From the Shelf
Leesa Cross-Smith: A Short Story Writer's Novel Successes
I first encountered Leesa Cross-Smith's writing via her 2020 story collection, So We Can Glow. How could I not pick up a book that Roxane Gay called (in a quote on the cover) "unapologetically for women, about women, a love letter to who we are, the best and worst of us, held high and true, so we can glow as brightly as we dare"? Besides loving the cleverness of Gay managing to use the collection's title as praise for the book, I also couldn't resist the idea of stories that celebrate women at their highs and their lows--and the 42 tales in So We Can Glow (Grand Central, $15.99) do precisely that, with a depth of emotion and contexts that show off Cross-Smith's skill as a story writer.
That skill comes through in Cross-Smith's novels as well, delivering the same emotional depth via a different vehicle. Her debut novel, Whiskey & Ribbons (Hub City Press, $16), centers on the death of a Black cop killed in the line of duty. With first-person narration from three narrators, the novel weaves between perspectives (like many of the best short story collections) to coalesce in a moving work about grief and loss, family and love.
While Whiskey & Ribbons moves back and forth in time, the core of Cross-Smith's second novel, This Close to Okay (Grand Central, $27), is set during one long weekend. The novel promises the story of two strangers--a therapist and the man she pulls from the side of a bridge during a rainstorm--and looks like it will pack just as much punch as the stories that drew me into Cross-Smith's oeuvre to begin with. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
This beautifully illustrated dictionary of LGBTQIA+ words and phrases and their origins is informative, fun and indispensable.
by Renée Watson
Nala Robertson is a 17-year-old Black teen who gets caught up in lies while trying to find love in this warm and hopeful story.
by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In this fascinating history, Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the importance of the church in Black life in the United States.
Review by Subjects:
From Fountain Bookstore
05/16/2021 - 10:00AMPurchase of book from Fountain either in the book, ebook, or Libro.fm audiobook is required. Young Adult (or YA for short) is a very diverse and exciting genre. Our book club is subtitled Adults Who Read YA, so this group is open for those 18+ years old. Email the store to join and to get meeting directions. By attending you agree to our Code of Conduct: Our event provides a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression,...
05/17/2021 - 6:30PMPurchase of book from Fountain either in paper, ebook, or audio is required. Fountain of Evidence features discussions on books in the popular true crime genre, but may occasionally read fiction based on true crimes. Ages 21+ only. Email the store to join and to get meeting directions. By attending you agree to our Code of Conduct: Our event provides a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual...
05/19/2021 - 2:00PMRooted in pathos and told in Sendker’s signature gentle style, THE HEART REMEMBERS is, at its core, a novel about love’s ability to unify us in the face of hardship. Written from the alternating perspectives of Julia’s estranged son, an empathic 12-year-old named Ko Bo Bo, and her brother, U Ba, Ko Bo Bo’s uncle and caretaker, THE HEART REMEMBERS delves into Julia’s enigmatic past and the personal and political events that fractured her family. Hosted by the owner of Fountain Bookstore...
05/20/2021 - 7:00PMGET TICKETS HERE Join the Friends of the Chesterfield County Public Library on May 20 as they celebrate their 50th anniversary with a virtual visit from Nick Bruel, author of the Bad Kitty series. Bruel, a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of both picture and chapter books, will highlight his soon-to-be-published Bedtime for Bad Kitty, a picture book for young children or anyone who has resisted bedtime with the same determined ferocity as Bad Kitty....
05/20/2021 - 2:00PMThreat management expert Spencer Coursen shares lessons learned from his decades of global experience as a combat veteran, supervisory special agent, and private security professional to help you avoid life’s most common “safety traps” which often hide behind our own false sense of security — because sometimes feeling safe, is the most dangerous thing we do. Hosted by Fountain Bookstore owner Kelly Justice. Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management...
Drawing Literary Cartoons
"A New Yorker cartoonist explains how to draw literary cartoons." (via Open Culture)
Merriam-Webster offered "a guide to pluralizing foreign borrowings."
"The most enduring imposters in crime fiction and espionage" were showcased by CrimeReads.
"This Lord of the Rings LEGO display is the world's largest mini brick build," Mental Floss noted.
Author David F. Ross chose his "top 10 books about football [aka soccer]" for the Guardian.
Rediscover: Robert L. Herbert
Robert L. Herbert, the "pioneering scholar of 19th-century art" who transformed the study of Impressionism, died on December 17 at the age of 91, the New York Times reported. Over the course of a teaching career lasting more than 60 years, Herbert curated numerous exhibitions and published books prolifically. They included studies on the work of artists like David, Seurat, Monet and Renoir, and his magnum opus was Impressionism: Art, Leisure and Parisian Society. Published by Yale University Press in 1988, it "interweaves sociology of class and gender relationships with close readings of canonical painting" and took Herbert 20 years to write. Immediately hailed as a landmark in the field, Impressionism "vaulted him into the ranks of exalted socially minded art historians."
Herbert spent 34 years at Yale before joining his wife, Eugenia Herbert, at Mount Holyoke College, where she was a history professor. He became the Andrew W. Mellon professor of humanities there, and both retired in 1997. He earned many honors throughout his career, including a Guggenheim fellowship in 1970-71 and the Distinguished Service Award from the College Art Association in 2008. In 1991, the French government awarded him the Legion of Honor. Impressionism is available from Yale University Press ($35).
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Janice P. Nimura
|photo: Lucy Schaeffer|
Janice P. Nimura is a historian living in New York City whose first book, Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back, was one of the New York Times's top 50 nonfiction books of 2015. Nimura received a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment of Humanities to support her research on The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine (W.W. Norton).
On your nightstand now:
Isabel Wilkerson's Caste, which feels like it might be the most important book of 2020. Saidiya Hartman's Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, because I'm drawn to the place where archive and imagination intersect. Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, though I promised myself I'd re-read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies first. And Tana French's latest, The Searcher, but I'm saving that for when I really, really need it.
Favorite book when you were a child:
It's a little weird how much I adored Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, since they're all about curing children's bad habits, but I was a serious rule-follower. Also, the four Mary Poppins books, so much darker and more ambiguous than Disney. I guess I had a thing for witchy women who understood how to let children figure things out. Oh, and can't leave out D'Aulaires' Greek Myths. I grew up without religion, but when I had something to pray for, I prayed to Athena. Sometimes Artemis.
Your top five authors:
I can't pick favorites--they change over time, like I do. But I love it when the authors who inspire me also inspire each other. Take a group like Helen Macdonald (Vesper Flights), Ed Yong (I Contain Multitudes), Merlin Sheldrake (Entangled Life), Robert Macfarlane (Underland) and Michael Pollan (How to Change Your Mind). They're all writing about different aspects of the natural world in elegant, mind-stretching ways, and they're all in conversation, in their writing and in real life. Same with Madeline Miller (Circe) and Emily Wilson (The Odyssey), illuminating classical antiquity via storytelling and translation.
Book you've faked reading:
Proust. I don't get the appeal, but I do love madeleines.
Book you're an evangelist for:
At the moment, Louise Aronson's Elderhood. Gen X is pivoting from raising children to caring for parents, and we're just beginning to confront our own gray hairs. Aronson is a brilliant and empathetic storyteller, a searing critic of the state of American healthcare and a persuasive advocate for a new way of thinking about age. She belongs in the pantheon of narrative medicine with Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawande, Victoria Sweet, Paul Kalanithi.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent. No regrets there, gorgeous inside and out.
Book you hid from your parents:
Whatever I happened to be reading when it was time for bed. Rule-follower, remember? A flashlight under the covers was a major transgression.
Book that changed your life:
A Japanese Interior, a memoir by Alice Mabel Bacon, a New Haven schoolteacher who spent a year in Japan in 1888. I pulled it off a dusty shelf in the subterranean stacks of the New York Society Library, where it had probably stood untouched since it was published. Alice led me to her dearest friends--three Japanese girls sent to America for a decade in the 1870s--and their story became my first book, Daughters of the Samurai.
Favorite line from a book:
In the great green room…
Goodnight Moon was my first encounter with words as incantation. I can still hear the pauses for the page turns. Goodnight nobody. Goodnight mush. My pulse slows and my shoulders loosen.
Five books you'll never part with:
I hold on to the ones that are portals to worlds I want to be able to revisit at will: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael books, Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, Harry Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern. Otherwise, I'm constantly parting with books--I love having them all around me, but I also love putting them into new hands. What use is a book if no one ever reads it?
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. That one cracked me open and let the light get in.
What you read when you're writing:
Fantasy, avidly, especially quests with satisfying endings. Researching and writing a biography can feel like a solitary, arduous journey. I love escaping into another world, and remembering that my own is hardly arduous--I don't have any actual monsters to slay. True confession: I'll take a galloping good yarn over High Culture most days. And sometimes--well, actually a lot of the time--I flip ahead to see how it ends.
The Center of Everything
by Jamie Harrison
With "so many books and so little time," few beg to be re-read. The Center of Everything, Jamie Harrison's sixth novel, is one of those few.
It's July 2002, and Polly and Ned are preparing to host a multi-generational party for her great-aunt Maude's 90th birthday in their Livingston, Mont., home. Still recovering from hitting her head in a bike accident, Polly carries on, knowing she easily crosses "the line between memory and the here and now," moments Ned lovingly calls "déjà you." Polly is stoic, even as the family mourns the mysterious loss of a young friend in the turbulent Yellowstone River.
These characters--balancing party planning with grief--shape a rich story when Harrison (The Widow Nash) backs up to 1968. Polly was eight, living on Long Island Sound with her parents, great-grandparents and the wife of a family friend serving in Vietnam. Polly heard the woman was "not well," and puzzles over the volatile Rita, but Rita's son, Edmund, also eight, proves to be a kindred spirit. This second story, of Polly's childhood, alternates with the 2002 chapters and is just as gripping, the links between them gradually surfacing: "every story was an echo, an inherited memory."
While The Center of Everything isn't a mystery, events do resonate. Long-ago drownings are the eeriest; sweeter are the generations' recurring affections, including passions for art and cooking. A family saga teeming with drama and no shortage of conflicts, detailed nature references ("the alley rabbit--clear-eyed, dusty gravel-gray fur," a "gyre of birds," a "quiver of bats") and family love and loyalty lend a gentle tone. Re-reading reveals "a-ha" moments cleverly tucked into this exquisitely crafted novel. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.
Discover: In a revelatory saga, four generations gather in Montana for a reunion that awakens memories and secrets.
The Kindest Lie
by Nancy Johnson
Nancy Johnson's debut novel, The Kindest Lie, explores questions of race, motherhood, place and identity as one woman goes back to her hometown to find the child she gave birth to as a teenager.
From the outside, Ruth Tuttle's future seems full of promise. She has an Ivy League education and, despite the challenges of working in STEM as a Black woman, is pushing for a promotion at work. She is married to a successful PepsiCo marketing executive, a gentle and kind man who wants to start a family. Barack Obama has just been elected president. Inside, however, Ruth is consumed by her past. She has told herself for years that "her life began when she drove away from that little shotgun house in Indiana without her baby," a child she has never met nor mentioned since the day of his birth.
It feels inevitable that Ruth ends up back at the little Indiana house where she was raised by her grandmother, in search of answers for and about herself: What happened to her son? What does a mother owe her child? Is it ever acceptable to do something bad for the right reasons? Can we ever truly escape our pasts?
Johnson never asks these questions outright, but they lurk on every page of The Kindest Lie as Ruth revisits the failing industrial town that launched her into the world, peppered with flawed characters both unmoored by the harsh realities they face each day and anchored by those who hold them close, despite their flaws. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A debut novelist explores questions of race, motherhood, place and identity as one woman comes to terms with her past.
by Catie Disabato
Catie Disabato imbues her follow-up to The Ghost Network with mystery and a little bit of the supernatural. Eve's best friend Ezra is missing, and he couldn't have disappeared at a worse time. It's the anniversary of Eve's friend Miguel's suicide, and this weekend she really needs Ezra to be at her side. It doesn't matter that she still talks to Miggy. Her work as a medium and witch has allowed her to communicate with Miggy's ghost via text messages. With one friend MIA and her other friend, Nozlee, the reason for him fleeing, Eve feels the absence of her group of friends more keenly. Though everyone thinks she's overreacting, Eve begins her weekend hunting for Ezra across Los Angeles's many neighborhoods with frantic energy fueled by overpriced cocktails and cocaine.
Disabato immerses U Up? in the world of 20-somethings in L.A. through Eve's group of friends. Everyone is connected to their phones, everyone is queer, and everyone curates their online persona heavily. As Eve lurks around L.A.'s finest bars trying to find Ezra, the strong connections to social media and her community help and hinder her search for her best friend. Disabato doesn't shy away from showing Eve as she really is--a complicated woman trying to manage her mental health (albeit poorly) during a challenging weekend complicated by the very literal ghosts of her city. Eve searches for clues like a classic private eye while putting together the mystery of why her best friend ghosted her. --Amy Dittmeier, librarian
Discover: Text messages and social media posts bring a new angle to this clever play on a hardboiled mystery.
by Melissa Broder
Rachel, the heroine of Melissa Broder's agitated sophomore novel, Milk Fed, is a need machine. At 24 years old, she has a desk job at a talent agency in Los Angeles, a gym membership she uses daily, a therapist she meets with weekly and deep-seated mother issues that express themselves through obsessive, highly controlled food rituals and bizarre sexual fantasies. Shaped by a lifetime of maternal nit-picking and neglect, Rachel's diet consists of nicotine gum, low-fat chocolate muffin tops and the small dopamine hits garnered when co-workers and acquaintances tell her that she looks too thin. Her compulsions, which set the novel's pace to a manic tempo, emanate from a deep reserve of endlessly unmet desire.
During a 90-day therapist-prescribed "emotional detox" from her mother, Rachel finds that her mother's critical voice becomes muted when a kind, overweight frozen yogurt chef enters her life. Miriam smokes clove cigarettes, watches old movies, drinks massively caloric fruity cocktails and eats whatever she wants, as long as it's kosher. Blessedly unburdened by the neuroses that govern Rachel's life, Miriam becomes a multi-faceted object of obsession for her: first, as the embodiment of her worst fears, then as a mother figure and, finally, as a lover.
"More than anything, all I'd ever wanted was a total embrace, the embrace of an infinite mother, absolute and divine," Rachel explains. This visceral and transporting portrait of self-denial and its twin, excess, sheds light on the psychology underpinning the American obsession with weight. Daring, chaotic and pleasingly heretical, Milk Fed is the work of a total pro. --Emma Levy, freelance writer
Discover: Melissa Broder's Milk Fed is a visceral exploration of the healing and punishing potential of food.
Mystery & Thriller
by Jane Harper
From the dusty outback to the frigid Tasman Sea, Jane Harper (The Lost Man; The Dry) does a superb job capturing the geographical diversity of Australia, while simultaneously showing that human nature never really changes. As The Survivors begins, Kieran, his girlfriend, Mia, and their new baby have come home for a visit to Evelyn Bay, a small Tasmanian seaside town. Evelyn Bay is the kind of touristy place where the population doubles in the summer but is placid the rest of the year.
Kieran and Mia rarely return, however, because a dozen years earlier, in a terrible storm, Kieran's brother was killed and Mia's best friend went missing. It was the most dramatic day in town history, until the day after Mia and Kieran arrive, when a body appears on the beach. It's a young artist named Bronte, who was waitressing in Evelyn Bay for the summer. Tensions among the townspeople immediately skyrocket, as inevitable comparisons to the aftermath of the storm begin.
The police start questioning everyone who interacted with Bronte, and it becomes clear that someone local must have been involved in her death. Kieran is reeling, repeatedly drawn back to the sea caves where he nearly died, and where his brother met his end. Kieran's unease mounts as strange things keep happening, and he's not alone: most of the residents of Evelyn Beach are stretched to their limits. Atmospherically creepy, and full of fascinating characters, The Survivors is Jane Harper at her best, a surefire hit for fans of Tana French or Camilla Läckberg. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this atmospheric mystery, two tragedies, more than a decade apart, have dire consequences for a tiny Tasmanian town.
by Katie Lowe
Katie Lowe (The Furies) blends psychological suspense with an unreliable narrator, adding hints of delusion, a pinch of gothic sensibility and various layers of mystery in her sophomore thriller, Possession. In 2008, Hannah McLelland's husband is killed in their bed by a knife to the throat. Hannah remembers little other than waking up to blood. The crime scene is "off" and authorities are perplexed, until an anonymous tip leads them to a young man who winds up in prison for Graham's murder.
Ten years later, the threads of the raggedy case are newly tugged by those behind the podcasting sensation Conviction. Hot off a successful exoneration, the crime investigation show has its sights set on Hannah for season four: The Murder of Graham Catton. In 2018, Hannah is living with her teen daughter and a stable newspaper editor, Dan, in the remote, rural village of Hawkwood, while working as a psychiatrist in an eating disorders clinic.
But Hannah hasn't ended up in Hawkwood by chance and is escaping more than the fallout from Graham's murder. As the Conviction team digs into the case, long-buried facts are revealed, and Hannah is so centered in the crosshairs even Dan and Evie become wary. Lowe impressively weaves a web of past and present intrigue. Even more notable is her talent in tying everything together without excessive incredulity, particularly considering Hannah's history, numerous plot threads and the social media aspect of the case, all of which converge in a blockbuster of a finish. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: When a podcast team reinvestigates the 10-year-old murder of a psychiatrist's husband, the power of media and unreliable memory heighten the suspense in this twisted mystery.
The Echo Wife
by Sarah Gailey
Sarah Gailey's unsettling The Echo Wife considers pioneering scientist Evelyn Caldwell, who had everything she wanted: an award-winning career pushing breakthroughs in the field of human cloning, and a husband who worked alongside her and supported her ambitions. And then her life was rudely derailed.
It started with her finding a stray hair on her husband's jacket. It wasn't Evelyn's; it wasn't even human. To her horror, she discovered her husband, Nate, had been having an affair--with a clone. A genetic replica of Evelyn. Created in secret with Evelyn's research, which Nate had stolen.
Even worse, Evelyn's clone, Martine, can do something no clone should ever be able to do, and its discovery could shut down the work Evelyn has spent her entire life perfecting. But instead of euthanizing the "specimen," Evelyn is forced to help Martine do something unimaginable.
Though the novel has sci-fi elements, it reads like a mind-stretching domestic thriller. From chapter to chapter, whatever readers think might happen next is likely wrong. The Echo Wife explores identity, agency and the price of female ambition. Some of Evelyn's inner musings are repetitive, and a major plot point--about how Martine pulls off the aforementioned impossible feat--is left unexplained, but intriguing questions are raised about the ethics of cloning. While Evelyn describes herself as "cold, logical, direct, merciless," Martine exhibits compassion and can sometimes see Nate's true nature more clearly. Gailey (Magic for Liars) will have readers pondering what truly makes someone human. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A scientist in this unnerving sci-fi domestic thriller discovers her husband is having an affair with a clone of herself.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Witch's Heart
by Genevieve Gornichec
Readers familiar with Norse mythology will recognize many of the characters in Genevieve Gornichec's The Witch's Heart, but this historical fantasy debut adds an emotional depth and a feminist angle often missing from those ancient tales.
Powerful witch Angrboda has been killed three times by Odin and his pantheon, but saves herself each time through magic she doesn't fully understand. Restored but for her memories, she flees to a cave deep in a forest to hide and recover. Soon two people find her: Loki, carrying the heart Odin cut out of Angrboda's chest, and Skadi, a mortal trader woman. Angrboda and Skadi trade magical medicines for home goods, building a friendship that serves as an anchor for Angrboda as she confronts seemingly insurmountable challenges. Her relationship with Loki is trickier. As a god, he's absent most of the time, even as they fall in love and have children.
Angrboda faces heartbreak and betrayal, grappling with a history she doesn't remember and the terrible future she's foreseen. As she's hunted by Odin and tries to avert Ragnarok--the apocalypse in Norse myth--Angrboda's fight is thrilling, yet characterized by her remarkable empathy, maternal nature and drive to heal others. Gornichec manages a careful balance, putting forth a heroine who is as vulnerable as she is fierce.
Readers will empathize with this witch as she fights for her children, herself and the world as she knows it--or, better yet, the world as it could be. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Featuring a heroine as vulnerable as she is fierce, this historical fantasy will captivate readers who enjoyed Circe or The Silence of the Girls.
The Queens' English: The LGBTQIA+ Dictionary of Lingo and Colloquial Phrases
by Chloe O. Davis
Chloe Davis's delightfully informative, succinct, helpful and playful dictionary of more than 800 LGBTQIA+ words and fabulous phrases is truly "sickening" (defined within as "astonishingly impressive"). The Queens' English is as much a glossary as it is a dazzling art book, boasting colorful and engaging art and illustrations on every page by Troy Lambert and contributors Cassandra Fountaine, Mark Uhre and Shanee Benjamin.
Davis does not merely define words and phrases--she offers "Usage Notes" that warn readers about terms that are considered derogatory, as well as slurs that have been reclaimed by the community. She also gives readers stories about the origins of the words. The reclaimed terms "bull dyke" and "bull dagger" can be traced back to the Black lesbian community in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, where these terms were embraced by lesbian blues singers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. The 1970s ballroom culture originated "work," "fierce," "shade" and "read." The dismissive signifier "Bye, Felicia" originated in the 1995 film Friday. The book also sprinkles longer pieces throughout, like "History Lessons" (covering gays in the military, HIV/AIDS, Stonewall, etc.) and "What's My Gay Type?" (find the correct label for your body type, from "bear" to "twink"). There's even an instructive sidebar on how to tuck (for men) or bind (for women) when dressing as the opposite sex.
With the breezy, fun and informative The Queens' English, no one need ever confuse "kai kai" (sex between two drag queens) and "kiki" (gathering for gossip and conversation). They can sashay away and pick up a copy of this sickening xtravaganza! --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: This beautifully illustrated dictionary of LGBTQIA+ words and phrases and their origins is informative, fun and indispensable.
The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song
by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Finding Your Roots; The Annotated African American Folktales) has created a fascinating history book to accompany his PBS series of the same title. Meticulously researched, The Black Church spans more than 400 years of Black ecclesiastical history in the United States--beginning with Catholic enslaved people brought by the Spaniards and continuing all the way to John Legend's take on the essential role the church played in his early life. As Gates puts it, "In a world of utter instability, where African American families could be torn apart at a moment's notice, the enslaved found a rock in the religion and practices they developed in communion with one another."
The Black Church is filled with pictures of Black churchgoers over the years, as well as wide-ranging historical information, including discussion of how Islamic and West African influences brought over by enslaved people played into the creation of the modern Black style of worship. Gates indelibly proves his point about how important church was as a social structure to most Black people. Today, however, the church faces many battles, including the role of women and sexual minorities in church leadership, the after-effects of the crack epidemic and mass incarceration, and staying relevant to young Black people. The church may have to pivot, but Gates believes it will remain vital, since "Black Lives Matter forces the Black church to return to one of its foundational claims; that we are all children of God." --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this fascinating history, Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the importance of the church in Black life in the United States.
Children's & Young Adult
Love Is a Revolution
by Renée Watson
Newbery Honoree and Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together; Ways to Make Sunshine) tells the warm and hopeful story of 17-year-old Nala Robertson in her third solo YA novel, Love Is a Revolution.
Nala is ready to enjoy summer in her Harlem neighborhood. Her plans include hanging out with friends Sadie and "cousin-sister-friend" Imani (an Inspire Harlem teen activist), getting a new hairstyle ("According to Grandma, hair is a Black girl's crown") and finding romance ("the most important"). When she meets Tye, a charming, Inspire Harlem member and friend of Imani, she's sure her summer dreams are coming true. The more time Nala spends with Tye, though, the more she realizes how little they have in common--Nala is not a vegetarian, not well versed in Black history and nowhere near as woke as Tye. Desperate to be liked, Nala tells a lie. Which snowballs into another. And another. Of course, her untruths are uncovered, and Nala must figure out how to mend the broken relationships with Tye and herself.
Watson's detailed depictions bring to life the bustling streets, overcrowded subways and humidity of a Harlem summer. She also skillfully builds a fun, loving Black teenager who makes some unwise but ultimately understandable decisions. Diversity is a focus in both Nala's city and her life, shown through a variety of body types, skin colors and ways of being. Teen and tween readers questioning their own identities and places in the world should connect with Watson's meaningful social and environmental themes. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children
Discover: Nala Robertson is a 17-year-old Black teen who gets caught up in lies while trying to find love in this warm and hopeful story.
A Small Kindness
by Stacy McAnulty , illust. by Wendy Leach
In A Small Kindness, Stacy McAnulty (The World Ends in April) and Wendy Leach (Runaway Words) offer a sincere, joyous and child-centered take on what it means to pay it forward.
A diverse group of young students anxiously queue up in front of their brown-skinned teacher, Ms. Jones. All except one child are illustrated in a sepia palette and the text hints at what's to come: "It was like a game of tag." Upon entering the building, Alice--shown in mustard-yellow sneakers, a green shirt and a bright purple backpack--smiles at Lucas, who uses a walker. Lucas--now in a bright red shirt featuring a boldly yellow lion--shares happiness by greeting a nervous-looking Jasmine. As the day continues, each act of kindness begets another. One child offers assistance to Mr. Freeman the custodian, who in turn encourages Rhea during gym class: "You'll get it next time!" With each act of kindness, a ribbon of color and light streams from one person to the next, gently linking the two and doubling the joy. Leach cleverly captures each moment of transformation by depicting the person with two separate halves: one side dull, the other in bright splendor. One by one, children and adults trapped in the sepia color palette morph into colorful brilliance.
McAnulty's text is sparse, warm and approachable--"Henry complimented Cora. Cora offered a seat to Mateo"--and Leach's illustrations of children with a variety of skin tones and abilities are delightful. The two narratives ebb and flow seamlessly, filling in the details of the story until the children become links in a friendly chain, awash in a sea of color. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher and co-creator, Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: Young students unfurl a thread of kindness throughout the school in this delightful take on paying it forward.