From the Shelf
An Immortal Adversary
I recently listened to a lecture by the esteemed oncologist-writer Azra Raza who discussed the radical imbalance between research funding allocated to cancer treatment versus prevention. It helped me understand why, despite millions of dollars devoted to curing cancer, we haven't made enough progress in eradicating the disease.
Raza passionately advocates in The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last (Basic Books, $17.99) for more dedicated research on tracking down initial deviant cells before they lead to cancer. Instead of a "war on cancer" narrative, Raza's approach is a studied negotiation with an ancient, persistent enemy, a strategy for which early detection is the most effective tool.
In Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End(Picador, $17), surgeon Atul Gawande shares with readers his experience caring for chronically ill cancer patients and the importance of offering not just toxic treatment options that amount to "physical torture," but also the comfort, guidance and realistic assessments of quality of life that will gently help patients face their own mortality. This resonated with me, the idea that a dignified ending on one's own terms might be preferable to one aggressive treatment after another in a sterile hospital setting.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (Scribner, $20) by physician Siddhartha Mukherjee is, in the author's words, "an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behavior." Mukherjee connects science and medicine with culture, history, literature and politics to assess whether it is possible to eradicate cancer from our bodies and societies forever.
These three titles are elegant works of literature that engage readers with cancer narratives in layman's terms from a medical perspective and offer uplifting accounts of compassion and humanity in our timeless struggle with an immortal adversary. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
In this Issue...
by Amy Timberlake
Skunk and Badger return for a thrilling and poignant adventure in this second hilarious title in the series by award-winning duo Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen.
by Casey Plett
These poignant stories feature transgender women, but the universal challenges faced by Plett's characters invite broad audiences.
by Ruth Ozeki
This heartwarming novel about family and grief follows the travails of a boy finding his own voice in a world where so many surround him.
Review by Subjects:
'The Van Gogh of Typewriter Art'
Messy Nessy Chic featured "a chat with the Van Gogh of typewriter art."
Video: "Dolly Parton accepts Library of Congress' David M. Rubenstein Award."
Gastro Obscura looked "inside the company printing America's community cookbooks."
Open Culture considered whether King Arthur in film might be "our most enduring popular entertainment franchise."
Author Aja Raden chose her "top 10 books about lies and liars" for the Guardian.
Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is a cornerstone of the science-fiction genre. In a distant future in which a Galactic Empire spans the Milky Way, scientist Hari Seldon has created a new discipline called psychohistory that can predict the actions of large populations. Using psychohistory, Seldon learns the Galactic Empire is on the verge of collapse and the galaxy will experience 30,000 years of turmoil before a second empire can form. Seldon creates a plan to shrink this oncoming dark age to a single millennium by safeguarding all human knowledge with an organization of scientists and engineers called the Foundation. Asmiov's series was originally a trilogy consisting of Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953). He later wrote two sequels--Foundation's Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986)--and two prequels, Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993).
Today, Apple TV+ releases the first two episodes of an adaptation of the Foundation series created by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel), with Jared Harris starring as Hari Sheldon. Other cast members include Lee Pace, Lou Llobell, Leah Harvey, Laura Birn, Terrence Mann, Cassian Bilton and Alfred Enoch. The season's remaining eight episodes will premiere every Friday. A tie-in version of Foundation is available from Del Rey ($17). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Shin Yu Pai
|photo: Daniel Carrillo|
Shin Yu Pai is the author of 11 books, including Aux Arcs, Adamantine, Sightings and Equivalence. Last year, Entre Rios Books published Ensō, a 20-year survey of her work across creative disciplines. From 2015 to 2017, she served as the Poet Laureate for the City of Redmond, Wash. Her poetry films have screened at Northwest Film Forum and the Zebra Poetry Festival in Berlin. Pai lives and works on the unceded ancestral lands of the Duwamish people, also known as Seattle. Her newest poetry book is Virga (Empty Bowl Press).
On your nightstand now:
After the Atlanta shootings, a friend recommended Ornamentalism: A Feminist Theory for the Yellow Woman by Anne Anlin Cheng, which has helped me to form a more complex understanding of how Asian women have been depicted in the racial imagination and how that image, combined with racist histories, contributes to ongoing dehumanization and fetishization of Asian women. I'm also reading The Lady of Linshui Pacifies Demons: A Seventeenth-Century Novel, translated by Kristin Ingrid Fryklund, and Divine, Demonic, and Disordered: Women Without Men in Song Dynasty China by Hsiao-wen Cheng. I ordered these last two after reading Tsultrim Allione's book on feeding, or working with one's demons, a practice that traces itself back to the female tantric master Machig Labdrön.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I loved Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson for the illustrations and the similarities I thought I saw to Winnie the Pooh.
Your top five authors:
Michael Ondaatje, Jhumpa Lahiri, Arthur Sze, Xiao Hong and Wang Anyi.
Book you've faked reading:
Ezra Pound is a paragon of modernist verse and his ABC of Reading is important to many poets and writers of my generation, particularly those who went through the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. It was never assigned reading and somehow I avoided reading it all these years.
Book you're an evangelist for:
A year ago, I read the essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, while I was waiting for the arrival of his novel Edinburgh at my local library. It's a fabulous memoir in essays that spans Chee's experiences as a tarot card reader, AIDS activist, rose whisperer and rising author, and dives deeply into questions of writing.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Art of the Japanese Postcard, a book that was also an exhibition that I got to see at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I love mail and postcards, and this book also inspired me to collect postcards from Taiwan that were designed and printed during Japanese colonial occupation.
Book you hid from your parents:
Judy Blume's Forever, because we never talked about sex.
Book that changed your life:
A man that I was in love with gave me a copy of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke during a difficult time in my adolescence. It asked the fundamental questions of an artist and her commitments to art and artful living. To encounter it as I was leaving the safety of my childhood home and family of origin provided me with a foundation of thinking about how I could prioritize a commitment to art as a way of life.
Favorite line from a book:
" 'A wave is born from deep conditions of the ocean,' she said. 'A person is born from deep conditions of the world. A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again. Up, down. Person, wave.' " --from Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being
Five books you'll never part with:
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje came to me at a moment in my life when I was thinking about the idea of what remains, what is permanent, what legacies, which histories endure as conveyed through stone and monuments.
Everything Sings by Denis Woods is an incredible book on mapping the local in unexpected and imaginative ways.
Moon in a Dew Drop by Dogen--I still have my copy from an undergraduate religion class I took with M. David Eckel in 1996.
The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu translated by Jane Hirshfield, which was introduced to me by Boston poet Deborah Bennett.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche because we all need a manual that guides us through grieving.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Michael Ondaatje's Warlight. He writes incredible child narrators who grow and evolve into adults over the course of a book. His protagonists arrive at coming to terms with childhood memories to re-order their lives, to recover what was lost. Ondaatje's ability to describe esoteric professions is also something to behold--I know of no other book that describes greyhound smuggling in such vivid detail.
The Book of Form and Emptiness
by Ruth Ozeki
A book takes on a life of its own in the spectacular fourth novel by writer, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki (Booker finalist for A Tale for the Time Being). The Book of Form and Emptiness is a slow-burning novel about a family in crisis, as well as a metafictional dialogue between book and author.
Jazz clarinetist Kenji Oh dies in an accident a few yards from his home, leaving behind his wife, Annabelle, and their son, Benny, to carry on in the aftermath. It's a trauma that will continue to reverberate throughout the novel, precipitating in Annabelle an attachment to objects and in Benny an anxious sensitivity to the voices those objects contain. As the clutter threatens to both bury them and drive them apart, one voice begins to rise above the others in 13-year-old Benny's mind: his book's.
The Book of Form and Emptiness is Benny's book, his guide through the loss of his father, the ongoing tension with his mother, a circuitous journey through mental health facilities, his first surges of puberty and a crush that promises to expand his heart and mind. Even as it tackles heavy subjects like consumerism and environmental catastrophe, and despite its layers of grief, this novel is filled with hope, compassion and more than a little wonder, as devoted books fly off shelves to meet the people who need them most. Ozeki's books consistently nourish the soul, so one can imagine they are foremost among the ones taking flight. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This heartwarming novel about family and grief follows the travails of a boy finding his own voice in a world where so many surround him.
A Dream of a Woman
by Casey Plett
Casey Plett's second collection, after A Safe Girl to Love and the novel Little Fish--both Lambda Award winners--once again features a spectrum of experiences lived by transgender women, from exhilarating to soul-crushing and all the quotidian moments in between. Among the exceptional dozen stories here, five stand alone, two are titled "Couldn't Hear You Talk Anymore," and five create the novella-esque "Obsolution." Plett presents none of the interlinked titles consecutively, as if reminding readers that life can be full of interruptions, more so for those outside the so-called mainstream.
Plett opens with "Hazel & Christopher"--the collection's most poignant--about two childhood friends who lose one another too early. Decades later, Hazel, having survived addiction and prostitution, finds Christopher, but their happily-ever-after reunion doesn't seem meant to be. Romance turns (a bit) hopeful in "Enough Trouble," when Gemma arrives at Ava's with nowhere to go, desperate to stay. The two-part "Couldn't Hear You Talk Anymore" reveals Tiana's post-surgery experiences, both excessive and mundane. "Obsolution" is undoubtedly the collection's highlight, following David's unsettled, searching decades--with and without Iris.
Plett crisscrosses borders and coasts, moving with her peripatetic characters through the Pacific Northwest, New York, and various towns and provinces in her home country, Canada. Biographical overlaps with numerous characters clearly imbue Plett's writing with urgent authenticity: beyond being transgender (Plett documented her transition in the column "Balls Out" for McSweeney's Internet Tendency), she shares geographies and career similarities. What proves most resonant for readers is the universality of the challenges her fictional women encounter--battling addictions, debilitating loneliness, impetuous connections, that elusive search for a lasting welcome home. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: These poignant stories feature transgender women, but the universal challenges faced by Plett's characters invite broad audiences.
by Dennis Cooper
I Wished is a tightly wound yet nakedly inquisitive novel about a man seeking to understand how he came to understand his past in a way that has tended to motivate him his entire life. Dennis Cooper (The Marbled Swarm) is the author of numerous unsettling transgressive novels, including a series of five interconnected books about a man named George Miles. Here, he steps back to formulate a brooding metafictional analysis of how George became the fulcrum for Dennis's early work.
The question that hangs over I Wished is whether George in fact loved Dennis the way he remembers, or if it was all an elaborate wish, the type Dennis began obsessively composing after an ax blade split his skull at age 10. "If George didn't love Dennis, and there's no evidence he did, then I guess I never loved him. I loved something else that this is torn from." Cooper bends boundaries of fiction and nonfiction throughout, but ultimately gives this work firm footing in realms of fiction, calling upon Santa Claus to write a couple of pointed e-mails and conjuring a talking crater to interview George.
Bizarre as it sounds, I Wished is a poignant and haunting elegy to a figure that has loomed large in Cooper's imagination since dying by suicide at age 30. The phantasmagorical qualities make every page a thrilling revelation, even for readers unfamiliar with the George Miles cycle of books. It is a beautiful, maddening riddle about love and what is set adrift in its wake. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In a disquieting and magnetic feat of fiction, a career novelist reconsiders the relationship that has fueled so much of his work.
Mystery & Thriller
Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery
In Brom's riveting gothic fantasy Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery, set in 1666, a puritanical community in Sutton Village, Conn., accuses a young bride of witchcraft and tries to strip away her land following the death of her husband.
Before Edward and Abitha Williams make the final crop payment on their farm to Wallace, Edward's older brother, Wallace tells the couple he has transferred ownership of the farm to rich land baron Lord Mansfield to cover a bad investment. But the village council decides Edward and Abitha can keep their original arrangement as long as the couple makes the final payment on time to Wallace. Then Edward dies in a mysterious accident, and 19-year-old Abitha must harvest an entire crop by herself or lose everything. No one thinks Abitha can succeed, and when she does, she's accused of consorting with the devil after a malevolent creature is seen roaming the forests of Sutton Village.
Tales of religious zealots killing people they suspect of being in league with the devil are sprinkled throughout history; in Slewfoot, Brom (Lost Gods) puts his own spin on these stories. His protagonist does consort with a demon, but one that isn't after Abitha's soul--Slewfoot is only helping Abitha stand against her persecutors. The author posits that perhaps archaic thinking and a misunderstanding of scripture might be the real evil. Whether readers are swayed or not, Slewfoot remains easily devoured. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: Concepts of good and evil are reinterpreted in this dynamic dark fantasy about an ancient demon helping a widow save her farm from misogynistic, Puritan colonialists.
The Heron's Cry
by Ann Cleeves
In this second novel in the Two Rivers series from British author Ann Cleeves (The Long Call), Detective Matthew Venn and his formidable team of investigators are called in when a well-liked local doctor is murdered in a shocking, stylistic manner. It's high summer in North Devon, and the holiday atmosphere in the coastal community is in full swing. Matthew and his two primary assistants, Jen and Ross, question witnesses, but they're frustrated when it seems the victim had many friends but no enemies. His employment as a public servant, however, is problematic, and Matthew and his team push forward, casting a wide net as they question the doctor's circle of friends and associates.
Then a second body is discovered, having been killed in the same unusual method. As Matthew, Jen and Ross race to identify the murderer before he strikes again, they are each confronted with concerns in their personal lives. While intently focusing on the case, are they giving short shrift to their families? Will this puzzling, complicated case cause irreparable harm to their private lives?
The vivid setting in The Heron's Cry casts the terrifying specter of violent death against the backdrop of carefree summer sunshine with maximum effect. The multi-dimensional lead characters have edges and scars--they're not always likable but are ultimately intriguing. A powerful cast of secondary characters are treated with the same compassionate insight. Fans of the author's beloved Vera and Shetland dramas will not be disappointed in Detective Venn's sleuthing skills. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: A British detective and his team struggle with personal issues while they work to solve a series of complicated, seemingly motiveless murders.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
A Girl Called Rumi
by Ari Honarvar
Journalist/artist/activist Ari Honarvar's promising debut, A Girl Called Rumi, memorializes the lifesaving power of storytelling through the darkest terrors. In 1981, the Iran-Iraq War was still new and a semblance of normalcy seemed possible for nine-year-old Kimia, who claims "Rumi" as parttime moniker. She's missing her father who's away working. Her mother, Roya, should be kinder; so could her older brother, Arman. Maybe best friend Reza is all she needs. But restrictions are growing. The itchy hijab is mandatory. Arman's joined a militant youth group. Roya's punishments are turning vicious. Yet somehow, Kimia and Reza find temporary sanctuary through a hidden trap door where a mysterious storyteller and his loquacious myna bird await.
In 2009, Kimia is living in San Diego where she's now a spiritual counselor, or so her clients call her. She's divorced, untethered, finds relief from her inner turmoil by regularly cutting herself with an antique dagger. Arman is a new club manager after multiple abandoned careers. And suddenly, Roya announces she's ready to return home to Shiraz--to die. The family's homegoing becomes a dangerous journey of labyrinthine secrets.
Honarvar reveals in her afterword how details of her own emigration from Iran became imbedded in her fiction. Her multiple narrators here create a mosaic of Iran's brutal history; their survival becomes bearable through sharing ancient myths, legends, poetry. Persian cultural icon Rumi--as lasting legacy, guide, comfort--especially inspires Honarvar's characters throughout. Honarvar's escape might be decades past, but a life on the run remains all too familiar to many: "This book is a love letter to all the displaced souls who yearn to become their own alchemists." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Multiple narrators reveal an Iranian family's escape from war-torn Shiraz to San Diego--and their eventual homegoing--in journalist/activist Ari Honarvar's satisfying debut novel.
Biography & Memoir
The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People
by Rick Bragg
Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirist Rick Bragg (The Best Cook in the World; My Southern Journey) grew out of rural Southern poverty, but the spirit of his storytelling has made him--and legions of readers--rich beyond measure. In The Speckled Beauty, he recalls how an aggressive, one-eyed stray dog, a wayward Australian shepherd, bolted into Bragg's life when he was down and out.
Bragg--then 60 years old--had retreated to Calhoun County, Ala., to live and work in his elderly mother's basement. He was there to assist during the pandemic, and he was also recovering from serious complications after battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The unruly dog with speckled markings bounded into Bragg's life and stuck around. Bragg's older brother, Sam, found him to be a pitiful stray with "the attention span of a tick on a hot rock," implying, "A dog like this, wild for so long, would only bring woe." But Bragg, who had always admired the breed, takes up training "Speck" as a cause. The exasperating, fearless dog chronically tests his patience ("The dog would not back down from a rattlesnake"), but he ultimately charms Bragg, his mother and even his skeptical brother with laughable antics: "How could you not love a dog with a toilet-seat halo around his head?" And, Bragg claims, "My dog would battle me to death over the last cold tater tot."
Amid dark days, bright Speck shows up at just the right time. How fortunate for readers that the joy of his presence--enhanced by the wit and wisdom of Bragg's inimitable prose--will resonate far beyond the Bragg homestead. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Famed serial memoirist Rick Bragg shares a beguiling story of his quest to tame an exasperating, yet utterly lovable, stray dog.
I Was a French Muslim: Memories of an Algerian Freedom Fighter
by Mokhtar Mokhtefi , trans. by Elaine Mokhtefi
Mokhtar Mokhtefi engagingly portrays a young man's coming of age in French-colonial Algeria and his fight for nationhood in I Was a French Muslim: Memories of an Algerian Freedom Fighter. Born in Algeria in 1935, Mokhtefi, the youngest of six children, was the first to finish grammar school and continue his education at a French lycée. Living under colonial rule, Mokhtefi recognized the hypocrisy of the French principles of liberté, egalité and fraternité taught in Algerian schools, while Algerians were treated as second-class citizens. The term "French Muslim" was stamped on every Algerian's identity card to differentiate them from the "French" (i.e., European) inhabitants of Algeria.
Inspired by his love of country and equipped with a "strong moral sense," Mokhtefi joined the National Liberation Army in 1957 at the age of 22 and became a radio operator. Mokhtefi resurrects this time in his life through novelistic episodes of extensive dialogue and colorful descriptions of his soldiering days. Written in present tense, Mokhtefi's memoir pulls readers along through dangerous desert treks and encounters with venomous snakes, red-light districts, romances and run-ins with picaresque comrades he often must put in their place. A passionate introduction by Elaine Mokhtefi, his wife and translator, fills in gaps for those new to the topic of Algeria's fight for independence. Ultimately, Mokhtefi's charming, guileless voice is the winning element of this fervent and personal account of an Algerian patriot. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver, Colo.
Discover: A bracing memoir recalls one young man's experience growing up as a second-class citizen in French Algeria and his philosophic and militant steps toward liberation for himself and his country.
Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally
by Emily Ladau
With straightforward prose and plenty of examples, disability advocate Emily Ladau gives readers a primer in Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally. Short and even fun chapters cover subjects including disability in history and media, ableism (systemic and interpersonal) and etiquette, but the most powerful chapter is "Understanding Disability as Part of a Whole Person," a topic woven into all sections of the book. For example, Ladau explains how using oversimplified versions of personal stories as "inspiration porn," or for condescending and dehumanizing pity or charity, can perpetuate stereotyping of disabled people and useless allyship.
Readers will want to pick up Demystifying Disability to answer a question Ladau poses: "How can we unlearn and disentangle ourselves from the mess of stigma and prejudice toward disabled people--especially disabled people of multiple marginalized identities--and begin to move toward a more inclusive, accepting world?"
While the information and recommendations here are written to be easy to understand and apply, Ladau is quick to note that her voice is just one of many, not a definitive account of all experiences and perspectives. To balance this, she quotes many other disability advocates and includes a list of resources for further reading.
Demystifying Disability is a great starting point for anyone looking better to understand the diversity of human experiences, but will be especially useful to those who wish to build inclusive spaces or make their own work more accessible. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Emily Ladau presents a guide to understanding the disabled experience and examining and addressing ableism.
Now in Paperback
How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation
by E.D. Hirsch
How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., confronts the precipitous decline in academic performance of U.S. students compared to their international peers. Hirsch illustrates that the country's child-centered elementary schooling model is failing its children, especially the most disadvantaged ones.
A lifelong educator, Hirsch (Why Knowledge Matters; The Making of Americans; Cultural Literacy) established the Core Knowledge Foundation to promote educational equity in schools. While other developed countries teach standardized curricula rich in civics, history and tradition, most U.S. schools emphasize general skills such as critical thinking without imparting the essential shared knowledge, including civics and history, that is the mark of an educated citizen. Students grow up untethered to their American identity, resulting in what Hirsch refers to as "a knowledge gap, a communications gap and an allegiance gap."
Addressing parents, Hirsch points to the latest scientific research to demonstrate that young brains are primed for absorbing content and capable of inhabiting more than one identity. He shares examples of successful core knowledge-focused schools around the country, recommending that all elementary schools adopt content-specific curricula to unite the multiethnic nation's children under a shared U.S. nationality and improve their academic performance.
Readers cautious about a nationalistic, uniform approach to educating youth will discover in Hirsch's manifesto several compelling reasons for doing so, including the indisputable fact that a unified nation is better equipped to cooperate on international matters than one as polarized as the U.S. in the 21st century. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A career educator concerned about the United States' survival as a high-achieving, fair and literate society makes a persuasive, scientifically sound case for an education revolution.
Children's & Young Adult
Egg Marks the Spot: A Skunk and Badger Story
by Amy Timberlake , illust. by Jon Klassen
Skunk and Badger stumble into the adventure of a lifetime in round two of this quirky, comical early reader series about a mismatched pair of friends.
Newbery Honoree Amy Timberlake (One Came Home) and Caldecott Medal winner Jon Klassen (This Is Not My Hat) team up again to build on their story of a friendship both tender and outrageously funny. Roommates Skunk and Badger set off on a camping trip to Endless Lake to escape home-life burdens and, perhaps, to find a new agate for Badger's alphabetized rock collection. Badger is still heartbroken over the loss of his beloved Spider Eye Agate, which was "stolen, filched, purloined" at a family reunion by his cousin Fisher. Right before they leave, Skunk learns that his nemesis, Mr. G. Hedgehog, is in town and is planning to continue his habit of pilfering Skunk's cherished New Yak Times Book Review. ("Yaks make the best book reviewers. Is it their shaggy bangs that bring focus?") Deep in a cave, Skunk and Badger do find something of geological interest, but it's no agate--they discover a wall of amber with a massive, fossilized egg. Unfortunately, Badger's conniving cousin Fisher has also found the egg.
While book one (Skunk and Badger) establishes the fragile new bond between the roommates, Egg Marks the Spot deepens the connection. Klassen contributes his trademark droll artwork in both full-color and black-and-white illustrations that invite leisurely perusal. Details like the cast-iron pan hanging from Skunk's massively overstuffed backpack work to build on and reinforce the hilarity of Timberlake's text. Book three, we're waiting for you! --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Skunk and Badger return for a thrilling and poignant adventure in this second hilarious title in the series by award-winning duo Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen.
Things We Couldn't Say
by Jay Coles
Composer and middle-school teacher Jay Coles (Tyler Johnson Was Here) returns with his sublime sophomore novel, Things We Couldn't Say. Written for, but not limited to, high school students or those who identify as Black, male and queer, Coles tells the story of 17-year-old Giovanni, who struggles with understanding the many meanings of love.
Gio has lived with a hole in his heart for almost half of his life. The hole was made eight years ago when his birth mother abandoned Gio, his younger brother, Theo, and their father. Still, Gio has managed the hole even though he lives in a particularly rough part of West Haven, Ind.; his father is an alcoholic preacher; and Gio--a star basketball player--is hiding his bisexuality from everyone except his immediate family and his two best friends. But just when Gio feels like he's beginning to get a grip on his life, that hole threatens to rip his heart in two: he receives an e-mail from his ghost of a mother.
Coles's beautifully written bildungsroman encompasses topics such as identity, grief, love, alcoholism, socioeconomics, depression, sexuality, family, race and racial injustices. It allows queer Black boys to see themselves as they aren't always portrayed. As readers are invited into Gio's life, they watch him maneuver his age, race, sexuality in all their realms and learn how important it is for young adults to find an understanding of the self as well as a definition of what family and love really means. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this superbly written coming-of-age novel, a teenage boy struggles to stay afloat and be brave despite his world crumbling.
The Proudest Color
by Sheila Modir and Jeffrey Kashou , illust. by Monica Mikai
Sheila Modir and Jeffrey Kashou's debut picture book, The Proudest Color, addresses the reality of racial identity for a child audience. The authors effectively use positive association and expression to show one girl overcoming colorism, a negative bias many children of color encounter when they begin elementary school.
Licensed mental health practitioners Modir and Kashou's expertise is evident in their realistic portrayal of a girl being affected by colorism. When the narrative begins, Zahra explains the colors she associates with different emotions. She proceeds jubilantly to profess why brown is her most favorite color of all. "When I am PROUD, I feel a beautiful brown in my heart. But, for me, brown is more than feeling proud. It's the color I see when I see ME." However, Zahra's self-esteem is affected by being the only child in her class with brown skin. The resulting swell of negative feelings leads to a frank conversation with her family about role models--Zahra's abuela, Malala Yousafzai, Kamala Harris--who also have different shades of brown skin.
Monica Mikai renders Zahra's demonstrative facial expressions in soft strokes and rich umber tones. Each scene draws readers into the narrative through the welcoming warmth of Mikai's palette: deep hues of orange, purple, gold, pink and, of course, many different browns. Educators and parents may find Zahra's story and the professional tips in the back matter helpful, while young readers of any race should be delighted by optimistic Zahra and her colorful world. --Rachel Werner, Hugo House and the Loft Literary Center teaching artist
Discover: A student learns how to cope with being the only child of color in her new class in this approachable picture book about helping children embrace racial identity.