From the Shelf
Brothers and Sisters
The intricacies of connection, and disconnection, between siblings have been on my reading mind lately.
Sometimes the bond is so intimate it hurts, as is often the case for the title characters in The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox (World Editions). The twins share an almost mythic intimacy not meant for the worlds they inhabit as their lives take them from Guadeloupe to Mali to France. "She is both the light of my life and my damnation," Ivan says.
In Ivan Vladislavić's The Distance (Archipelago), novelist Joe sorts through newspaper clippings he collected as a South African boy enthralled with Muhammad Ali. He wants to write about this, and reaches out to his brother Branko for help ("I need to remember things as they actually were."). In alternating voices, the brothers' unravel their shared past (Branko: "Then again, my brother's need to be someone else never goes away. He becomes a writer.")
Ronan Hession explores the brotherhood of close friendship in Leonard and Hungry Paul (Melville House), a funny, touching novel about two gentle men in their 30s living deceptively "ordinary" lives ("Their conversations combined the yin of Leonard's love of facts with the yang of Hungry Paul's chaotic curiosity"). Are they misfits, or is the rest of the world just out of tune? I'd say the latter.
One of many intriguing threads woven through Pico Iyer's Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells (Vintage) is the absence of Masahiro, the estranged brother of Iyer's wife Hiroko. When Masahiro cut ties with his family years before, "he might have been bringing the modern therapeutic way of settling accounts to an old society that thrives by stepping around conflict and allowing the seasons to sort everything out."
"When I was a child it was easier to understand the world," Condé told the Guardian last summer. "Now that I'm old I don't understand it at all, so I wanted to write about that difficulty."
In this Issue...
by Alexandra Latos
Twins, one neurodiverse and one questioning their gender, wrestle with self-identity and grieve the death of their brother.
by Natalie Zina Walschots
In this tight, action-packed novel, a nerdy data temp becomes a supervillain's secret weapon, using her analytical skills to identify weaknesses and destroy superheroes.
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Roanhorse opens her pre-Columbian-inspired fantasy trilogy with a promising mix of political intrigue, well-detailed fantasy cultures and compelling main characters.
Review by Subjects:
Recommended Reading for Indigenous Peoples' Day
To honor Indigenous Peoples' Day, the New York Public Library featured 20 recommended reads.
Mental Floss shared "8 frightening facts about Henry James's The Turn of the Screw."
"Explore the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, a rare, accordion-folded pre-Columbian manuscript." (via Open Culture)
Bookshelf showcased Marco Rumor's Magneton magnetic bookcase.
Pete Beatty: History-Adjacent
Pete Beatty is a Cleveland-area native. He has taught writing at Kent State University and the University of Alabama, and has worked for the University of Chicago Press, Bloomsbury, Open Road Media, Belt Publishing and other places, including a driving range behind a Dairy Queen and a liquor store in Chicago. He currently works at the University of Alabama Press and lives with his wife in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Cuyahoga, just published by Scribner, is his first novel.
To what extent is this novel based on the true history of Ohio City and Cleveland?
For a novel that prominently features magical powers, it does have a pretty firm root in history. There is an Ohio City. It's a neighborhood in Cleveland, and it was an independent city that rivaled with Cleveland. There was a bridge built between the cities, and they got in a nonsensical fight over where to put it and how many bridges to build. I've read all the newspapers I could get my hands on from the 1830s, and it doesn't seem like it made any more sense then than it does now. There remains a rivalry in Cleveland between the east and the west side. It has elements of ethnicity, race, class and just plain old-fashioned... the narcissism of small differences. We're 99.9% the same people, but we're not exactly the same, so we're going to hate each other because we're next to each other.
The actual bridge war was a brawl on the bridge in the fall of 1837. I think one person got knocked down, and a cow was killed by an errant gunshot, and then the sheriff showed up and busted the fight up.
I was a history major, and prior to writing this novel almost everything I'd written was nonfiction. I was thinking the other day whether it's fair to describe my book as a historical novel. It's almost more history-adjacent, because of the fantastic elements. But that's not to say that it doesn't have real elements of history in it. In this moment, in 1837, people in northeastern Ohio--what was then the frontier--were dealing with a shift in identity from being frontierspeople to townspeople. There was a national economic crisis, and the region had its own economic crisis of there not being any money. The plot element of the hero not being able to get money for the heroic feats that he does--I sort of sublimated the Panic of 1837 into speculative fiction.
How did your background in editing and publishing help you write this novel--if it did?
The original version of this novel had no punctuation of any kind. Literally zero. No periods, no quotation marks, no apostrophes, nothing. It was almost written in verse; the lineation was a lot more distinct. Part of the motor of the book is that it runs at this constant mumbly speed--it was written in such a way as to be unpunctuated. I don't recommend this--don't write an entire book without punctuation just to see what happens.
As I was writing it, the version with no punctuation, I imagined it with an indie publisher or a university press or something. It was weirder. It had a lot of sharper edges. My editor brain did kick back in and I made it more accessible. I didn't take out any of the themes. It just became a little less gnarly. There was a lot more barf and historically appropriate insensitivity that was taken out when I wanted to get into PG-13 as opposed to R.
Who came to you first, Big or Meed?
I was sitting in the Phoenix Coffee Shop in 2015 when the voice of Meed talking about his brother came into my head. At first I thought it was just a short story. I have this other novel I've been playing with forever, but this book just kind of took over. Meed has a very insistent voice. I'm always a little wary of writers talking about how their characters showed them the way, but now I know why people say that. It's not entirely made up. Sometimes you latch onto something and it just goes.
That coffee shop is in Ohio City on Bridge Avenue, and it eventually becomes that same bridge.
Who's your favorite character in this story?
Dog. I mean, he's completely irredeemable. In earlier drafts of the book he was much more of a villain. He had an animosity toward any kind of change, any kind of better future. That ended up getting grafted into Meed. I realized that I was drawn to writing the story of how the things that have a potential for being destructive or vindictive or evil can happen inside a character, with the right sort of framing. Initially Dog was this scary villain, and he became much more a sort of sad angry grandpa who's blowing stuff up because he wants the world to stop.
Stop changing? Or just stop?
I think he wants it to stop changing, but he isn't entirely honest with himself about whether he wants it to stop changing or just end completely. He reminds me a little of Falstaff from Shakespeare, and that surfaces pretty explicitly. He's the friend of the young central figure who's set in his ways, and very charming, and whispering ideas in the ear of Meed that almost make sense, even though they're not good ideas.
Meed's voice is such a fascinating hodgepodge. How did you create and keep track of such a guy?
Even now I don't know that I necessarily completely nailed the consistency of the character. And in a kind of backward way that makes me think I did succeed, because he feels human. He feels like somebody with a bundle of contradictions, who has a complicated relationship with his sibling, and I think we all have complicated relationships with our siblings. If we don't have them, those complicated relationships bubble up inside us, with our parents or our friends. He obviously is familiar with scripture, with Shakespeare, with the Greek classics, the Iliad, the Odyssey--but his familiarity is almost naïve. It's in his language and it's part of his voice, and he doesn't necessarily know his own resonances. But he can criticize himself: "I'm being really lazy comparing my brother to Jesus, or talking about Judas Escariot when I feel guilty."
Meed's voice, more than anything else I've ever written, was the product of equal parts inspiration and deliberate craft. I would be stuck for a while and then he'd just start talking. I'd be at the computer, like poking garbage with a stick, and then the Meed voice would tune in. It felt like a broadcast from my id or something. I listened to Johnny Cash reading the New Testament on audiobook, to get those cadences. I was single at the time, and my way of falling asleep was just to leave my phone with that audiobook playing in bed. I'd be listening to the Bible in the dark, and I'd fall asleep, and depending on whether I'd set the timer, I'd wake up and Johnny Cash would just be talking. So, somebody with a relatively thick Arkansas accent reading the Bible--that was sort of the metronome for the voice. --Julia Kastner
Rediscover: Derek Mahon
Derek Mahon, the Belfast-born poet "who became an immense figure in Irish poetry" with poems such as "A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford" and "Courtyards in Delft," died October 1 at age 78, the Guardian reported. In a poetry career that spanned a half-century, Mahon "was most often compared to W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Samuel Beckett, with the critic Brendan Kennelly calling him 'a Belfast Keats with a Popean sting.' " After publishing his book Twelve Poems in 1965, Mahon gained critical acclaim three years later for Night-Crossing. His other works include Lives (1972), The Snow Party (1975), Courtyards in Delft (1981) and Antarctica (1985).
The Guardian noted that a "burst of productivity in the 2000s saw him publish four award-winning collections in five years: Harbour Lights, Somewhere the Wave, Life on Earth and An Autumn Wind," a body of work the Guardian called "one of the most significant developments in poetry this century." Last March, as Ireland locked down because of the Covid-19 pandemic, RTÉ News ended its evening news bulletin with Mahon reading his poem "Everything Is Going to Be All Right," which includes the lines: "There will be dying, there will be dying,/ but there is no need to go into that."
by John Freeman
In Freeman's: Love, editor John Freeman tackles one of the weightiest, most amorphous subjects yet in this ongoing anthology series (Freeman's: California). Growing up, Freeman was blessed with unconditional love, living in its "constant, endless return." He grew to understand love could break him, endanger him or be used against him. As adults, we all wear love's lessons differently. "How we move our bodies is shaped by how love has entered our lives."
Freeman wanted to explore "the biggest and most complex emotion, the most powerful." Because "it cannot be held in the palm of our hand... we put it into the only container made stronger by such contradictions--a story." The container contributors are an impressive bunch, with varied backgrounds and numerous awards. Many of these pieces have been translated from, among others, Japanese, Bosnian and Polish.
Starting with seven short pieces, the anthology packs an emotional wallop from the start. Maaza Mengiste tells of a bracelet given by her grandmother, her "first definition of love and compassion," before Mengiste left East Africa for the U.S. Mengiste promises never to remove it as a symbol of their bond. She did not foresee a future where an Ethiopian woman in an airport refusing to break a vow could be viewed as a threat. From there, the likes of Anne Carson, Tommy Orange, Sandra Cisneros, Richard Russo and Louise Erdrich share how love uplifted, scarred and changed them. Although love is a universal language, its nuances are poignant and moving. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A diverse mix of authors explores what love means to them in this eclectic mix of essays.
A Door Between Us
by Ehsaneh Sadr
At the center of Iranian American author and activist Ehsaneh Sadr's graceful debut, A Door Between Us, are four families facing conflict: the Hojjatis, Bagheris, Rahimis and Tabibians. The story starts with a wedding gone wrong in Tehran--a humorous premise that soon reveals itself to be much more nuanced than at first blush. Sarah Bagheri's wealthy and respected Aunt Mehri wants her niece to marry into a good Islamic family with an obvious pro-government upbringing. So imagine her horror when she learns Sarah's fiancé, Ali Rahimi, has both a sister and a brother-in-law who are swept up in the 2009 Green Wave, an anti-establishment movement hellbent on the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office.
But the complications don't stop there. Aunt Mehri has an adopted son, Sadegh, whose biological mother has suddenly reappeared in his life. She brings with her a daughter, as well as some pretty damning evidence against the Basij, a corrupt volunteer militia within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. And Sadegh? Well, he's a member of that same Basij. He wouldn't dare defy them. Right?
Despite its many interwoven threads, A Door Between Us leaves no character unexplored or underdeveloped. Sadr builds a rich playing field that can contain both the shallow bickering and the profound wisdom of her characters with ease. They bask in her devotedly detailed portrait of late-aughts Iran, a country so often misunderstood and abused by Western forces. This is a brave, intelligent novel, a story of difference overcome by love. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer
Discover: Four families clash in Tehran, Iran, during the height of the anti-government Green Wave movement in this complex but lovingly crafted debut.
An Irish Country Welcome
by Patrick Taylor
It's 1969 in Northern Ireland, and sectarian violence is on the rise as long-simmering tensions between Catholics and Protestants come to the boiling point. In the Ulster village of Ballybucklebo, the two sides have generally been able to get along, but the villagers--and the members of Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly's medical practice--are dealing with their own problems. An Irish Country Welcome, the 15th installment in Patrick Taylor's warmhearted series (An Irish Country Family, A Dublin Student Doctor), gives readers a glimpse into the tense days of that summer, as O'Reilly and his colleagues manage staffing problems, a difficult pregnancy and the usual rounds of illnesses and injuries.
Dr. Barry Laverty, O'Reilly's young colleague, and his wife, Sue, are expecting their first child, but complications arise midway through Sue's pregnancy. (Taylor takes the opportunity to provide readers with a wealth of information about childbirth and the accepted medical methods of the day.) Meanwhile, a local contractor may be trying to cheat an inexperienced foreman; Sebastian, the newest hire at O'Reilly's medical practice, is mysteriously eager to rush off after work; and there's fierce competition for the best plum cake at the local harvest festival. Most poignantly, Barry's dear friend and colleague Jack Mills longs to gain his father's support for his upcoming marriage to a young Catholic woman and fellow doctor. While Ballybucklebo does have its share of trials, Taylor steers his characters and readers through rocky waters with a steady hand. This visit to Taylor's Ireland is, like its predecessors, a delight. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Patrick Taylor's 15th Irish Country novel delves gently into sectarian tensions, a difficult pregnancy and amusing village problems.
Mystery & Thriller
Murder on Cold Street
by Sherry Thomas
Sherry Thomas, author of the Lady Sherlock novels (A Study in Scarlet Women; The Art of Theft), has created a wonderfully feminist historical mystery in Murder on Cold Street, the fifth entry in the series. Charlotte Holmes--who purportedly works as the public face of her brilliant, bedbound brother Sherlock--is again investigating a murder with the help of her landlady, Mrs. Watson, and her friend Lord Ashburton.
This time the case is extremely close to home: their friend Inspector Treadles has been arrested for the murder of two of his wife's colleagues. Unusual for Victorian England, Mrs. Treadles recently inherited Cousins, a large manufacturing company. And unfortunately for Inspector Treadles, he was found covered in blood, with two dead Cousins employees at his feet. As Charlotte, Ash and Mrs. Watson begin digging, they discover that while Mrs. Treadles thought she was simply dealing with misogynistic obstruction at work, there is something far more sinister afoot.
Sherry Thomas has made an incredible addition to the Sherlockian canon in Charlotte, with her intense brain, flamboyant attire, unconquerable sweet tooth and uncanny ability to circumvent strict Victorian mores to suit her purpose. Combining melodramatic disguises and stellar scientific research, Charlotte moves through her world with purpose, ably assisted by Lord Ashburton and Mrs. Watson.
Readers of Sherlockian fiction will love the Lady Sherlock series, as will anyone who enjoys a historical mystery with a bit of romantic tension, as Charlotte and Ash continue to circle each other somewhat warily. Fans of Elizabeth Peters, C.S. Harris and Deanna Raybourn are sure to adore Sherry Thomas as well. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this delightfully feminist Victorian mystery, Charlotte Holmes tries to find out who has framed her friend for murder.
The Book of Lamps and Banners
by Elizabeth Hand
If The Book of Lamps and Banners had a playlist, it would feature Patti Smith and the Ramones. The fourth thriller in Elizabeth Hand's Cass Neary series finds Cass--"an aging punk jonesing for a drink and a handful of black beauties"--hunting for a rare book. She is "like one of those artificial ecosystems that creates its own bad weather," and her recklessness leads her into trouble at every turn.
Cass is in London looking for Quinn, her lover, when she sees an ancient book that "might contain not just ancient knowledge, but forgotten knowledge." The book is soon stolen, an event that is followed by murders and disappearances of those in the book's orbit. When Cass realizes the book's value, she's determined to chase it down and sell it. She finds Quinn, and Cass, with an addict's confidence, convinces him to help her, hoping "the two of us would finally have enough money to get away someplace safe."
The high-speed narrative, jittery and swift, mirrors Cass's addiction. She and Quinn follow the book's trail to Sweden, where the black-and-white landscape is a sinister background to Cass's growing obsession. "This kind of thing never ends well. It hasn't even begun well," Quinn tells her in one last appeal for her to quit. But her fantasy of a different life fuels her, and she moves inexorably toward the explosive conclusion. Fans of Scandinavian crime fiction will enjoy this excellent series offering an intelligent puzzle along with gritty reality. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: The fourth book in the Cass Neary noir thriller series finds Cass, an aging punk with a drug problem, chasing down a mysterious book.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Natalie Zina Walschots
Natalie Zina Walschots (Doom: Love Poems for Supervillains) turns the superhero genre on its head with Hench, an action-packed first novel with an unlikely heroine.
Anna, June and Greg are typical millennial temps: snarky, quirky and apathetic, trying to eke out a living with maxed-out credit cards and cramped apartments. Life would have most likely gone on in its predictable banal fashion had Anna not been badly hurt on the job, laid off as a result and angry enough to turn her injury into a righteousness aimed at revenge.
As a Hench, a part-time employee who provides menial services to supervillains, Anna had been doing data management. What initially seemed a dull talent (June has extrasensory perception; Greg is a computer genius) turns into a razor-sharp skillset under the tutelage of Leviathan, the supervillain who offers Anna a new full-time contract. The job: use her data-mining skills to identify and exploit weaknesses, taking apart each superhero until they publicly self-destruct. Leviathan's focus on Supercollider, the most famous superhero, pairs nicely with Anna's; she was a collateral damage victim of Supercollider's actions. But it isn't until Leviathan is captured during the penultimate battle that Anna is confronted with how far toward becoming a villain she's willing to go in order to destroy the hero who holds Leviathan hostage.
Witty and wry, the scenes flash by, evocative of comic books, with tight prose and punchy dialogue, moving the plot toward the inevitable battle between good and evil. But in Hench, which side to root for is decidedly complicated. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.
Discover: In this tight, action-packed novel, a nerdy data temp becomes a supervillain's secret weapon, using her analytical skills to identify weaknesses and destroy superheroes.
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse (The Sixth World series) continues to prove herself a mighty talent in Black Sun, the stunningly fresh and imaginative opener to her Between Earth and Sky trilogy.
A storm of reckoning is trained on Tova, the city of the Sky Made Clans, where the last Sun Priest ordered his deadly Watchers to massacre the Carrion Crow clan years ago. Vengeance comes in the form of Serapio, a young man with sewn-shut eyes and an immense power he plans to unleash during Tova's solstice celebration. Xiala, a tough, hard-drinking outcast from a legendary people with a magical connection to the ocean, captains the ship transporting him. In Tova, newly appointed Sun Priest Naranpa works to mend ties with Carrion Crow and reform the priesthood, but factions within the celestial tower of the priests rebel against her progressive ideas and lowborn origin. Xiala clashes with her suspicious crew and bonds with Serapio, whom she considers "dangerous, unfathomably attractive, and clearly on some single-minded mission that made him entirely unavailable." However, brewing unrest may upset the city's fragile balance before they can arrive.
This pre-Columbian-derived fantasy stands relatively alone in a genre dominated by European- or Asian-inspired settings, and Roanhorse does justice to the setting with diverse and detailed cultures, a complex political landscape and fantastical creatures and magical systems rooted in a blend of ancient Indigenous mythology. Bold, richly emotional and expertly crafted, Black Sun shines brighter than even the highest expectations. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Roanhorse opens her pre-Columbian-inspired fantasy trilogy with a promising mix of political intrigue, well-detailed fantasy cultures and compelling main characters.
The Ministry for the Future
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Score a point for the audacity of hope. The sprawling, multi-voiced The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson's third major fictional work centered on climate change, imagines the work it would take to retrofit this world--and its governments and economies--to face the looming interlocked catastrophes of climate change. Robinson opens with visceral eco-horror, offering a firsthand account of mass death in a mid-2020s Indian heat wave; the suffering of the Earth's most vulnerable is the novel's ever-present given. What's remarkable, then, is this call-for-action's pained optimism.
Robinson doesn't naively presume the best of people or of the entrenched interests that resist change to carbon-burning ways. The technocrats and scientists of the Ministry for the Future find that fighting against those interests remains impossible--instead, to save the planet, the Ministry must first change the incentives of its economy, making it more profitable for nations and fossil fuel interests not to extract and ignite oil. (One of his many narrators notes, cheekily, that it's economics that should be called "speculative fiction.")
International in scope and fully engaged with political realities, The Ministry for the Future follows up Robinson's Bush-era trilogy, collected as Green Earth, about rising seas swamping Washington, D.C., and 2017's epochal New York 2140, a chipper postapocalyptic marvel in which the residents of a sunken Manhattan usher in a sustainable future by ending capitalism. That kind of change can be harder to imagine than the colossal geo-engineering projects tested and touted by the Ministry. But Robinson digs deep into how, with institutional support and some off-the-books black ops, revolutionary ideas could still seize our world. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A science fiction master dares reader to imagine what it would take to engineer an effective international response to climate change.
Why Didn't We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland
by Issac J. Bailey
No more excuses for the voters for whom Trump's racism wasn't a deal-breaker, and no more excuses for "those who prioritize peace and calm over justice and equality," either. This is the resolute stance journalist Issac J. Bailey (My Brother Moochie) takes in Why Didn't We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland.
In 10 essays with edifying titles like "The Sensible Paranoia of Black People in Trumpland" and "Guilty Even if Proven Innocent," Bailey studies the ways systemic racism impairs Black people--in the workplace, legal system, media and beyond. At a time when U.S. protests against police brutality have unfolded on an unprecedented scale, Bailey's voice is worth listening to. He touches on well-known cases of racist violence (Dylann Roof's massacre in Charleston and Amber Guyger's murder of Botham Jean), but what he does best is bring to the fore lesser-known cases, introducing readers to Julian Betton and Jamar Huggins. He pairs this with his own trials as a Black man persevering in "Trumpland" where "the flag of... enslavers flies freely."
Why Didn't We Riot functions foremost as another lesson for white people on how they perpetuate systemic racism. However, it functions most fascinatingly as a rallying cry from a Black man who, by his own admission, has spent too long forgiving white people and too little time holding them accountable. "We hope against hope that our continuing efforts to reach out will be reciprocated. We do this even when we are the ones being killed." --Sylvia Al-Mateen, freelance reviewer and editor
Discover: A Black journalist delivers a shrewd call-out of the undeniable racism emboldened by Trump's presidency and condemnation of those who continue to excuse it.
Essays & Criticism
A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South
by Cinelle Barnes, editor
Edited by memoirist and essayist Cinelle Barnes, A Measure of Belonging gathers 21 "established and emerging" writers of color with Southern ties--by birth, immigration, relocation. The resulting collection examines, defines and confronts the idea of belonging. A highlight is Carnegie Medal-winner Kiese Laymon's (Heavy) "That's Not Actually True," in which his declarative title becomes an affecting refrain of both surprise and knowing as he recounts the experience of recording his audiobook in his hometown of Oxford, Miss. North Carolina born-and-raised Devi Laskar also provides a significant entry, about leaving Georgia in 2012 "not by choice," but after a shocking police raid at her home, which would eventually become the basis of her novel The Atlas of Reds and Blues.
In such a diverse assemblage, other standouts are many: Osayi Endolyn entices with culinary delights to emphasize that "unfolding what the South can become is as much reconciliation and reeducation as it is adaptation." Jaswinder Bolina empathizes with the desperate young brown men who mug him on his Miami walk home. Aruni Kashyap, a newly hired Georgia professor, house hunts among seemingly benign racists.
Before she herself moved south, Barnes, an immigrant from the Philippines by way of New York City, weathered warnings from family, friends, employers--really, everyone: "There is nothing for you there. You're gonna turn right back around." The locals weren't open-armed: at a (supposed-to-be) welcome dinner for Barnes's spouse, a woman told her, "Honey, nobody asked you to move here." Despite dismissal, in the decade since, Barnes knows "there is not nothing for me here... not nothing for other people of color... not nothing for readers like you. There is this book." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Essayist and memoirist Cinelle Barnes, a Filipino Southerner by choice, gathers 21 fellow writers of color to provide memorable glimpses of their experiences below the Mason-Dixon Line.
Children's & Young Adult
Under Shifting Stars
by Alexandra Latos
In Under Shifting Stars, Alexandra Latos's lyrical debut, teenage twins struggle to deal with grief and changing self-identities.
Formerly inseparable twins Audrey and Clare have slowly become divided by a series of complicated family dynamics. Now they barely speak, but privately mourn both their lost connection and the death of their older brother, Adam. Imaginative, artistic Audrey is neurodiverse and attends a separate school from neurotypical Clare, who is outwardly more socially adept than Audrey. Clare secretly admits that the hard part is feeling Audrey's "pain like my own, and sometimes it's a lot to bear." Additionally, Clare is exploring a more masculine gender expression, which is jeopardizing their relationships with friends and family. Clare's grief over the literal loss of their brother and metaphorical loss of their sister beautifully and achingly dovetails with their struggles around gender presentation and identity: "When I spied on Adam and his friends, I not only wanted to be like them, I wanted to be them."
Latos portrays the twins' personal trials and messy relationship through chapters that shift between their perspectives, their inner monologues throwing into relief each twin's deep misunderstanding of the other. Audrey's chapters are devoid of quotation marks, blurring the line between silent thoughts and spoken words and drawing attention to her neurodiversity. In these punctuation-less chapters, readers are given access to Audrey's mind and heart, a mystery to most everyone else in her life.
Latos does justice to the marginalized identities of her characters, who are white, in Under Shifting Stars, creating character arcs that feel authentic and lovingly rendered. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, and co-creator, Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: Twins, one neurodiverse and one questioning their gender, wrestle with self-identity and grieve the death of their brother.
by Nic Stone
In this emotionally intense follow-up to the William C. Morris Debut Award finalist Dear Martin, Nic Stone explores the life of a 16-year-old Black male who's been wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.
Quan had to struggle his entire childhood: his father was sentenced to 25 years when Quan was a young, and then his mother's boyfriend would deny the family money, making them go hungry. Quan tried his best to get good grades but, fighting seemingly insurmountable odds, his efforts proved futile. After he turned to the streets to support and protect himself and his siblings from his mother's boyfriend, Quan was unjustly arrested for shooting a cop. In prison, Quan's letters to and from his best friend, Justyce--who, following the events of Dear Martin, has become a law student at Yale and dedicated his life to advocating for wrongfully imprisoned young Black men--provide Quan with the love and care he needs to remain hopeful. Meanwhile, Justyce works diligently alongside friends and contacts he has made at Yale Law School to prove that Quan is innocent.
Stone uses flashbacks, intimate first-person letters and dual third-person perspectives to reflect the two very different realities in which Justyce and Quan live--despite their similar upbringings. Dear Justyce provides enough detail about the lives of Quan and Justyce that it can be enjoyed by new readers as well as those interested in more of the Dear Martin story. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children
Discover: In this follow-up to Dear Martin, a Black teen accused of murdering a cop finds an ally in his best friend, Justyce, who makes it his mission to prove Quan's innocence.