From the Shelf
Inside the White House
Could former President Barack Obama have known into just what world his reflections on the 44th presidency, A Promised Land (Crown, $45), would be released?
Although his memoir is embargoed until Tuesday (no bookstore is allowed to even open the boxes until then), an excerpt in the New Yorker gives readers a taste of what the highest office in the land was like for the first Black president--a husband and father of young children, a policy wonk, a student of history and a gifted writer.
Obama describes the first spring in the White House, as Sasha and Malia enjoy a swing set he had installed in front of the Oval Office; he looks up from his desk to glimpse "their faces set in bliss as they soared high." His appreciation for Bo, the family's Portuguese water dog ("what someone once described as the only reliable friend a politician can have in Washington"), gives way to an homage to Ted Kennedy, who gave the Obama family the puppy. Obama's gratitude seamlessly leads to his respect for Kennedy's passion for and commitment to universal health care, a torch Kennedy carried through seven presidents--and Obama's history of each.
Barack Obama's gift for the lilt and cadence of language enables him to meld the personal and political so fluently that readers who come to the book out of curiosity about the man and those hungry for behind-the-scenes political negotiations can both be satisfied. "My interest in health care went beyond policy or politics; it was personal, just as it was for Teddy," he writes. He acknowledges both the weight and the honor of carrying his responsibility as the country's leader, and mourns the loss of being "an ordinary dad" who could take his girls out for ice cream without "a major production, involving road closures, tactical teams, and the omnipresent press pool." He lays out on the page both the loneliness and the euphoria of being president of the United States. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor
In this Issue...
by Melissa Lucashenko
Reunited by the death of their patriarch, an Australian Goorie family grapples with family secrets and fights the building of a prison on ancestral land in this award-winning dark comedy.
by N. Scott Momaday
This collection of short prose pieces from the Poet Laureate of the Kiowa nation urges readers to respect and value and keep the natural world and all it offers.
Review by Subjects:
01/27/2021 - 5:00PMWhat: Peter Sís will discuss his book Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued. This event is free to attend, but registration is required. You can register for the event here. Once you register, you will receive an invitation to join the event. NOTE: Because this is a virtual event that will be hosted on Zoom, you will need access a computer or other device that is capable of accessing the internet at a sufficient bandwidth...
01/28/2021 - 7:00PMWe are thrilled to welcome Brigid Kemmerer who will appear in converastion with author Jennifer Armentrout to talk about her new book A Vow So Bold and Deadly. This free event will be delivered via a Zoom webinar at 7:00pm CDT/8:00pm ET. You need to register to attend. If you buy a book when you register you will received the book, a bookplate signed by Brigid and a special deleted scene from the series! You will receive a link to the Zoom webinar the day before the event. When:...
01/30/2021 - 2:00PMWhat: Author Kelly Rippon will speak about her new book, Parent Up: Inspire Your Child to Be Their Best Self , in this virtual event on Saturday, January 30th at 2:00pm CT on Zoom. She will be in conversation with her son, Olympic medalist Adam Rippon. Kelly and Adam will be sharing stories and never-before-seen photos exclusive to this book launch tour! This event will be ticketed through Eventbrite. We will let you know when your books are available for in-store pickup and...
Foreign Words that Describe Life in 2020
Mental Floss looked up "10 untranslatable words that perfectly describe how you're feeling in 2020."
Lit Hub noted that "35% of the world is reading more during the pandemic. Thanks, pandemic?"
Merriam-Webster explored the story behind the term "First Lady."
Open Culture noted that "40,000 early modern maps are now freely available online (courtesy of the British Library)."
Rediscover: Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera makes for fitting reading in the time of coronavirus. Set in northern Colombia between 1875 and 1924, it tracks the lives of two lovers separated as teens, their divergent adult courses and a reunion in old age. In the years since its first English-language publication in 1988, Love in the Time of Cholera has become a classic, much-lauded work of literature and an Oprah book club pick. Thomas Pynchon, in the New York Times Book Review, called it "revolutionary in daring to suggest that vows of love made under a presumption of immortality--youthful idiocy, to some--may yet be honored, much later in life.... A shining and heartbreaking book." On October 27, Vintage International published a new edition of Love in the Time of Cholera ($25) with illustrations by Chilean artist Luisa Rivera and an interior design created by Gabriel García Márquez's son Gonzalo García Barcha. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Peace Adzo Medie
|photo: Sylvernus Darku|
Peace Adzo Medie is senior lecturer in Gender and International Politics at the University of Bristol and author of Global Norms and Location Action: The Campaigns to End Violence Against Women in Africa. She holds a Ph.D. in Public and International Affairs. Her debut novel, His Only Wife, was recently published, by Algonquin Books.
On your nightstand now:
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee; The Dragon, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore; Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis; The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola.
Favorite book when you were a child:
It's hard to pick a favorite because I loved so many books as a child. But I remember being slightly obsessed with the Sweet Valley series, both Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High. They were very popular among us tweens, and I remember anxiously rushing to the library after school in hopes that there would be a new book in the series that I could borrow.
Your top five authors:
Gabriel García Márquez, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Isabel Allende.
Book you've faked reading:
I began Anna Karenina but didn't make it far. I might return to it one day. But more than books that I've fake read, there are many books that I feel bad about not having read and keep reminding myself to read. One of them is Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. I just bought a copy so I will soon have one less thing to feel bad about.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. It is a widely read novel, but I still can't stop telling everyone about it. The protagonist, Tambudzai, has a way of grabbing the reader and not letting go. She is brilliant and funny, and you can't help but root for her, even long after you've read the last sentence. Years after first reading the novel, I still think about Tambu.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride. It's such a pretty cover.
Book you hid from your parents:
Most of the historical romance novels I read as a teenager. The ones with shirtless or nearly shirtless men on the cover. Shirtless men holding women whose bodices look like they were on the verge of coming apart. I also hid them from the teachers and nuns in school by wrapping the covers in newspaper.
Book that changed your life:
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I was in my early teens when I first read it, and I remember feeling like I needed a seatbelt so that the book wouldn't carry me away. I haven't felt that way since. I think one of the reasons for my reaction to the book was that I believed that Márquez was describing things that had actually happened far in the past, events that had been passed down to him in stories. I grew up in a society where accounts of people flying and vanishing were not unusual, so an insomnia plague that erased childhood memories, spread in Macondo through candy, seemed within the realm of possibility, albeit an ancient realm. I would later learn about magical realism, which would then lead me to be in awe of Márquez's imagination and to begin to think more seriously and critically about what could be conveyed and achieved through fiction.
Favorite line from a book:
It's from Nervous Conditions: "Consequently, she was a much bolder woman than my mother, and my father, who no longer felt threatened by a woman's boldness because he had proved his mettle by dispiriting my mother, was excited by the thought of possessing a woman like Lucia, like possessing a thunderstorm to make it crackle and thunder and lightning at your command." This sentence illustrates Dangarembga's wit and humor and tells us so much about masculinity.
Five books you'll never part with:
The only book I've refused to part with is my signed copy of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I waited in line at an author event in Boston for it to be signed. It is still the only autographed novel that I own, so I of course have refused to part with it. But I've had to reluctantly part with many treasured books because I've moved a lot over the years. I've lived in seven cities across three continents in the last 10 years, first for school and then work, and I've learnt to travel light. It means that I sometimes own multiple copies of a book because the original was in storage somewhere and I wanted to read it again. Or I simply forgot that I already owned a copy that was sitting in a box on another continent and bought a new one.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez!
Too Much Lip
by Melissa Lucashenko
Winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award and a finalist for the Stella Prize, this intense yet sensitive dark comedy by Australian Goorie-European author Melissa Lucashenko (Mullumbimby) never holds back in its portrayal of an Indigenous family in crisis. "A stranger rode into town, only it wasn't a stranger, it was Kerry," roaring into tiny Durrongo on a new Softail to see her dying paternal grandfather, a Goorie Elder with a complicated past. Also assembling are unmotivated older brother Ken; tarot-reading, born-again mother Pretty Mary; and younger brother Black Superman, city dweller, proud gay man and family success story.
Tensions rise, but real trouble comes when they learn Durrongo's white mayor wants to build a prison on their ancestral land. Though united by injustice, the members of the Salter family feel like strangers to each other and themselves. Ken loses control of his anger. Kerry, who dates women and never "whitenormalsavages," shocks herself by falling for a white man. Black Superman struggles to balance his city and hometown responsibilities. When an astonishing avalanche of family secrets emerges, the Salters must find ways to move forward through generational trauma.
Crows talk and ancestors appear in this #ownvoices triumph about a family who find each other difficult to live with but impossible to stop loving. Too Much Lip's stark honesty illuminates a version of Indigenous life, the crippling influence of colonization and the hard-won power of resilience and healing. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Reunited by the death of their patriarch, an Australian Goorie family grapples with family secrets and fights the building of a prison on ancestral land in this award-winning dark comedy.
by Ellen Alpsten
Born as Marta Skowrońska, the Tsarina Catherine Alexeyevna rose from obscurity and poverty to become the most powerful woman in 18th-century Russia. Tsarina, a sweeping debut historical novel by Ellen Alpsten, imagines Catherine's life, drawing upon historical documents for her later years and conjuring the formative experiences that shaped Catherine into the ruler she was to become.
Set against the backdrop of tumultuous years in Russia's history, Tsarina provides an in-depth look at critical moments in Marta's life prior to and after becoming Catherine, Peter the Great's second wife. Rare moments of kindness and stability are punctuated by extreme circumstances: rape, starvation and even murder in self-defense, laying the groundwork for Marta's development as a smart, strong and strategic woman who would do anything to survive. At each crossroad, Marta is able to trade up her situation in life, rising through the social and economic ranks through her beauty and adaptability, until she finds herself installed as the tsar's mistress. She bears him 12 children throughout their time together, though they are little more than pawns in Tsar Peter's increasingly depraved and unstable court.
By the time Peter bestows on her the name Catherine Alexeyevna--a regal name befitting the tsarina she was to become--Catherine has become brutal herself, succumbing to the Machiavellian plots and questionable tactics that match the tsar's limitlessness and unimaginable behavior. Tsarina evocatively explores how far one woman would go to stay alive, even if it means serving a man with unbridled power and then picking up that mantle herself. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.
Discover: This well-imagined historical novel follows the complex Catherine Alexeyevna from humble beginnings into the hedonistic court of Peter the Great.
Mystery & Thriller
Prefecture D: Four Novellas
by Hideo Yokoyama , trans. by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
Hideo Yokoyama (Seventeen) might not yet have a following in the U.S. like some of his compatriot mystery writers--Keigo Higashino and Natsuo Kirino, for example--but the acclaim he's earned in his native Japan will likely spread to English-language readers. With Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, a Welsh expat who lives in Tokyo, who agilely translated the internationally bestselling Six Four, Yokoyama returns with Prefecture D, comprised of four compelling, loosely interlinked novellas. Six Four and Prefecture D are companion titles; each could easily stand alone, but to read both offers enhancing insights.
Each novella presents a mystery that exposes the labyrinthine relationships within Prefecture D's sprawling police department. In "Cry of the Earth," Internal Affairs Officer Takayoshi Shindo is assigned to investigate an anonymous missive that accuses a division chief of improprieties. In "Black Lines"--the quartet's strongest--Section Chief Tomoko Nanao (the highest-ranking woman) grows increasingly alarmed when one of her younger charges, Sergeant Mizuho Hirano of Mobile Forensics, goes missing. In "Briefcase," Masaki Tsuge, who manages relations between the police and local government, is ordered to protect Prefectural HQ's reputation in an upcoming election debate.
Yokoyama's dozen years' experience as an investigative journalist undoubtedly enhances his already sharp fiction with unexpected minutiae that proves essential. Beyond cleverly solving mysteries, he adroitly exposes gender inequity, career climbing, personal sacrifice, dysfunctional relationships, power imbalances and abuses. Who needs actual criminals when Prefecture D is already abuzz with lawbreakers? --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: The mysteries contained in these four loosely interlinked novellas expose the dysfunctions of Prefecture D's multi-layered, multi-leveled police department.
by Liz Nugent
Those small jabs at another person--bits of subtle spitefulness, dismissive looks, the ever-popular eye roll--can build to viciousness and flat-out hatred, as Irish author Liz Nugent ably shows in Little Cruelties. Nugent's third standalone novel chronicles the lives and relationships of the three Drumm brothers: William, Brian and Luke.
The story opens at one brother's funeral, attended by the two surviving Drumms. Who is in the coffin and what led to this brother's untimely death isn't revealed until the denouement. Little Cruelties smoothly unfolds in three sections, each unflinchingly narrated by a different brother, moving from their turbulent childhood to their frequent estrangements to their successes and failures in Irish entertainment.
Their personalities were sealed in their childhood; they were raised by a self-centered, careless mother, a minor showband singer in Dublin, who flaunted her infidelities and encouraged her sons' rivalry. Their meek, ineffectual father dies when they are teenagers, yet is never missed despite being their primary parent.
Little Cruelties skillfully focuses on character rather than plot, exploring the psychological underpinnings of film producer William, money manager Brian and pop star Luke. None is likable, but what drives each makes for a riveting tale.
Although Nugent employs little violence, Little Cruelties melds a hardboiled story with a family drama, leading to a tragedy that will define another generation. As she did in Unraveling Oliver and Lying in Wait, Nugent looks at the darkness that propels families' ruin. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this slow-burn family saga, three Irish brothers' relationships and their rivalry, sealed in childhood, leads to tragedy.
Written in the Stars
by Alexandria Bellefleur
What do a pragmatic, career-focused, monochromatic-loving lesbian and a star-gazing, fortune-telling, color-obsessed bisexual have in common? A meddling brother and friend, who believes in love at first sight, and whom they both hate to disappoint.
When that brother/friend sets Darcy (his sister) up with Elle (his business partner), sparks do fly--but not the romantic kind (at first). A disastrous blind date, reminiscent of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice's meet-cute, prompts both women to retreat to their separate corners, determined never to see each other again. But when Darcy tells Brendon a little white lie to get him off her back, he blabs to Elle, who confronts Darcy, which leads to a pact: pretend to be each other's girlfriend through the holidays, attending the obligatory family and office parties, and "break up" in the New Year with no one--especially Brendon--the wiser.
With that setup, it is hardly a surprise when there's a flicker of attraction here, a sudden sharing of feelings there and a deepening connection between two souls. Both had been looking for love in all the wrong places and are now desperately trying not to get their hopes up about what's right in front of them--someone who laughs at their jokes, supports their hopes and dreams, and even offers kisses and comfort. But with the breakup deadline looming and family dramas during the holidays surfacing, can they trust each other--can they trust themselves?--to believe that fate brought them together forever?
Alexandria Bellefleur has crafted an impeccable debut romance in Written in the Stars: lighthearted and sexy, contemporary and timeless, perfect to enjoy during the holiday season or for celebrating queer love any time of the year. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.
Discover: Playful, charming, humorous and hopeful, this #ownvoices queer romance offers a happily-ever-after look at two young women finding each other and their place in the world.
Biography & Memoir
The Walls Came Tumbling Down
by Henriette Roosenburg
Scribe has done readers a great service by reprinting the unjustly forgotten The Walls Came Tumbling Down, a thrilling memoir of a Dutch resistance fighter's journey home after the end of World War II. Henriette Roosenburg, nicknamed "Zip" for the frequency with which she once secretly criss-crossed Nazi-held borders, narrates the incredible events that follow her liberation from a German prison by the Soviet military with casual simplicity and a touch of humor. After liberation, Zip and a group of mostly female ex-prisoners decide to bypass the authorities and traverse the hundreds of miles separating them from their homes in the Netherlands. The long journey is related almost as an adventure story, with the daring Zip and her comrades making their way by plane, truck, boat and their own two feet through a chaotic, war-torn land.
One of the book's most surprising strengths is Zip's matter-of-fact descriptions of the horrors and absurdities of recently conquered Germany, from the houses around her prison that rapidly trade swastikas for red flags after the Red Army invades to the Soviet soldiers who sometimes present a threat of sexual violence, and other times seem almost childlike in their victorious glee. Without ever undercutting the danger they are in or the trauma of their past, Roosenburg presents an essentially optimistic narrative of physical survival as well as survival of the human spirit. The Walls Came Tumbling Down is a moving, often funny book, despite the circumstances, told by a brave and truly remarkable woman who deserves to be remembered. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader
Discover: The Walls Came Tumbling Down is an exciting memoir of a Dutch resistance fighter's daring, sometimes absurd journey home after her liberation from a German prison at the end of World War II.
Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway
by Michael Riedel
Broadway theater buffs who enjoyed Michael Riedel's Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway will find much to love in Singular Sensation as he advances the history of the Great White Way into the 1990s and very early 2000s. Singular Sensation is an irresistible combination of scandal, history, gossip and diva behavior.
The 1990s brought profound changes to the Broadway stages and the Times Square area. The 1980s AIDS pandemic decimated Broadway with the deaths of talented people working on- and off-stage, and the Times Square area was overrun with porn theaters and prostitutes. Broadway came back with the refurbishment of long-derelict theaters and some new, more youthful offerings, like Rent. "Broadway is good at comebacks," writes Riedel. The '90s brought an abrupt end to the British invasion; Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard ran for more than two years without recouping its cost. But it was also the decade that brought theatergoers Angels in America; the innovative The Lion King; the 1996 revival of Bob Fosse's flop 1975 musical Chicago; and Edward Albee's surprisingly successful second act. And after the September 11, 2001, attacks closed down Broadway, there was yet another comeback, thanks to Mel Brooks's phenomenally successful musical The Producers.
Riedel interviewed more than 100 people, so even familiar behind-the-scenes tales gain freshness through first-hand accounts. (The juiciest chapter is on Sunset Boulevard and Patti Lupone's account of being done wrong at every turn.) Singular Sensation is a sensational treat for theater fans. It's a vivacious overview of a turbulent decade that revitalized Broadway and energized theatergoers. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Theater columnist Michael Riedel's Singular Sensation offers a fascinating, gossipy and irresistible history of Broadway during the 1990s--a decade of great change and revitalization.
Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last
by Wright Thompson
Best known as an ESPN sportswriter, Wright Thompson detours from that beat for a reflective journey down some Southern byways to tell the story of prominent Kentucky distiller Julian P. Van Winkle III, and his quest to revive his family's iconic bourbon brand. In Thompson's capable hands, Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last blossoms into a moving exploration of his own family history and of his search for life's meaning as he's about to become a father for the first time.
On Derby Day in 1935, Van Winkle's grandfather, nicknamed "Pappy," opened a distillery outside Louisville, where for the next 37 years the family produced an esteemed brand of bourbon. But the bourbon market collapsed in the 1960s, and Julian's father was forced to sell the plant. This ultimately forced the man Thompson calls "Booze Yoda" into a distilling limbo, where he'd reside for some two decades, until the fortuitous acquisition of aged barrels of Pappy's bourbon, and the explosive revival of demand for the whiskey, brought him back into the limelight.
Thompson is a sympathetic chronicler of the Van Winkle family saga, and of Julian's dogged quest to resurrect Pappy's brand. Thompson also reflects eloquently on balancing his flourishing writing career with the impending demands of fatherhood. Pappyland is as invigorating as the smell of freshly cut Kentucky bluegrass, and goes down as smoothly as a glass of Pappy's beloved bourbon. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: A sportswriter delivers a warmhearted story about fathers and sons and the pleasures of fine bourbon.
Black Hole Survival Guide
by Janna Levin
Though theoretical physics might be beyond most readers, astrophysicist Janna Levin does not think that should stop anyone from being able to understand what makes phenomena such as black holes so fascinating. In the accessible Black Hole Survival Guide, Levin breaks down concepts such as relativity, the speed of light and the event horizon with an easy-to-follow patter. She writes, "I want to influence your perception of black holes, to shuck away the husk a bit, get closer to their darkest selves, to marvel at their peculiarity and their prodigious character." She explains that black holes "provide a laboratory for the exploration of the farthest reaches of the mind... an ideal fantasy scape on which to play out through experiments that target the core truths about the cosmos." She clearly describes why black holes evoke a sense of wonder and marvel, both within the academic community and outside it.
Levin explains how concepts like time, space, horizon, evaporation, holograms and nothing relate to black holes--including all of the inconsistencies in their conceptualizations--and imagines what it might be like to enter a black hole and the forces such a journey would exert on the body of anyone who did so. Accompanied by illustrations by Lia Halloran that demonstrate clearly the various forces Levin describes, Black Hole Survival Guide is a comprehensible exploration of that which cannot be physically explored. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Professor of physics and astronomy Janna Levin imagines what it would be like to explore black holes in a vibrant, illustrated text.
Nature & Environment
Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land
by N. Scott Momaday
"We shall not sever ourselves from the earth," writes N. Scott Momaday in Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land. "We must chant our being, and we must dance in time with the rhythms of the earth. We must keep the earth." This is precisely what Momaday does with his powerful and moving collection of short prose work, steeped in stories of his life and offering readers an urgent call to respect the earth we live on.
Momaday (The Death of Sitting Bear), a Pulitzer Prize winner (for A House Made of Dawn in 1969) and Poet Laureate of the Kiowa nation, has a long history as an artist, poet and novelist. Though Earth Keeper is more a collection of essays or prose than formal poetry, it is impossible to deny the poetry of his words, which reflect the majesty and beauty he sees (and encourages readers to see) in the world around him. "The earth is a house of stories," after all, and Earth Keeper is a testament to that tradition.
Part memory and part meditation, part poem and part prayer, Earth Keeper is a short but powerful collection that holds its arms out to the world, asking to be read again and again. "I make a prayer for words," writes Momaday. "Let me say my heart." That heart is evident on every page of Earth Keeper, a reminder that body, soul and earth are inextricably woven together, and to deny that connection is to deny one's very humanity. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: This collection of short prose pieces from the Poet Laureate of the Kiowa nation urges readers to respect and value and keep the natural world and all it offers.
Children's & Young Adult
You Know I'm No Good
by Jessie Ann Foley
Don't call Mia Dempsey, who narrates Jessie Ann Foley's fiery and wry You Know I'm No Good, a troubled teen: "I wish I were troubled. Instead, what I am is enraged." Okay, but Mia's father and stepmother are still going with "troubled": they've uprooted Mia from her life in Chicago and enrolled her at Minnesota's Red Oak Academy, which bills itself as a "therapeutic boarding school for troubled teenage girls."
Mia is here because she punched her stepmother in the face, but "if you'd heard what she said to me, you would agree that she completely deserved it." Readers can decide for themselves as the novel plays out, often in Mia's Red Oak therapist's office. Mia has been in therapy before--her mother died when she was three--and is fully expecting her new shrink to agree with all the others, that she acts out because she "has a mother-shaped void in my life, which I'm trying to numb with drugs or fill with boys." But might there be more to it?
You Know I'm No Good proceeds like a character study until around the book's midpoint, when a new student comes to Red Oak and sets off a series of calamities. While Mia's emotions follow something of a predictable arc, the book's plot sure doesn't. Foley (Sorry for Your Loss; The Carnival at Bray) delivers a raw-nerve-like story that hammers away at questions about heredity, legacy and accountability, and readers will appreciate Mia's efforts to storm her way to answers. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: In Jessie Ann Foley's fierce YA novel, a teenager who punched her stepmother finds herself enrolled at a therapeutic boarding school against her will.
Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math
by Rajani LaRocca , illust. by Archana Sreenivasan
In ancient India, a shrewd boy improves his fortune--and those of his fellow citizens--by demonstrating that critical thinking is the most valuable skill one can possess. Adventure, suspense and a surprise ending make Rajani LaRocca's enchanting picture book debut, Seven Golden Rings, an amusing lesson about the importance of math.
Bhagat and his mother are struggling to make ends meet in their small, remote village. When Bhagat learns that the rajah is holding auditions for the royal music troupe, he tells his mother he will travel to the city and try to win a place as the rajah's singer. Giving him one rupee and her last items of value, seven golden rings from her wedding necklace, Bhagat's mother tells him, "Remember... you are a fine singer. But you are an even finer thinker." The determined boy makes the trip, then has to survive in the city for a week on one rupee and seven necklace links while he waits for the rajah's summons.
LaRocca (Midsummer Mayhem) uses the dedication and perseverance of her protagonist as something of a magical element, making the endearing Seven Golden Rings feel like a fairy tale. The alluring, atmospheric digital art by Archana Sreenivasan (Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy) adds a genuine sense of time and place, an excellent introduction to young readers who may be experiencing their first taste of India. Together, writer and artist take their audience on a lively quest to uncover the key to success--and the rajah's favor. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A young Indian boy applies math and critical thinking skills in his endeavor to win a place in the rajah's court.
One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General
by Joseph Bruchac
While pregnant with him, Ha-sa-no-an-da's mother dreamt that "the sky opened and even though it was winter, a rainbow appeared.... it was broken at its highest point in the sky. On the lower side of that rainbow were suspended signs... in the English alphabet." In the revealing biography One Real American, Nulhegan Abenaki citizen and prolific author Joseph Bruchac explores how this dream foretold the life of the extraordinary Seneca best known by his English name, Ely Samuel Parker.
Parker's rainbow started its ascent when his father sent him to a Baptist boarding school. He learned to read, write and speak English and earned a scholarship to Yates Academy, where he was the first and only person of color in a student body of more than 200. Bruchac takes readers further up Parker's metaphoric rainbow, showing Parker's efforts to save the Seneca Tonawanda lands. Parker practiced law but turned to engineering when he was unable to sit for the bar exam; citizenship was required and "no Indian could be an American citizen." With one foot planted firmly in the white man's world, he was able to join the Masons, engineer the Galena customhouse and spark a friendship with Ulysses S. Grant. Parker's stunning arc of success, like the prescient dream, did break, and while Bruchac faithfully recounts this period as well, the focus of the biography stays on Parker's trailblazing and achievements.
Despite a slow start, One Real American is an illuminating look at one of the first Indigenous men in the United States to force down racial barriers. Accompanied by photographs and fascinating quotes from Parker himself, Bruchac narrates this life story with reverence and respect. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: In a comprehensive middle-grade biography, the trailblazing life of a Seneca grand sachem winds through the white man's world that was the 19th-century United States.