification may seem farcical, Heatley infuses his story with candid, often unflattering, analysis of how he found himself completely dependent on not one but many recovery programs, despite not being addicted to anything.
His mother and father are the first to find solace in programs like Debtors Anonymous, Al-Anon (for those dealing with alcoholics in their lives) and Overeaters Anonymous. Eventually, they convince Heatley to try a few himself. For lack of a better phrase, he quickly gets hooked. As he explores the euphoric highs and existential crashes of these programs, it becomes apparent that Heatley's newfound outlets of self-exploration risk alienating him from his (extremely understanding) wife and two young children.
Heatley's "warts and all" approach to storytelling can be traced back to his first book, My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down. While that work chronicled Heatley's sexual history in detail, Qualification actually documents the period the artist spent working on that book--and his subsequent disappointment when U.S. sales fell well short of expectations. There should be no repeat this time, as this memoir is a masterful inventory of a life lived in search of intangible purpose. It's difficult material, but the message is striking: whomever we may choose to put our power in, we must start with faith in ourselves. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer
Discover: Acclaimed artist David Heatley delivers a heavy but self-revelatory examination of 12-step programs and the nature of addiction.
Biography & Memoir
When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People
by Jeannie Gaffigan
Jeannie Gaffigan is a director, producer and comedy writer, who may be less well known than her husband, comedian Jim Gaffigan, but who is equally funny and dedicated. In 2017, they were in the thick of coordinating the filming of a movie, Jim's busy travel schedule for his comedy tours, and the lives of their five children, when, to her horror, Jeannie discovered that she had a pear-shaped tumor in her brain.
Jeannie had been overlooking strange symptoms--tingling feet, dizziness--chalking it up to being exhausted as the working mother of five. But when her children's pediatrician noticed her struggling to hear, she recommended that Jeannie see an ENT, which led Jeannie quickly down the path to emergency brain surgery.
Funny and insightful, When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People is Jeannie's thoughtful look at how circumstances aligned to get her into surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital and then home again to her beloved family. Her recovery took months, but Jeannie, a devout Catholic, sees the hand of God in her journey, which changed her family and marriage for the better.
With vivid writing, funny stories and many pictures, including a hilarious one of Jim passed out in the waiting room during one of her brain scans, When Life Gives You Pears offers an irresistible glimpse into the chaotic, loving world of the Gaffigans. Fans of the Gaffigans, those who enjoy faith-filled memoirs and anyone rooting for a mother to overcome impossible odds will love what Jeannie brings to the table. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this funny memoir, Jeannie Gaffigan reflects on how a pear-shaped brain tumor changed her life.
Stealing Green Mangoes: Two Brothers, Two Fates, One Indian Childhood
by Sunil Dutta
"Sir, what is your last name.... Do you belong to a street gang?" This isn't the typical way for a police officer to approach a man on a city street, but Sunil Dutta isn't a typical cop. He comes from academia with a Ph.D. in plant biology, a scientist who decides to join the Los Angeles Police Department because he hopes to help make it more "humane."
Although his background is scholarly, Dutta is from a country that was forced to split in two, born to parents who had fled into India from Pakistan. The world he grew up in was filled with violence and poverty, a place that he and his older brother Raju escaped through two dissimilar forms of luck.
Raju attracted a wealthy aristocrat who adopted him and provided him with a luxurious life--until the day he was disowned and cast aside. Dutta met an American girl and they became friends; they fell in love and married in the United States.
On these separate paths the two brothers' lives diverge, with one leading to dishonesty and murder, the other to happiness and success. "What could explain why our decisions and lives turned out to be so different?" is Dutta's prevailing question, which takes on greater urgency when his doctor presents him with a fatal diagnosis.
Author of several books and co-translator (with his father-in-law, Robert Bly) of poems by the Urdu poet Ghalib, Dutta brings a sharp and painful candor to a memoir that serves as his obituary. He died of cancer in 2019, soon after completing Stealing Green Mangoes. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: Sunil Dutta explores what makes one brother turn to crime while the other becomes an intellectual member of the LAPD in his memoir of two lives that drifted worlds apart.
Essays & Criticism
The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil's Everyday Insurrections
by Eliane Brum , trans. by Diane Grosklaus Whitty
Eliane Brum's The Collector of Leftover Souls collects profiles and reported pieces that pay close attention to the thoughts, feelings and voices of ordinary Brazilians--and bring to mind Nobel-winner Svetlana Alexievich's work. Despite the country's size and large population, Brum notes in the introduction that "whenever I visit an English-speaking country, I notice Brazil doesn't exist for most of you. Or exists only in the stereotype of Carnival and soccer. Favelas, butts, and violence." Readers will be introduced to a vastly richer country, riddled with contradictions and serious social problems, but also home to inventive, resilient people whose "life is spun from the thread of the extraordinary."
The Collector of Leftover Souls includes short articles Brum wrote in 1999 for her newspaper column "The Life No One Sees." These brief profiles--most only a few pages long--are scattered throughout the collection. They sketch the lives of a poor man struggling to bury his young son; a would-be gaucho who rides a broomstick instead of a horse; a poor, black, disabled woman named Eva who overcomes every obstacle to finish college; and many more. The collection puts particular focus on the victims of so-called progress--the economic modernization that has made Brazil a global player. The stories also showcase Brum's lyricism, perhaps a surprising quality for a reporter.
While Brum does not shy away from the violence and poverty that sometimes overshadow Brazil's reputation, her talent is in profiling and humanizing people who are too often treated as an undifferentiated mass. In the process, she honors their pursuit of joy and justice--their everyday insurrections. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine
Discover: The pieces in The Collector of Leftover Souls give an idiosyncratic look at the people of Brazil, forced to deal with the collateral damage of their rapidly modernizing nation.
Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry
by Robert Jay Lifton
Preeminent psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton has spent much of his long professional life studying extremes of human behavior. In Losing Reality, he revisits that material through an assortment of subjects--among them Chinese thought reform in the era of Mao Zedong, the Japanese terrorist cult Aum Shinrikyō and Nazi doctors--and updating it with fresh commentary on this unfortunately timely topic.
Grouping these manifestations of "ideological totalism and cultlike behavior" under the label "cultism," Lifton (Witness to an Extreme Century) singles out the "particularly dangerous proclivity of the human mind for extremism." Though that tendency manifested itself in different ways in the massive and deadly project that was Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and in the apocalyptic vision of Aum Shinrikyō's leader Shōkō Asahara, who masterminded a deadly sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, Lifton makes a persuasive case that the underlying impulses of these gurulike leaders and their enraptured followers were frighteningly similar. For all the depravity reflected in these accounts, the most controversial section of Losing Reality may be the brief one on Donald Trump, whose "cultism," Lifton argues, is "inseparable from his solipsistic reality."
As one would hope from a capable physician, Lifton offers at least a tentative remedy. Drawing on a piece first published in 1993, he points to the need to develop the "protean self," what he calls "a view of the self as always in process... resilient rather than fixed." Given the dire consequences of the zealots' ideologies chronicled in his book, it's fair to ask whether there's any other rational choice. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: Robert Jay Lifton returns to his classic works on the dangers of extremist cults and updates them with new material.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants
by Bill Bryson
For 30 years, Bill Bryson (One Summer; A Walk in the Woods) has delighted readers with witty travelogues, explorations of English on both sides of the Atlantic and in-depth surveys ranging from the history of the home to the history of nearly, well, everything. In The Body, Bryson now turns inward to examine what makes us tick.
With comprehensive research and a sense of wonder, Bryson relays anatomic trivia both familiar and surprising. The sparks you see after looking at bright light are white blood cells passing before your retina. The heart pumps more gallons of blood each day than gallons of gas you put in your car in a year. We likely breathe oxygen molecules from everyone who has ever lived ("at the atomic level, we are in a sense eternal"). Bryson considers the unintended consequences of evolution: the skeletal adjustments made in order to walk upright have made human childbirth longer and more painful than it is for our fellow mammals; bipedalism also lengthened and repositioned our throats, which gave us the capacity for speech but also made humans susceptible to choking. Remarkably, despite tremendous advances in medicine, there is much we still don't know: What really causes asthma? Why do women digest foods more slowly than men? Why do our eyes move during REM sleep? Why do women retain only a fraction of the six million eggs they produce.
Sobering and contradictory facts about our lifestyles abound. Medicine has extended the length of our lives, but to a point of diminishing returns, and children today may reverse the trend and live shorter lives than their parents. But Bryson's journey nevertheless illustrates the expanding and astounding universe that exists within us all. --Frank Brasile, selection librarian, writer, editor
Discover: Bill Bryson's head-to-toe examination of the human body will leave readers to ponder fascinating facts on every page.
The Making of You: The Incredible Journey from Cell to Human
by Katharina Vestre
Katharina Vestre, a doctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo, talks directly to readers. In The Making of You: The Incredible Journey from Cell to Human, she recounts how cells create complex human life. She makes clear her desire to "tell you about the beginning of your life" as she explains intricate biological processes in concise prose.
Most adults understand how an egg is fertilized, but facts like "the sperm is equipped with a basic sense of smell... odorant receptors catch molecules streaming from the egg, confirming that it is on the right path" are eye-opening. Vestre relates some unusual historical misunderstandings about reproductive processes (no, people aren't miniature versions of themselves within the womb) before providing relevant facts. Embryonic development depends on an extraordinary number of factors occurring at exact times and sequences. How is it, for example, that a thumb develops differently from the finger next to it? Vestre unravels what must happen and when, remarking, "even a worm needs genes to make sure its head is different from its tail."
At the end of a nine-month process, an unborn child's hormones change their message from "Not yet, to Let's go." Vestre's chapter on the birth process achieves high drama. And birth, she believes, is really the beginning of a life story. She asks readers, "And what happens next? You know more about that than me." This compact volume is an unconventional, entertaining look at the science of reproduction, perfect for those curious about their biological beginnings. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: This concise, thoroughly referenced book clearly and playfully explains the marvelous biological process of reproduction.
Children's & Young Adult
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
by Laura Ruby
"Half-orphans" placed in the care of nuns after their mother's death, 14-year-old Frankie and her siblings eagerly await their father's biweekly visits. But when her father leaves Chicago with his new wife and takes only her brother along, Frankie "want[s] to be a boy. She want[s] to be someone somebody want[s]."
This "resigned sort of wisdom" troubles Pearl, the ghost narrating Frankie's story. Pearl watches Frankie become "both more careful and more reckless," which reminds her of her own wildness before she died of the flu in 1918, World War I's final year. "Scandalous," "shameless" and always "disheveled and damp" from adventuring, 17-year-old Pearl disgraced her family, who swore she'd scare off any husband. Pearl knew whom she wanted to marry, though: the forbidden boy willing to chase her through the woods. Out of sight of the nuns' judgmental eyes, Frankie finds the same kind of boy--one whose smile makes her feel "like a mermaid spat onto shore, half naked, tail thrashing." Pearl, even as she hopes to "become an angel" and "leave this place," sticks with Frankie through World War II, witnessing tragedies similar to those she experienced barely three decades before. As Pearl begins to question her memories of her death, Frankie is shuttled back home to her father, and both must figure out how to fit into a world that only "want[s] girls to be sorry."
Whether flouting or flaunting their sexuality, the young women in Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All try to take control of their futures in a society bent on dictating how women should behave. With the same literary finesse exercised in her Printz-winning Bone Gap, Laura Ruby portrays women throwing open as many doors as they can, prepared to face whatever's on the other side. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: Against the (distant) backdrops of World War I and World War II, a ghost and an orphan buck norms in this blend of YA historical fiction and fantasy.
The Good Luck Girls
by Charlotte Nicole Davis
In the country of Arketta, young, desperate girls are sold by families that cannot afford them into halfway houses that promise comfort and delight--then raise them like lambs to the slaughter.
When Clementine and her older sister, Aster, were sold as Good Luck Girls to the Green Creek "welcome house," they were marked with a "favor": a cursed flower tattoo designed to blossom on their 16th birthday. The blossoming marks their "Lucky Night," when girls are deemed ready to entertain "brags" (male guests). Aster, whose Lucky Night was "a little over a year ago," has been working as a "sundown girl" and dreading the day when Clementine has to "become a woman." Aster doesn't feel like a woman--she feels like "a shade with bile for blood and a well of shame in her heart." But Clementine is excited to turn 16 and enter into the apparently luxurious world of the sundown girls. The illusions she has are crushed on her Lucky Night, when her first brag, a surly and violent man, makes it all too clear what is expected of a sundown girl; Clementine kills him in self-defense. In an attempt to save her sister's life from the death sentence she will face, Aster enlists a group of housemates to plan an escape. The Good Luck Girls go on a quest to rid themselves of their favors--thus gaining their freedom--and find justice (and revenge) along the way.
Charlotte Nicole Davis's engrossing debut, The Good Luck Girls, depicts an exhilarating journey that tackles dark issues. Set in a singular fantasy world, this novel offers commentaries on disparities of class and gender, as well as power structures, as it tells a story of strength, overcoming adversity and the power of sisterhood. --Tasneem Daud, blogger and booktuber, Nemo Reads
Discover: In the world of The Good Luck Girls, where young, underprivileged girls are marked with a curse and sold to "welcome houses," five young women fight for freedom.
by Brittany Luby , illust. by Michaela Goade
Using French explorer Jacques Cartier's journal as inspiration, Canadian historian and Anishinaabekwe Brittany Luby imagines the 16th-century meeting of a French sailor and a Stadaconan fisherman. Despite superficial differences like clothing, food and hair length, nature's creatures spy the mens' deep commonalities. They eat, swim and play together, their harmonious introduction needing no words, as the wildlife so keenly observes: " 'You are not so different,' squawked Seagull, who flew overhead. 'You both cast long shadows.' " As the two humans chase beluga whales along the shoreline, the aquatic mammals note, "You'd make a strong pod."
Luby shows her readers through playful, engaging text how choices can result in peace and prosperity even when there seem to be immense differences between individuals. Her stunning use of nature is a captivating reminder that point of view plays a significant role in what one sees (or doesn't see), noting that it's always worth looking from a new vantage point.
This rich story is made even more vibrant by the dazzling mixed-media illustrations of Tlingit citizen Michaela Goade (Shanyaak'utlaax: Salmon Boy). Her radiant colors and strong textures draw the eye and her changing perspectives mirror Luby's theme. Portraying the men's relationship from the sky like the seagull or from below like the mouse, viewing the men as a tasty treat like the mosquito or as comfortable in their own skin like the crab, the detailed art reinforces the value of viewpoint and heightens the beauty of this encounter in a way that will certainly delight young audiences. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: When cultures collide in 16th-century North America, nature's inhabitants observe as a sailor and a fisherman bond despite their differences.