From the Shelf
Armchair Travel: Destination New Orleans
Who needs beads and a parade? Celebrate Mardi Gras this year with a some great books set in the Big Easy.
Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table (W.W. Norton, $15.95) by Sara Roahen is a fascinating memoir about the food, history, people and culture of New Orleans. Roahen delves into red beans and rice, the influence of the Vietnamese community, Mardi Gras, turducken and more in a way that is perfect for both armchair travelers and those planning to visit the Crescent City.
Ruta Sepetys is best known for her two acclaimed World War II YA novels, Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea, but Out of the Easy (Speak, $10.99) is set in 1950s New Orleans. Josie, the 17-year-old daughter of a prostitute, dreams of escaping the dark underbelly of the French Quarter to attend an elite college. Sepetys has created a compelling story and vivid portrayal of New Orleans at that time for both teen and adult readers.
The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder (Harper Perennial, $14.99) by Rebecca Wells, author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, provides a colorful picture of life in southern Louisiana that will have you both laughing and crying. Calla Lily enjoys an idyllic rural childhood with her beloved mother, who "fixes hair," until tragedy hits and she heads to New Orleans.
Nevada Barr is well known for her top-notch series of mysteries starring National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon. In Burn (St. Martin's Press, $9.99), Anna is visiting a friend who works at the Jazz National Historical Park in New Orleans when suspicious things begin happening. The unusual culture of the post-Katrina city is an integral part of the chilling story. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and blogger at Book By Book
In this Issue...
by Hugh Ryan
Thorough research, engaging storytelling, fascinating stories and a history of obscurity make this investigation of queer Brooklyn a compelling, essential read.
by Heather Anderson
Walk alongside one of the fastest long-distance hikers in the country as she completes the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail in record time--and discovers her own truth along the way.
by Julie Berry
Greek gods and tragic, beautifully imperfect mortals populate this masterful young adult novel about love, war, racism, music, fate, miracles and quiet heroism.
Review by Subjects:
09/28/2020 - 6:00PMWhat: We're hosting a virtual event with Garth Nix for his new book The Left-Handed Booksellers of London. This ticketed event will take place on Zoom. Attendees will receive a signed bookplate, a limited edition pin, a copy of the book and a chance to ask Garth questions about his book. When: Monday, September 28, 2020, 6:00pm This is a ticketed virtual event and seats are limited. In order to attend, please purchase a copy of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London from Blue Willow...
09/29/2020 - 5:00PMWhat: Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney will appear in conversation with Brandy Colbert to discuss their new book Loretta Little Looks Back. This event will take place on Blue Willow's Facebook Live stream. When: Tuesday, September 29, 2020, 5:00pm CDT We work hard to bring events to our community for free, because connecting readers with authors is central to our mission. But these programs are not free for us to put on! If you’re interested in attending...
"Check out our favorite tattoos inspired by books," Electric Lit suggested.
Headline of the Day (via KHOU-11 Houston): "Former first lady Michelle Obama meets local book club for brunch after Instagram invite."
Ponden Hall, "the home said to have inspired Wuthering Heights," is for sale, according to the Yorkshire Post.
"Some of these phrases have magnetism," Merriam-Webster noted in sharing "7 phrases that are just so metal."
Atlas Obscura delved "inside the Belgian library that tore itself apart."
Rediscover: The Godfather
Mario Puzo's The Godfather turns 50 on March 10. This thing of his, especially the 1972 film adaptation, is the Don of American crime fiction. The Sopranos and Goodfellas, among uncountable other works, owe their existence to Puzo's depiction of Italian-American gangsters. Even words such as consigliere, caporegime, Cosa Nostra and omertà were unknown to most Americans before The Godfather. Both Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola adapted the book into a screenplay (for which they shared an Oscar). The film version of The Godfather is considered among the greatest movies of all time. Its sequels, Parts II and III, also included contributions from Puzo.
Puzo drew heavily on the real history of New York's Five Families and their associates. Vito Corleone is based on crime bosses Frank Costello and Carlo Gambino, and Johnny Fontane on Frank Sinatra. Puzo was also inspired by Honoré de Balzac's novel Le Père Goriot (1835), from which came The Godfather's epigraph: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime." Today Berkley is releasing a 50th-anniversary edition of The Godfather with a new introduction by Francis Ford Coppola. It's an offer you can't refuse. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Andrea Bartz: Ripped from Real Life
|photo: Kate Lord|
Andrea Bartz is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Self. The Lost Night (Crown, $27) is her first novel.
As a freelance writer, you've written about a range of topics, e.g. relationships, travel, health. When considering your first novel, what made you decide to write a mystery?
I've always loved reading them, so I thought I'd try my hand at writing one. While I was flailing around for a premise, I happened upon some old e-mails and texts from my early 20s, and they reminded me how goddamn social we all were back then--how we felt the need to do something Big and Memorable every single night.
I never lived in Brooklyn's McKibbin Lofts, but it felt like the nerve center of that scene back in the late-naughts, a spot where you could reliably find parties and concerts and interesting characters. It was this close-knit, closed-door world, and I wondered: What if, after one of those wild, sprawling Friday nights, everyone woke up hungover and bleary-eyed... and there was a dead body? The Lost Night grew out of that premise.
The setting and characters are vivid. Are they based on real people or experiences?
Thanks for saying that! And thank you for not asking if Lindsay, the protagonist, is me, which is a question I keep getting. As a fiction writer, I did this crazy thing where I made someone up. That said, did I go to some wild parties and concerts and meet a myriad of colorful characters and drink a lot of picklebacks and play a lot of Jenga in beer-smelling bars in 2009? You bet I did.
I loved writing the nightlife scenes because so many of the details, including the outlandish ones, were ripped from real life. I wanted to capture that sense of invincibility and wild, boundless fun you can have in your early 20s, when you think the world is yours--there was no question in our minds that we would talk our way backstage or get free shots or befriend the celebrity sulking in the corner. We absolutely expected the extraordinary. I don't have the energy to pursue that kind of thing any more, but it sure was fun while it lasted.
This is your debut novel. Walk us through your path to publication.
I started writing The Lost Night for NaNoWriMo in 2014, when 2009 nostalgia was decidedly not a thing. I produced a spectacularly horrible first draft in about six months, then spent 18 months turning it into something coherent. I queried agents in late 2016, just by sending my stuff into the slush pile. I simply researched and queried agents whose work I loved and admired. I was lucky to get three offers of representation within a few weeks, and I signed with the wonderful Alexandra Machinist (who reps Tomi Adeyemi, Kevin Kwan and many other stunners) at the end of that year.
She took the manuscript out on submission in February , and we got a lot of nos. The market for psychological suspense with unreliable female narrators is a crowded one, and many editors were nervous the book, as it was, might not stand out. But two editors had revise-and-resubmit requests, and I went to town tearing my novel apart yet again and taking it to the next level. It was terrifying--I was fully aware that, after all that work, they could still pass. But the new version was smarter and snappier, and thankfully my editor at Crown, the inimitable Hilary Teeman, made an offer shortly after we resubmitted the revise.
I got the call from my agent just as I was leaving for the gym, and when we hung up, I screamed into my empty apartment. Then, because I wasn't sure what else to do, I... went to the gym. I blasted Hermitude in my headphones and let me tell you, I was a freaking BEAST on the stationary bike that day.
How has your experience as a magazine/freelance writer helped you as a novelist?
I'm a very fast writer and reviser, because I'm used to working against a deadline. I know what questions to ask my editor to pin down what I need to change, and I'm super no-nonsense about it. It's funny--I don't think of myself as particularly thick-skinned, but after working at and writing for women's magazines for over a decade, I don't see a single word of mine as precious. My editor's note will be like, "I think maybe we should move this line up one paragraph for X reason, but it's up to you and you can veto any of my suggestions," and I'm like sure, cool, line moved, done. I'll push back on plot points or bigger things I really care about, but for the most part, I think of writing books as a job--an exceptionally fun and creative and rewarding job, absolutely--but my job is to write and my editor's job is to edit and that's very, very clear to me.
You co-created a blog and co-wrote a book, both called Stuff Hipsters Hate, with Brenna Ehrlich. If a hipster were reviewing Lost Night, what would the review say?
This question makes me laugh because I can't help but picture a stereotypical circa-2009 bike messenger/dog walker/playwright/DJ-type reading it in McCarren Park while sipping a massive takeout margarita from Turkey's Nest Tavern. They would probably hate it because that demographic defaulted to hatred as a way to signal smug superiority, right?
That's an over-the-top stereotype, of course. With The Lost Night, I really wanted to make the gang of artsy 20-somethings realistic and layered, because no human is pure stereotype. Lindsay and her gang of merry hepcats had hopes and dreams and aspirations and futures, and they made mistakes and kept secrets while also showing deep love and loyalty. If you find the characters insufferable simply because they go to warehouse parties and drink a lot of PBR, maybe... you're the hates-on-everything hipster.
Ultimately, I didn't set out to write a "hipster mystery" (and I definitely didn't set out to restart the debate over the use of the term, yikes). I tried to write a fast-paced, entertaining thriller that accurately captured what it was like to be a young, creative 20-something living in North Brooklyn in 2009, and if that sounds interesting to you, I hope you'll give it a look. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis
Daisy Jones & The Six
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones & The Six opens by noting this is the only official account of the titular band's history and dramatic breakup mid-tour in 1979, an event that has remained a mystery for 40 years. What follows is so realistic and rich in details, readers might forget the band is fictional.
At the start of her career in the early 1970s, Daisy, a wild child and naturally gifted singer, wants to record her own songs, not the pop ditties her reps push on her. Another artist on her label, Billy Dunne, frontman of a rock band called The Six, has written a song his producer says should be a duet with a female vocalist. Like Daisy Jones. She and Billy begrudgingly agree to work together, resulting in combustible chemistry and a hit that begs for more collaboration between the two. When Daisy is invited to join the band, she's a grenade thrown into the mix, and sparks fly, both good and bad.
Reid tells the story through excerpts from interviews with band members and the people caught up in their vortex--she's trimmed all the fat and included only the juiciest morsels. Daisy Jones & The Six is more than sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, though there's plenty of that. It cracks open the creative process and shows how much it costs sometimes to make art that resonates. The songs are described with such ache and raw emotion that readers will wish the band's music were real. Each character springs to life; they're inspiring and tough and messy and heartbreaking. Rock stars--they're just like us. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A documentarian investigates why a rock band suddenly broke up at the height of its popularity in 1979.
A Woman Is No Man
by Etaf Rum
In this heartrending debut novel that will likely be a book club favorite, Palestinian American writer Etaf Rum explores the cloistered yet perilous lives of the women in a Palestinian immigrant family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In 1990, 17-year-old Isra leaves Palestine for Brooklyn with Adam, the husband her parents chose for her. After spending most of her life in her family's kitchen, the sight of New York astonishes Isra. Adam and his overbearing mother, Fareeda, expect her to exemplify the dutiful Arab wife, keeping to the house to cook, clean and raise sons. Meek Isra silently chafes against their expectations while her teenage sister-in-law, Sarah, rebels against Fareeda's attempts to marry her off. Isra bears only daughters, further ratcheting up the household tension.
Eighteen years later, Isra and Adam are dead. Their eldest daughter, Deya, longs to go to college, but Fareeda insists she marry. In the older woman's mind, Deya must keep to the culture and accept that men, not women, have choices. Deya longs to please her family, until she reads an unfinished letter from Isra that makes her question everything she believed about her mother.
In an open letter to readers, Rum has said that while writing this story, she fought her own apprehension about breaking the code of silence that surrounds the Palestinian immigrant community, as well as her fear of adding to stereotypes against it. Luckily for readers, she chose authenticity over caution. Crafted with thoughtfulness and empathy, A Woman Is No Man celebrates resilience and the courage required to speak out against an unjust way of life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Etaf Rum's debut novel shows the impact of female subservience on three generations of Palestinian American women.
Instructions for a Funeral: Stories
by David Means
It's impossible to isolate a single dominant theme in Instructions for a Funeral, the fifth story collection by David Means (Assorted Fire Events). The title selection, however, is as good as any for revealing the distinctive pleasures of his short fiction. In it, the narrator, William Kenner, a real estate developer, in the guise of a meticulously detailed and wickedly funny letter to his lawyer, reveals how his friend Philpot and Sullivan, a New York mobster, swindled him in a real estate deal. Featuring the harrowing description of a mass shooting, two dramatic scenes of rescue and a chilling encounter between Kenner and Sullivan, and the final sentence, "Everything, right now, is safe and cozy," it's a masterly literary juggling act.
Not all of Means's stories are so dramatic. "The Chair" is a stream-of-consciousness account of a stay-at-home father's musings as his son cavorts on a stone wall above the Hudson River, a setting for several other stories. Anyone who's ever wrestled with the balance between love and discipline will appreciate the narrator's ambivalence as he futilely warns a five-year-old boy of the consequences of his daredevil antics. Transgression of a different type is the subject of "The Mighty Shannon," where the protagonist of "The Chair" and his wife, Sharon, a Manhattan lawyer, find themselves in a couples therapist's office confronting the aftermath of their mutual affairs.
Instructions for a Funeral is like the proverbial box of chocolates. Not every story will suit every reader's taste, but there are ample treats here guaranteed to surprise and delight anyone. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: David Means's fifth collection of short stories offers glimpses of some of the trials of human life.
Mystery & Thriller
by Kimi Cunningham Grant
Sheriff John "Red" Redifer is itching to retire from the Fallen Mountains Police Department. But before he can submit his letter of resignation, a woman shows up at the station to report that her boyfriend, Transom Shultz, has been missing for five days.
Chapters offering Red's perspective as he tries to account for Transom's disappearance alternate with chapters from the perspectives of locals who, like Red, know Transom all too well. There's Chase Hardy, who was initially grateful to his longtime friend for buying the Hardy farm after his grandparents died--Chase continues to work and live on the land--but he resents that Transom sold off the property's mineral rights. There's Laney, whose sexual history with Transom has spilled into the too-recent past; she fears that he won't keep the secret from Chase, with whom she has fallen in love. And there's Laney's cousin Possum, who as a teenager tried to kill his stepfather. He also has reason to want to kill Transom, as only Red, still burdened by a hard decision he made years earlier, is aware.
The fracking angle makes Fallen Mountains a topical novel, but its primary concern--whether it's ever conscionable to put family before civic duty--belongs to any era. Kimi Cunningham Grant, a prize-winning poet and the author of the memoir Silver Like Dust, uses marvelous economy to play out this small-town thriller, which is ingeniously plotted to the end; mystery lovers accustomed to a few final pages of languid wrap-up can forget it. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this sure-handed debut suspense novel, several people in a small Pennsylvania town--including the sheriff--have a beef with a man who has gone missing.
Biography & Memoir
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story
by Jacob Tobia
Activist and writer Jacob Tobia is 27, genderqueer and here to blow up the gender binary with Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story. It's a funny, heartbreaking and earnest account of Tobia's early and young adult life, as well as a smart and accessible entry point for readers interested in learning more about transgender experiences.
Tobia, who uses they/their/them pronouns, grew up in a relatively conservative and conventional family in Raleigh, N.C. Assigned male at birth, Tobia was a sensitive, creative and "glitter-obsessed" child who found a kind of freedom with their friend Katie, whose mother let them play dress-up and raid her makeup collection with impunity. Relentlessly bullied for their femininity, Tobia learned to suppress it--and, as a result, became profoundly depressed and even suicidal, which they note is not unusual for a trans child.
While Tobia is candid about difficult experiences like these, Sissy's tone is more entertaining and playful than it is bleak. Aided by plentiful, chatty footnotes, Tobia charts the ongoing evolution of their genderqueer identity with open-hearted vulnerability and a razor-sharp wit. If Sissy has a guiding ethos, it is truth-telling. Tobia's story is not representative of some universal transgender experience, but a testament to, and an affirmation of, the diversity of truths that queer stories contain.
While everyone has something to learn from Sissy, readers new to stories and identities like Tobia's will find this memoir an especially welcoming introduction to the quite simple but still revolutionary notion that there are more than two genders. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
Discover: The often painful, frequently funny and always deeply introspective story of how a young writer and activist came to embrace their genderqueer identity.
When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History
by Hugh Ryan
The idea of Brooklyn, N.Y., having a significant queer history surprises many present residents. But Hugh Ryan, founder of the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, cracks open what looks like a blank slate and finds richness there, beginning with the 1855 publication of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Whitman represents an early association with Brooklyn and with white men who have sex with men (people of color and queer women did not appear in the historical record yet). From here, Ryan covers periods of growing visibility through turn-of-the-century newspapers and the theater; the rise in criminalization and persecution of queers in the 1910s; and the quick expansion of both the queer scene and Brooklyn at large in the 1920s.
The Depression, the end of Prohibition and the Hays movie code brought new strictures on a vibrant world of bars and cruising venues. Mobilization for World War II offered great opportunities for queer people, as men joined the armed forces and women went to work in factories and shipyards like the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Following the war, a societal move toward conservatism, the suburbanization of New York City and the shutdown of Brooklyn's waterfront lead to what Ryan calls "the great erasure" of queer community and history.
Painstaking research and attention to detail highlight the richness and mystery of stories that have been largely hidden until now. Moreover, When Brooklyn Was Queer achieves everything one could want in a history, with its easy-reading narrative, fascinating small events within significant larger ones and personal interest. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: Thorough research, engaging storytelling, fascinating stories and a history of obscurity make this investigation of queer Brooklyn a compelling, essential read.
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago
by Alex Kotlowitz
Chicago has had a reputation for violence and crime since the rise of the mob in the early 20th century. But stories of gangs and menaces to society are rarely illuminating, drawing the people of Chicago in caricature instead of revealing their humanity.
Thankfully, there are writers like Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here), who take up the mantle of telling real stories of the city. An American Summer is a collection of vignettes all taking place during the summer of 2013. Its chapters drop in on people living and working in Chicago, including high school students, former gang leaders and U.S. congressmen. As Kotlowitz puts it, the book is a collection of "dispatches, sketches of those left standing, of those emerging from the rubble, of those trying to make sense of what they've left behind." Nearly every one of his subjects is either the victim or perpetrator of violence. Even some of the book's most high-profile figures, such as Congressman Bobby Rush, have been personally affected by the city's violence. (Rush's son was shot and killed in 1999.)
Kotlowitz has an uncanny rapport with all his subjects, sitting down with them for months or years, learning about their struggles from friends and family and creating a compelling, incredibly readable depiction of their lives. There is pain, death and deep sadness throughout these pages, but also love, forgiveness and new beginnings. Kotlowitz presents life as it is for those living in Chicago: the chaos, tragedy and connections that give life meaning and hope. --Noah Cruickshank, director of communications, Forefront, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Alex Kotlowitz's An American Summer is a tragic, affirming look at the lives of Chicagoans during the summer of 2013.
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home
by Heather Anderson
Heather Anderson, who is known on the trail as "Anish," is one of the fastest long-distance hikers in the United States, setting women's speed records and occasionally smashing men's on some of the country's longest, most grueling trails. She's also completed other famed hiking challenges, and she is an accomplished mountaineer and ultramarathon runner as well.
Despite her achievements and obvious ability, Anderson is a somewhat unlikely elite athlete. She began hiking as an out-of-shape college student with no real outdoors experience but a deep spiritual pull to the wilderness. Today, even as her profile rises, she refuses sponsorships and other forms of support, and has eschewed convention to live most of her life among mountains and on trails.
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home is Anderson's account of the 60 days, 17 hours and 12 minutes she spent hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail in 2013, breaking the previous speed record set by hiking legend Scott Williamson. It is a slim, fast read, and yet the experience of reading it feels a bit like a low-stakes simulation of Anderson's hike: grueling, meditative, exhilarating and exhausting by turns.
"Each day on the trail I felt myself slipping a little farther into a primal state, where all that mattered... was surviving the day," she writes. "And yet, I still had no idea what drove me, or where that drive came from."
Filled with ruminative self-reflection, soaring natural descriptions and delightful accounts of the gracious, life-sustaining "trail magic" of hiking culture, Thirst is a testament to human endurance, inspiring to hikers and non-hikers alike. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
Discover: Walk alongside one of the fastest long-distance hikers in the country as she completes the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail in record time--and discovers her own truth along the way.
by Edgar Kunz
In a poem about waiting on line for food stamps, the narrator feels acute embarrassment, but then confides, "No one was looking. Nobody looks." Much of Tap Out by Edgar Kunz conveys this sentiment. Here is misery and desperation and no one is paying meaningful attention. And yet, Kunz later admits a cruel duality: "...drawing crowds of tourists/ who posed alone or with/ their blonde polo'd families a safe/ distance from their wilderness." The narrator feels both willfully ignored and scrutinized by rubberneckers. Readers are permitted to keep a safe distance from Kunz's "wilderness," a world of working-class poor, marred by suicide, death, drugs and violence. It is a world steeped in machismo or toxic masculinity. These poems have a pervasive physicality that is both rewarding and horrifying.
Kunz plays on these contrasts most effectively with the narrator's ambivalent relationship with his father, a dominating presence in the collection. In "Close": "He's still beautiful, my father. Fluid./ Powerful. His bare forearms corded/ with muscle, bristling in the cold. Yes,/ he's drunk." Yet, in "Natick," the speaker is scarred when his father "said I had piano hands,/ and I was ashamed, and hid them in the pockets of my coat."
Arresting imagery, unexpected detail, brilliant use of tensions, a flowing rhythm and overall accessibility make this a collection to be read and re-read. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa
Discover: Tap Out superbly mines the beauty, brutality, tensions and contradictions of working-class U.S. communities.
Children's & Young Adult
by Julie Berry
Words like "epic," "sweeping" and "romantic" might have been designed with Julie Berry's Lovely War in mind. In this love story "for the ages," parallel story lines depict both a mock trial between Greek gods and the love stories of two intertwined pairs of mortals.
In the middle of World War II, Hephaestus, Greek god of fires, lays a trap for his wife, Aphrodite, goddess of love, and her not-so-secret lover, Ares, god of war. Rather than submitting to the "spectacle of the entire pantheon of immortals howling and cackling at her mortification" on Olympus, Aphrodite negotiates a private trial. Aphrodite--who believes that, though she is the "source of love," no one can "ever truly" love her--tells "judge, jury, and executioner" Hephaestus what "real love looks like," as illustrated by imperfect mortals. Aphrodite's narrative then shifts back and forth between the world wars.
In November of 1917, soldier James meets pianist Hazel as she plays music for a church dance in her London neighborhood. Their sweet budding romance is cut short when James is summoned early to the Western Front. Meanwhile, another love story is percolating. Colette, a white Belgian singer who lost her entire family to a brutal German slaughter meets (and falls for) Aubrey, a black musician and New Yorker whose all-black regiment performs for other soldiers. As Aphrodite and her fellow immortals debate the role of love in war, and war in love, the four young people enact the real-life courtroom drama--too often, literally.
In Lovely War, Printz-honoree Berry (The Passion of Dolssa; All the Truth That's in Me) weaves factual historical events and backdrops into an exquisitely crafted, funny and, yes, epic, novel. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Greek gods and tragic, beautifully imperfect mortals populate this masterful young adult novel about love, war, racism, music, fate, miracles and quiet heroism.
The Moon Within
by Aida Salazar
Essayist, short-story writer and first-time children's novelist Aida Salazar's The Moon Within is a contemporary tale told in first-person verse about a girl reaching deep within herself for understanding.
Eleven-year-old Celi is a good student, a dancer and a drummer. Her Xicana (a girl or woman "in the US with Mexican indigenous origins") mother, Mima, is an herbalist; her black Puerto Rican father a drummer and music teacher. She and her fellow Oakland, Calif., tweens are beginning to learn about their new feelings, changing bodies and expressions of sexuality and gender. Her best friend, Magda, for example, now requests that others use the pronouns he/him and call him Marco or Mar. His eloquent father explains this new identity by calling Mar xochihuah, a person "who danced between or to other energies than what they were assigned at birth." Celi struggles with her identity as a young woman, scared of the moon ceremony her mother, searching for tradition, wants to hold to celebrate her first period. She also yearns to enjoy her first girl-boy relationship with Iván, who, like her, is "Black-xican--Black and Mexican mixed"--but he and other kids make fun of her genderfluid friend. Celi "like" likes Iván, but wants to be loyal to Mar.
Salazar's language is frank and rich, using occasional Spanish or Mexica/Nahuatl words, to express each tween's individual thoughts and emotions during the wholly common experience of puberty. As Salazar explains in her author's note, The Moon Within is also working to resurrect from the Mexica past the traditional connection between women and the natural world. Readers are sure to respond to Celi (and Salazar), as they think about their own bodies, feelings and relationships. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Realistic and rich in poetic imagery, this middle-grade novel focuses on a multicultural community in which supportive adults help young people figure out their identities.