From the Shelf
Walking and Writing with Women
I love that moment when one book leads you to another and then another. Even better if the authors are having a conversation, or a writer I love is highlighting some of her faves. That's the stated purpose of Kathryn Aalto's book Writing Wild (Timber Press, $24.95), a luminous collection of mini-biographies of female nature writers past and present.
Beautifully illustrated by Gisela Goppel, Aalto's book champions historical figures like Rachel Carson and Vita Sackville-West, and contemporary writers like Rebecca Solnit and Robin Wall Kimmerer. She makes a point of including Indigenous and Black female authors, ending each chapter with a list of (even) further reading to explore.
Aalto's work led me to Trace (Counterpoint, $16.95), a lyrical exploration of race, memory and American history by Lauret Savoy, who identifies as African American, Euro-American and Native American. She delves into the erasure of Indigenous peoples from the land that belonged to them, the complicated history and migration(s) of Black people, and the related gaps in her own family's narrative.
As I kept reading, I remembered that Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain (Canongate, $14) is sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to accompany Shepherd on her treks through the Cairngorms in Scotland. That in turn made me think of Margaret E. Murie's Two in the Far North (Alaska Northwest, $19.99), a keen-eyed account of Murie's travels in Alaska with her naturalist husband, Olaus. These women, and others, share their experiences across time and space, standing alongside male giants like William Wordsworth or John Muir.
"It's time to turn up the volume on narratives by women," Aalto writes in her introduction. By making room at the table for dozens of female voices, Writing Wild ensures a deeper, richer, more joyous conversation about how humans relate to the natural world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
In this Issue...
by Meg Grehan
In this heartwarming novel-in-verse, an anxious 11-year-old girl tries to understand the "fizzy feeling" in her chest she has around her female classmate.
by Joe Ide
In his fifth exciting adventure, brilliant young detective Isaiah Quintabe hunts a serial killer while his streetwise partner, Dodson, confronts a different kind of killer in the corporate world.
by Isabel Allende
Acclaimed novelist Isabel Allende offers a passionate, wise and charmingly irascible meditation on feminism.
Review by Subjects:
Authors' Writing Advice
"The 69 pages of writing advice Denis Johnson collected from Flannery O'Connor, Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, Hunter Thompson, Werner Herzog & many others." (via Open Culture)
"The engineers at Minotaur Books have created a helpful guide to assist in finding the perfect crime novel for each individual bibliophile."
BC/AD OR BCE/CE6, for example. Mental Floss suggested "6 Latin abbreviations you should know."
Author Lucy Clarke chose her top 10 books about castaways for the Guardian.
Bookstr shared "6 quotes to celebrate Wilhelm Grimm's birthday."
Rediscover: Dick Gallup
American poet Dick Gallup, who in the 1960s and 1970s established himself as an important figure in the New York School of poets, died January 27 at age 79. In 1949, his family moved from Massachusetts to Tulsa, Okla., buying a house across the street from poet Ron Padgett. They became friends and, in 1958, while in high school, founded (with artist and writer Joe Brainard, also a classmate) a small literary magazine, the White Dove Review, which published Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Robert Creeley, as well as a new friend in Tulsa, Ted Berrigan. After college, Gallup lived in the East Village in Manhattan, where he became an active member of the downtown art and literary scene, giving readings, publishing widely in magazines, and publishing books, including Hinges (1965), The Bingo (1966), and Where I Hang My Hat (1970). He moved to Boulder, Colo., in the mid-'70s to teach at the Naropa Institute, where he wrote Above the Tree Line (1976), after which he moved to San Francisco and stopped writing.
Gallup released only one more collection, Plumbing the Depths of Folly (1983), though he did agree to let Alan Kornblum, his former student, bring out Shiny Pencils at the Edge of Things: New and Selected Poems at Coffee House Press in 2001. Ron Padgett wrote that what made Gallup's "poetry special was its combination of graceful lyricism and everyday language, and a willingness to explore unexpected corners of the mind and yet maintain a sense of humor about it all. His work was like him: intelligent, sensitive, hip, and gentle, quietly oblique and funny, but always with a clear-eyed view of human folly."
The Writer's Life
Julia Turshen: Equitable Storytelling Through Home Cooking
|photo: Melina Hammer|
Julia Turshen is a home cook and food writer, author of the cookbooks Now & Again, Feed the Resistance and Small Victories, among others. The founder of Equity at the Table and host of the podcast Keep Calm and Cook On, Turshen lives in New York's Hudson Valley with her wife, Grace, and their pets. Her latest book, Simply Julia: 100 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food (Harper Wave, $32.50; reviewed below), offers recipes featuring a healthier take on the simple, satisfying comfort food for which Turshen is known.
Did Simply Julia feel more personal to you than your previous cookbooks?
There are a few really interesting elements in Simply Julia that I just haven't done before. One was including personal essays throughout. I usually write pretty long headnotes, including stories behind the recipes; to me that's the most exciting part of any cookbook. Here, there were certain things I wanted to address that just didn't quite fit with any one recipe, or were longer than a headnote paragraph, and those became the essays in the book. Then in addition to the amazing photos that Melina Hammer took, there are a lot of family photos throughout; it feels really special to share those here. There's also the decision to use my handwriting throughout the book.
Those are the details that help bring the stories to life. I am giving you a recipe so you can make this in your kitchen; I am giving you the story behind a dish so you can understand what it means. I feel strongly that my work is coming from my kitchen to yours, and all those touches help make that true.
How does your work starting Equity at the Table and hosting your podcast, Keep Calm and Cook On, shape your work as a cookbook author?
What ties all these things together is a commitment to equitable storytelling. That happens in my own book; I bring my full self to it as a very proud, openly gay woman. There's a lot of stories about my wife, Grace, and I think stories have this incredible power to normalize things that have often been othered.
I know what it feels like to put myself out there and have my stories, my voice, heard and paid attention to. I feel strongly about making that experience available to as many people as possible. Maybe it's connecting someone to Equity at the Table, or interviewing someone on the podcast, or doing more behind-the-scenes work like talking to people who want to get into the cookbook industry. I love being able to talk to as many people as I can, because ultimately I want my book to exist on a shelf with lots of other books that feel really exciting to me.
You call your recipes "suggestions, not prescriptions," but to me, they almost feel like invitations: to a dish, to a story, to the experience of cooking.
I love that the word "invitation" came up for you. A big goal in my work is making it feel as welcoming as possible, as inviting as possible.
There's an old cliché, "food brings people together," but it's cliché for the same reason all things are cliché--because it's true. In this extended moment [of the pandemic], there are other ways that cooking can remind us of that truth. That warm invitation can come through dropping off an extra loaf of date-nut bread for a neighbor, or making an extra pot of soup for someone, or mailing someone a baked good or ingredient or cookbook, or e-mailing someone a recipe or a story that reminded you of them.
When I think of an invitation, I think of one person reaching out to another. Food can help us do that, and that is a really important part of maintaining relationships and culture and humanity. We always need that, but we need that right now more than ever.
How do you see a cookbook like Simply Julia fitting into the larger conversation about food systems?
We cannot look at food as a whole and understand it without also thinking about issues like the environment and class and race, and all of these things that are really threatened, right now and always. Food shows us where a lot of these problems are, and also offers a lot of opportunities for solutions.
When I am working on a cookbook and thinking about the people who might read it or buy it or use it, I'm thinking about a group of people who are invested in cooking at home. They have the time and money not only to do that, but to also buy a cookbook and think about food from a place of assumed comfort.
Given that, it's really important not to underestimate those readers, and to remind them of all of the power they have. Every time we buy an ingredient, we're making a political decision. Every time we decide where to spend our money, we're deciding who to invest in. These are decisions we get to make, even with so many variables: time, budgets, accessibility, household size, geography, all these things.
There's no one right answer. If there was, there wouldn't be so many issues. There are so many different answers, and it's important to remember that we can be part of those answers. A cookbook that is about home cooking, by a home cook, for other home cooks is exactly the place these things should be discussed.
It's not all or nothing, either--every bit makes a difference.
A big lesson I've continued to learn, and part of the ethos of Simply Julia, is this sense of being able to hold opposing things at the same time, knowing that things aren't black and white. For example, there's a chapter of chicken recipes and a chapter of vegan recipes here--one book can have both of those things, and that's okay!
That kind of all or nothingness, that extremeness, is such a big part of our consumer culture, our diet culture, and in general a culture that seeks to label everything. I'm not a vegan, but some of my meals are vegan. I hope that this book is a resource for a lot of people.
This idea comes up in your essay about "healthy" eating as well.
There's a picture of me on the cover of the book, my likeness is sitting under the words "healthy." I'm not a super-thin, straight, blonde woman, and I'm just really excited to show in this book a very open and honest conversation about body image, and the various definitions of healthy.
It feels like a tremendous opportunity to put Simply Julia on the shelf in the bookstore where "healthy cookbooks" exist, as a cookbook that's a little different from the others. Simply Julia doesn't equate healthy with skinny, which is something I wish I'd understood much earlier on.
Because the pandemic is still limiting in-person events, I'm assuming you'll be celebrating this book at home. What's your go-to celebratory meal?
It would definitely have to end with cake of some kind. I love the carrot cake recipe in this book that Grace made me for my birthday this past summer. So I'd end with the carrot cake. And for the meal itself, assuming we have a bunch of vegetables from our winter CSA, I think we'd do something like spaghetti with super garlicky greens. Like the Green Pasta in Simply Julia. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
by Joe Ide
In Joe Ide's fiery-hot Smoke, private detective Isaiah Quintabe, aka IQ, and his partner in crime, Juanell Dodson, take stabs at safer career paths, only to find killers and sociopaths in the way.
Isaiah needs a break. He's physically and soulfully exhausted from looking into the abyss. Gangs have put a price on his head, and they'll be coming after his friends next. Without a plan or destination in mind, Isaiah escapes Long Beach, Calif., for a life less likely to get him killed. He finds peace in a small Northern California town--until an escaped mental patient named Billy breaks into Isaiah's rented apartment ranting about a serial killer on the loose. Calling the cops would only get Billy transported back to the psychiatric hospital, and he isn't crazy. A serial killer is indeed on the loose, and Isaiah needs to help apprehend him.
Back in Long Beach, Dodson's wife, Cherise, tells him to get a legitimate job or look for another wife, so he reluctantly starts an internship at an advertising agency. He immediately realizes his boss is about to be fired by corrupt higher-ups, and Dodson sets out to protect his boss's--and his own--job.
Ide's fifth installment of the exciting IQ series (following Hi Five) shows no signs of sequel fatigue, and Smoke can be read as a standalone, but new readers will become even bigger fans by diving into the previous books. The author has an innate ability to find the humor and humanity in both the evil and the innocent characters, and shows that rediscovering one's mojo can come only after confronting obstacles. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: In his fifth exciting adventure, brilliant young detective Isaiah Quintabe hunts a serial killer while his streetwise partner, Dodson, confronts a different kind of killer in the corporate world.
by Avni Doshi
Tara shares a piece of her daughter's name. But Antara is not sure she wants such a tether between them. In her youth, Tara was reckless and irresponsible, dragging Antara to an ashram before becoming a beggar and chasing after a homeless artist. In Avni Doshi's brilliant, Booker Prize-shortlisted Burnt Sugar, Antara tells readers, "I suffered at her hands as a child, and any pain she subsequently endured appeared to me to be a kind of redemption--a rebalancing of the universe, where the rational order of cause and effect aligned."
Now an adult with her own life, marriage and career, Antara is reluctant to care for her mother as she endures the terrifying decay of dementia. Antara seems almost frightened by her own resentment, and yet she can't ignore the tenuous bond between herself and her mother, no matter how toxic. Set in Pune and Mumbai, India, Burnt Sugar is alive with sound and color and aching descriptions of both domestic life and harried adventure, especially as Antara attempts to create a home with her husband, Dilip, that is "free of grey, fuzzy edges." She wants to understand and be understood clearly, making art that explores "where patterns cease to exist." But relationships, especially those between blood, are rarely so easily studied, and Antara must first work to understand herself.
Doshi's debut is a thoughtfully parsed, deeply resonant novel. This is not a feel-good read, nor is it a quick and easy one, but rather one meant to be ruminated over. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer
Discover: Gorgeous prose sends an emotional thrum through every paragraph of this novel about a woman's tenuous relationship with a mother in the grips of dementia.
Mystery & Thriller
by Ava Barry
The narrator of the thoroughly cinematic novel Windhall, Max Hailey, is a journalist with the Los Angeles Lens. He would gladly swap modern-day L.A.'s artisanal coffee-drinking hipsters for the impeccably dressed sidecar-swilling swells of the 1940s, and has long been captivated by the unsolved 1948 murder of movie star Eleanor Hayes. As the story goes, one night at a party at Windhall, the Benedict Canyon mansion belonging to A-list director Theodore Langley, he fatally stabbed the actress in his garden. Theo was arrested, but evidence tampering foiled the case against him. After he was released from all charges, he seemed to vanish. Windhall has been unoccupied ever since.
Sixty-nine years later, the body of a young woman is found in a garden near Windhall; she's wearing a green silk dress like the one that Eleanor was killed in and, like Eleanor, she has been stabbed. Spurred by the media's flogging of the two deaths' parallels, Max decides to write a story about Theo and prove that the director killed Eleanor. Still, even Max has to wonder how logical it would have been for a director to murder his star when they were in the middle of shooting a movie.
Windhall is such an intoxicating throwback that readers may find themselves picturing Max in a fedora and trench coat as he noses around a faded Los Angeles, following up leads. Ava Barry's sparkling debut has Sunset Boulevard's curdled-glamor mise-en-scène, All About Eve's backstage intrigue and The Day of the Locust's crushing disillusionment with Tinseltown. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This highly cinematic modern-day mystery, which revolves around a 70-year-old unsolved murder, is a sparkling homage to Hollywood's Golden Age.
Who Is Maud Dixon?
by Alexandra Andrews
Is it really possible to shed one's history "as easily as a coat slips off the back of a chair" and walk away? And if so--what might one walk into? That's the puzzle posed by the cunningly plotted Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews.
Florence Darrow thinks of her past in Florida "as a gangrenous limb that needed to be severed for the greater good." Now that she's landed an editorial assistant position in New York City, she can begin remaking herself. However, she can't quite make out the shape of the new version of herself she's trying to form. Then the opportunity of a lifetime comes along: she is hired as personal assistant to Maud Dixon, pseudonym for the electrifying and mysterious author of the biggest bestseller in recent history. Florence becomes one of just two people to know Maud's true identity. And she finally has a model to guide her own transformation into the bestselling author and confident self-made woman she knows she can be.
Florence sinks with pleasure into her new life: living in the carriage house behind Maud's lovely old stone house in the country, enjoying Maud's cooking and fine wines and opera. But who, really, is Maud Dixon? Florence knows her name, and the name of the Mississippi town she comes from. But much of her hero's persona remains enigmatic: Maud is unpredictable, thorny, wise and (to the Florida ingenue) perfectly captivating.
Who Is Maud Dixon? is a wickedly fun study in deception, secrets, striving and longing. Andrews's stylish, intricate debut novel showcases deft prose and expert use of tone and atmosphere. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This delightfully disquieting novel explores identity, deceit and extreme measures through two women's shape-shifting lives.
Food & Wine
Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food
by Julia Turshen
Julia Turshen is a "home cook just like you," a fact that is evident on every page of Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Foods. She promises recipes with easy-to-source ingredients, dishes that won't generate more clean-up than absolutely necessary and menu ideas that are as inspiring as they are easy to execute--and she delivers.
Turshen starts with the basics: short (only five items!) lists of staple ingredients, kitchen utensils and things to keep on hand for "good kitchen vibes." She then groups recipes into large, general categories ("Easy Weeknight Go-tos" and "Eleven Chicken Recipes"), each full of dishes that look as delectable as they are approachable in a standard home kitchen--no sous-chef or cleaning team or fancy equipment required. Simply Julia is more than "just" recipes, however, as Turshen has packed the pages of her elegantly designed book with stories, photographs and memories associated with each dish: "Almond Chicken Cutlets for Grace" recalls when Turshen's wife was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes; "Coffee Crumb Cake for Georgine" is a memory of Turshen's late friend Georgine, met while volunteering together; "Sweet and Salty Sesame Peanuts" recalls her years spent eating Nuts4Nuts on the streets of New York. These anecdotes--in combination with an assortment of personal essays through which Turshen reflects on food and life--injects energy into Turshen's deceptively simple recipes. With stunning photography by Melina Hammer, Simply Julia pays homage to the role food plays in connecting people to history, to communities and to one another. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: Easy recipes combine with personal stories in a cookbook that reimagines what it means to be healthy and enjoy food prepared at home.
Biography & Memoir
The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir
by Sherry Turkle
In The Empathy Diaries, clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle skillfully merges her intriguing personal history and impressive professional journey to deliver a thought-provoking reminder of how science and technology can cause people to forget what makes them human. Turkle is a distinguished professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her message is timely and persuasive. As she points out, technology treats humans as though we are objects, and we get into the habit of objectifying one another as bits of data. But only shared vulnerability and human empathy allow people truly to understand each other.
The Empathy Diaries offers beautifully crafted, animated accounts of an emotionally rich but curiously secretive Brooklyn childhood in which Turkle's biological father's identity and whereabouts were forbidden topics of conversation. Through an eventual relationship with this absent scientist father, and her marriage to artificial intelligence pioneer Seymour Papert, Turkle witnessed firsthand how easily fascination with technology diverts well-intentioned people away from empathy's simple human truths.
Encouraged by a mother, aunt and grandparents whose courageous sacrifices propelled her soaring academic success at Radcliffe and Harvard, Turkle (Alone Together; Reclaiming Conversation) found her calling as an empathy activist who advocates for a restraint on technology dependence, despite her front-row seat to the digital revolution at MIT in the '70s. Readers will enjoy the anecdotes that chart her remarkable journey, especially Turkle's entertaining account of hosting a young Steve Jobs for dinner after he launched the Apple II computer. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: This gorgeously rendered, intimate life story illuminates how a gifted Jewish girl from Brooklyn rose to become a leading authority on technology's assault on empathy.
Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am
by Julia Cooke
In the golden age of air travel, Pan Am stewardesses were a symbol of independence, glamour and sexual empowerment. They were beautiful, college-educated, skilled in diplomacy and crowd control (as well as navigating tight spaces, turbulence and even war zones). But they were also real women, with varied backgrounds and experiences both on the ground and in the air. In her second nonfiction book, Come Fly the World, journalist Julia Cooke explores the rise and fall of Pan Am against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and rapidly changing--if often inconsistent--attitudes toward women in the workplace.
Cooke (The Other Side of Paradise) conducted extensive interviews with former stewardesses, and she devotes large chunks of her narrative to their perspectives. A small-town girl from upstate New York, a young Norwegian woman who would eventually make her home in California, a woman who became one of Pan Am's first Black stewardesses--all of them came to the airline seeking adventure and a chance to make their own way. They went through rigorous training and dealt with sexism (covert and overt) in every area, from their uniforms' fit to the smiles they were expected to give passengers. More importantly, they learned valuable skills and embraced international adventures: swimming in multiple oceans, visiting cities they'd only dreamed about, even handling hijackings and other tense situations on board.
Thoughtful, well-researched and utterly engaging, Come Fly the World is smart escapist journalism and a tribute to hundreds of women who were much more than just a crew of pretty faces. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Journalist Julia Cooke paints a riveting, complex portrait of the adventurous lives of Pan Am stewardesses during aviation's golden age.
The Soul of a Woman
by Isabel Allende
"Women's emancipation is not incompatible with femininity," declares Chilean novelist Isabel Allende (A Long Petal of the Sea) in her fifth nonfiction book, The Soul of a Woman. "Quite the opposite: I think they are complementary." In this slim memoir-cum-manifesto, Allende, a passionate feminist since age five, recounts her experiences with the patriarchy as a young woman, her early career as a journalist and translator, and her eventual success as a novelist (and as a thrice-married woman). In the book's second half, Allende details some of the atrocities faced by women around the world and makes a cogent case for changing laws and policies to empower women and ensure their rights, reproductive and otherwise.
Best known for her novels featuring strong women, Latin American politics and magical realism (The House of the Spirits; The Stories of Eva Luna), Allende is also a long-time supporter of vulnerable women and girls through her eponymous foundation. As a young girl, Allende saw her mother dominated by men with economic and political power, and she vowed not to live her life the same way. Determined to forge her own path, she worked in TV and magazine journalism before turning to fiction.
Allende peppers this brief autobiography with wry asides, and the narrative rambles at times, but she never loses sight of her chief objective: to celebrate women's worth and value, and urge readers to stand up for the women in their lives, including themselves. Readers of Allende's fiction and memoirs will enjoy this sharp, thoughtful, often charmingly irascible glimpse into the author's fiercely feminist soul. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Acclaimed novelist Isabel Allende offers a passionate, wise and charmingly irascible meditation on feminism.
We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption
by Justin Fenton
Justin Fenton, Pulitzer Prize-nominated crime and police accountability reporter for the Baltimore Sun, covered protests following Freddie Gray's 2015 death in police custody. Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, was arrested though he had committed no crime, and his murder was an indicator of a nauseating pattern of police malfeasance in Baltimore. We Own This City is Fenton's explosive recounting of years of cover-ups and lies by hard-charging officers handpicked to combat poor crime statistics by targeting violent repeat offenders. A blind eye was turned to these "knockers," whose expanded independence was abused in the most abhorrent of ways, further damaging an already drug-and-violence-weary city.
Authorities struggled to reduce violent crime, leading to desperation and breakdown of discipline that allowed officers to run amok. "The message from up on high was clear. Do whatever it took to stem the tide of violence. Whatever. It. Took." Some officers carried this edict to incredulous extremes, stopping and searching without justification, planting evidence, searching homes, and seizing money and drugs that they would then sell back into the community they were sworn to protect. Perhaps none were more egregious than Sergeant Wayne Jenkins.
Fenton zeroes in on hard-driver Jenkins and the Gun Trace Task Force, meticulously laying out the years they ran roughshod, garnering acclaim for results stemming from their own misdeeds. Tracking Jenkins's history and the FBI investigation into the GTTF, Fenton details the lives ruined and damage caused by both under- and over-policing of Black communities. For anyone who fails to understand why Freddie Gray ran, the Wayne Jenkinses of the world provide a life-or-death rationale. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Baltimore crime reporter Justin Fenton meticulously records the long path of pain and destruction forged by eight "elite" police officers brought to justice in 2017.
You're Leaving When?: Adventures in Downward Mobility
by Annabelle Gurwitch
With 2014's I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50, actress Annabelle Gurwitch proved that she's a hilarious sharer of uncomfortable truths about her age cohort. With the commensurately funny essay collection You're Leaving When?: Adventures in Downward Mobility, she aims higher--chronologically, that is. As she puts it, "We, who once debated being Rachels, Monicas, or Phoebes, are now vying for who gets to be Blanche or Dorothy from The Golden Girls."
After she saw her only child off to college, Gurwitch--menopausal, freshly divorced and gaining on 60--assumed that "my future would be filled with hot-air balloon tours and Zumba classes." Instead, she suffered financial setbacks as a result of losing her union health insurance, "aging out of" her acting career and suddenly being forced to run a household on one income. Gurwitch finds herself obliged to economize by showering at her yoga studio, hoarding product samples and renting out a room in her Los Angeles home to strangers. Some of the essays in You're Leaving When? address first-world concerns with cheeky self-awareness, as when Gurwitch pines for a fancy pillow that she can't afford. More reflective of her values is "If You Lived with Me You'd Be Home by Now," her account of temporarily housing a homeless young couple through a Host Home program. The piece is a worthy short-form counterpart to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, but with better jokes. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Actress Annabelle Gurwitch's essay collection is a damn funny look at the trials of a single woman navigating upper midlife.
Children's & Young Adult
The Deepest Breath
by Meg Grehan
This poetic middle-grade coming-out story addresses living with anxiety and the power of representation through the eyes of a precocious pre-teen.
Knowing things makes 11-year-old Stevie feel safe and in control, but she feels "over-over-overwhelmed" by her growing list of unknown things. Her mom suggests narrowing it down to what she wants to know about the most, like "the ocean and... why it's so scary" or "knots." While books help her understand the ocean and knots, there isn't anything to help her figure out the most important unknown: the "fizzy feeling" she gets in her chest when she looks at her friend Chloe. When her mom doesn't quite grasp what Stevie's trying to tell her, she heads to the one place she hopes will have the answers: the library.
The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan (The Space Between) is the book that Stevie needs: a mirror into the life of a queer middle schooler looking for a book "about a princess and a princess." Grehan explores the importance and power of representation, particularly for younger queer kids. Through Grehan's free verse, readers have a direct line to Stevie's head and heart--with her feelings, thoughts and idiosyncrasies on full display, readers are able to empathize with Stevie.
Grehan not only perfectly conveys the different manifestations of Stevie's anxiety, she also artfully captures the voice of an 11-year-old who may not have all the words but still tries to express her feelings in her own way: "Every single thing... is good/ And happy/ And real/ And true." The Deepest Breath is wholesome, powerful and essential. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: In this heartwarming novel-in-verse, an anxious 11-year-old girl tries to understand the "fizzy feeling" in her chest she has around her female classmate.
Seven Special Somethings: A Nowruz Story
by Adib Khorram , illust. by Zainab Faidhi
Persian American Adib Khorram joyfully and playfully celebrates his heritage in Seven Special Somethings, his picture book debut, following his award-winning Darius the Great YA duology. Khorram is partnered with fellow debut picture book creator Zainab Faidhi, an Iraq-born artist whose animation background provides each page with boundless energy. The result is a lively #OwnVoices celebration of family and culture.
Kian, accompanied by his loyal kitty, gleefully runs down the stairs, so excited he drops his teddy bear along the way. Nowruz--the Persian New Year observed on the first day of spring--is "here at last!" Maman, Baba and Kian all have their preparatory tasks--cooking, cleaning and sorting socks. In the living room, Maman has already set the sofreh haft-seen, a table laden with seven special somethings: "The Seven S's... are symbols," Maman reminds. "We hope they will make us happy in the new year." Included in the seven are Sabzeh (sprouts) for rebirth, Serkeh (vinegar) for patience and Sumaq (spice) for sunshine. Convinced that more S's will make the "new year even happier," Kian attempts to add his cat, Sonny, and wreaks unintended havoc. With Maman busy cooking and Baba gone to pick up the grandparents, resourceful Kian sets out to gather seven more S's to make the haft-seen resplendently festive once more.
Khorram presents an irresistible love letter to traditions that brings together multiple generations, toothsome feasts and, perhaps, the best S of all: an infectiously shared Smile that "will make us happiest of all in the new year." Though Faidhi's winsome illustrations might keep Maman too long in the kitchen, young readers will undoubtedly enjoy Kian's exuberance and thoughtful ingenuity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In Adib Khorram's exuberant picture book debut, a rambunctious boy celebrates the Persian New Year with family, food and smiles.
We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire
by Joy McCullough , illust. by Maia Kobabe
Joy McCullough follows her National Book Award longlisted Blood Water Paint with another ferociously honest, unequivocally feminist novel for young adult readers.
Em's older sister, Nor, doesn't remember "those moments behind the frat house." What she remembers is waking up "in the filthy alley, stripped down, broken ribs, and a used condom next to her the only indication of what had happened." Determined to get justice for Nor, Em wrote pieces for her high school newspaper, convinced Nor to press charges and go to trial, and used social media to build the case's momentum. Nor's rapist was found guilty, but justice never came: the judge sentenced him to time served. Em's shocked rage goes viral: "I feel," she tells a reporter, "like learning how to use a f*cking sword." As her family struggles to hold themselves together--through the slut-shaming, racist comments that Em is innately violent because her father is Guatemalan, the pure agony of living with this violation--Em begins to write the story of Marguerite de Bressieux, a legendary female knight who avenged rape victims. But Em disappears into writing Marguerite's story, and what could be therapeutic turns into an unhealthy obsession.
We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire moves with deliberate purpose between the contemporary prose account of Em and Nor Morales and Em's illuminated poetry of Marguerite's tale. McCullough's verse is spare, her economy of words forging cutting, brutal turns of phrase. Her prose, too, is beautiful and painful, leading to descriptions that leave the reader as "cracked and bruised and flayed open" as the protagonist. Appreciators of Elana K. Arnold's Red Hood or Courtney Summers's Sadie should pick up this title immediately. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Teenager Em Morales attempts to cope with her sister's rapist not being brought to justice in this passionate, rageful work of young adult fiction.