From the Shelf
'Totally Overrated' National Parks
Amber Share's funny, smart and majestically illustrated Subpar Parks: America's Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors (Plume, $22) grew out of her love of America's National Parks and others' complete irreverence toward them.
What began as an Instagram account (now with more than 350,000 followers) evolved into a kind of calling--a place to encapsulate Share's own sense of awe in these natural spaces of grandeur, to illustrate their beauty and, in her hand-lettered type, to highlight a single tone-deaf one-star review. Her entries for 77 parks, organized by the National Park Service's seven geographic regions, are as entertaining as they are informative.
Witness the spread for the Grand Canyon, the site that ignited a then 10-year-old Share's passion for the great outdoors, and its one-star review: "A hole. A very, very large hole." Or Arches National Park, whose review--"Looks nothing like the license plate"--set off the light bulb for this project. Another standout depicts a view of Florida's Biscayne National Park from its sandy bottom looking up at the water's surface, a turtle floating above a coral reef, with the review, "Phone signal is impossible." Share puts such dismissive comments into perspective with a spread such as Glacier Bay in Alaska ("Not great"), depicting a tour boat dwarfed by the mountains, glaciers and coastline originally protected as a national monument in 1925, and then given national park status in 1980. Unfortunately, its status as a national park meant that the Huna Tlingit people, who called it home, could no longer live there. Share attempts throughout to "include information about the indigenous history and relationships with these lands," which held sacred meaning for the nations who resided there.
Whether you wish to plan your next vacation, relive an adventure, armchair travel or be amused, Amber Shares's labor of love is the book for you. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Omar El Akkad
In this captivating drama set on a tranquil Greek island, a refugee Syrian boy and a Greek teenager overcome language and cultural barriers to form a bond that will transform both their lives.
by Weng Pixin
Five matrilineal generations populate Singaporean graphic artist Weng Pixin's imagined personal history--and future, too--in compelling, gorgeously saturated full-color pages.
by Erin A. Craig
When her town is threatened by monstrous creatures, 18-year-old Ellerie must defend her family in this standout blend of fantasy and horror.
Review by Subjects:
Lesser-Known Fairy Tales
Mental Floss shared "11 lesser-known fairy tales."
"It's about to get weird: surreal manga and graphic novels," courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Open Culture featured "a new digital database that collects seven centuries of art inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy."
Illustrator Tom Gauld explored "the differences between authors and 'civilians' " in the Guardian.
Rediscover: Isla Dewar
Scottish author Isla Dewar, who started her writing career in the 1960s working for teenage magazines and at her peak "topped the U.K.'s bestseller lists, toured bookshops and spoke at literary events, lighting up when speaking about her characters," died June 20 at age 74, the Guardian reported. After completing her first novel, Keeping Up with Magda, in the mid-1990s "she rather doubted that the stories she had started transferring from her head to paper would go much further. Nonetheless, within a fortnight a publisher took up her tale of intrigue centered on a cafe in a Scottish fishing village, and after its publication in 1995 it was longlisted for the Orange prize." Her next book, Women Talking Dirty (1996), caught the attention of Elton John and David Furnish, who bought the rights for Rocket Pictures. The movie adaptation featured Helena Bonham-Carter and Gina McKee.
For a while, Dewar published a book a year, including Giving Up on Ordinary (1997), Two Kinds of Wonderful (2000) and Dancing in a Distant Place (2003). She also wrote Briggsy (2008), a novella for young adults, and a children's book, Rosie's Wish, illustrated by her husband, Bob Dewar. Her final two novels were It Takes One to Know One (2018), about the Be Kindly Missing Persons Bureau in Edinburgh, and A Day Like Any Other (2020), on the lifelong friendship of two women from the city.
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Vanessa Riley
Vanessa Riley holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and a master's in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University. She writes historical fiction and romance set in Georgian and Regency times centered on women of color, particularly Black women. Riley's latest book, Island Queen (Morrow), is based on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a free woman of color who rose from slavery to become a wealthy landowner in the colonial West Indies. Riley lives in Atlanta, Ga.
On your nightstand now:
I am in a bit of a mystery phase and I'm finishing up Walter Mosley's Black Betty. I love how Mosley makes me feel as if I'm doing life with Easy Rawlins. I love how social commentary adds to the beats, but not overshadowing the drama.
Favorite book when you were a child:
When I was a child, I loved Grimm's Fairy Tales. They aren't clean or sanitized or obviously beautiful. They are messy and memorable. I adore that.
Your top five authors:
It's hard to narrow my choices of favorites. So I won't. I adore Beverly Jenkins. She's one of the first authors I read who includes culture, African American history, in her romantic plot. I get goosebumps thinking of how she weaves a tale. Beatriz Williams had me with her first paragraph. I hear motion in her dialogue, and that draws me in. I don't want to miss a word. Talia Hibbert's ability to combine humor and romance with serious issues and serious conditions make me hunger for her prose. Sarah MacLean is a wizard, a good gentle wizard that puts magic on every page. Jane Austen is my heart and backbone. I don't think I would be writing if her voice hadn't stuck in my heart.
Book you've faked reading:
My mother was very much into the classics and wanted her children to read them. I was with her for Shakespeare and Wadsworth. Tolstoy's War and Peace was a bridge too far. Thank goodness for CliffsNotes.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I will proclaim from the rooftops that Kindred by Octavia Butler is the best book. Her ability to make both timelines very compelling while balancing the hope and hopelessness is breathtaking.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Glory by Kahran and Regis Bethencourt is the prettiest book I've seen. A beautiful girl in braids decked in African garb graces the cover. The picture book is filled with such gorgeously composed and coiffed images. It fills me with pride to stare at it.
Book you hid from your parents:
I hid Mom's copy of War and Peace so she wouldn't ask me questions. CliffsNotes can only take you so far.
Book that changed your life:
A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman was the first book I'd read that was overtly passionate, full of faith and uncompromising in showing both aspects.
Favorite line from a book:
"A woman who knows her mind is worth more than gold." --Something Like Love, Beverly Jenkins. It might have been the words of encouragement I needed when I read it, but it stuck.
Five books you'll never part with:
If I had to choose just five, the order and selection will change on a daily basis. The following are the ones I most have today.
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams. Williams moved my emotions along every twist and turn of her plot.
For me, the message of everything having a cost is haunting and true. I will never give up my copy of Kindred by Octavia Butler.
The Perfect Mistress by Betina Krahn is sweeping tale of a fake relationship turned true, a hardened jaded hero changed by love all while making mischief in the sumptuous backdrop of historic London. Pure catnip.
Maya Angelou's words are lyrical, and the rhythm always carries me through each verse. I mean prose. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will not leave my shelf. It needs one of those clear domes atop it to keep it safe.
The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James is as impactful as it is clarifying. It gives voice to history most don't know or assume they know. It's honest and has been in my thoughts one way or the other since I read it.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean and Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins are two books I'd love to pretend to read again for the first time. MacLean's creation takes a hated villain and makes me love him. Magic. Higgins takes a hated topic and makes me feel sadness and hope in ways that are surprising.
Books you can count on to lift your mood:
Last year, in the heart of the pandemic, I searched my shelves and pulled these old favorites.
How the Duke Was Won by Lenora Bell delivers humor and punch. It's a true pick-me-up.
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn had me rooting for the stuttering Simon even before he came to life in the delicious form of Regé-Jean Page.
Guilty of Love by Pat Simmons is an honest portrayal of getting in a jam and gaining the strength to thrive.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is my gateway drug to a time in place I love reading about.
Favorite books you read this year:
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn--I'm team Mav all the way.
Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce showed me a side of Chicago I knew little about, and loved living every minute of it.
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton was a sweeping braid of three vibrant strings. I can't separate which strand I liked more.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert had me in stitches. It's a fierce, passionate, humanizing experience. This was surely needed following 2020.
What Strange Paradise
by Omar El Akkad
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad is a tender drama for our times, featuring two children on the run from authorities on the serene Greek island of Kos. Written with a fluid beauty that captures nature's ferocious power and glory, El Akkad's exquisite second novel (after American War) offers readers a glimpse of the struggles of migration through the prism of childhood innocence.
The story opens with a boat and bodies, including a child, washed onto shore close to a luxury hotel, a horrific scene. Tourists gawk while police and soldiers inspect the wreckage, searching for survivors to take to the island's migrant prison encampments. The child, an eight-year-old Syrian boy named Amir, awakens. Fearful and disoriented by his surroundings, he flees into a nearby forest.
Colonel Dimitri Kethros is in charge of "rounding up the illegals" on the island, and he is determined to track down the boy. Fortunately for Amir, he meets a local teenage girl named Vänna who offers to help him. As they grow to understand and respect each other despite language and cultural barriers, the sweetest of friendships forms.
What Strange Paradise glides back and forth in time, from Amir's earlier escape to Egypt with his family to his present-day predicament, crafting a poignant narrative of a young person constantly on the move, with forces beyond his family's control driving him farther and farther from home.
An Egyptian American journalist, El Akkad is a writer of global sensibilities, deploying his formidable craft to speak to the crisis of humanity at political borders. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: In this captivating drama set on a tranquil Greek island, a refugee Syrian boy and a Greek teenager overcome language and cultural barriers to form a bond that will transform both their lives.
The Women's March: A Novel of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession
by Jennifer Chiaverini
Set during the months leading up to and including the 1913 march for women's voting rights, Jennifer Chiaverini's historical novel is a colorful biography of three suffragists, and a reminder of history's relevance.
The courageous women's stories merge in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913, the day before anti-suffrage president-elect Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Maud Malone, "militant suffragist librarian and notorious heckler," as a Wilson aide called her, arrives with the Army of the Hudson--53 women who publicized the march by hiking 250 miles from New York to attend. New Jersey Quaker and activist Alice Paul, leader of the movement for a constitutional amendment, proposed the march. As the event organizer, Paul faced southern white women demanding segregation of marchers, police refusing to control crowds and attacks by jeering, groping men along the route. Born into enslavement, journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett fled Memphis when her newspaper was destroyed, settled in Chicago, co-founded the NAACP and became a respected writer and speaker. A member of the Illinois delegation to the march, Wells-Barnett persevered in representing women of color for suffrage. Along with the three women, nearly 5,000 marchers and tens of thousands of onlookers thronged to Pennsylvania Avenue. While hooligans tainted the glorious spectacle, citizen response worked in the suffragists' favor, drawing attention to the cause. They persisted, and Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in August of 1920.
With voter suppression, racism and violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators appearing in this richly detailed novel, Chiaverini (Resistance Women; Enchantress of Numbers) strikes a timely chord in The Women's March. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY
Discover: Three women who led the fight for women's voting rights persevered in staging a dramatic march on Washington preceding anti-suffrage president Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.
by Hermione Hoby
Virtue, Hermione Hoby's achingly acute and ultimately shattering second novel, covers a painfully consequential year in the life of 23-year-old narrator Luca Lewis. Luca's unrest stems from the 2016 presidential election, which has just delivered a surprise winner, as well as from his shaky grasp on how to live honorably: "I wanted badly to be good; I wanted desperately to be liked. It was easy to confuse the two."
As the novel begins, Luca, a white Dartmouth graduate from Colorado, has landed a nine-month internship at a storied New York literary magazine. At a work gathering, he meets artist Paula Summers, who has done some of the magazine's covers, and her filmmaker husband, Jason Frank. Soon Luca is enjoying regular Sunday dinners with a retinue of lefty artists at Paula and Jason's Brooklyn brownstone. By the time Paula invites him to spend the summer in Maine with her, Jason and their kids, Luca is in her Gatsby-like thrall. Likewise exerting a pull is Luca's fellow intern Zara McKing, a Black graduate of Brown University who laments the paucity of minority voices in the magazine and calls Luca's summer plans "white nonsense."
Who would have guessed that one of literature's best vivisectionists of the Trump era's white woke-noscente would be a London-raised Coloradan author? Virtue is light on story--Luca's revelations often play like plot points--but Hoby (Neon in Daylight) seems to be betting on her sparkling sentences and indelible characterizations to hold readers rapt. It's a bet she will likely win, and deservedly. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Hermione Hoby's perceptive and withering second novel takes the measure of a white liberal young man's values following Trump's surprise electoral win in 2016.
by Nickolas Butler
Nickolas Butler's suspenseful, character-driven fourth novel, Godspeed, tells of the lengths three friends will go to in the quest to better their lives.
In Jackson, Wyo., a haven for hipster tourists and ski bums, it's the have-nots who build the area's multimillion-dollar houses and the haves who inhabit them for just part of the year. The three longtime buddies behind True Triangle Construction--family man Teddy; Bart, a former metal band drummer; and Cole, going through a divorce--struggle to make ends meet. When Gretchen hires them to finish building her massive eco-home, offering $175,000 bonuses if it's done by Christmas (just four months away), they leap at the chance. Teddy longs to get on the property ladder; with a luxury wristwatch, Cole will feel like he's made it.
From the start, though, the project seems cursed. Under the previous contractor, a laborer died in an accident on site. Heavy rains destroy the access bridge and winter snows could bring work to a halt. Bart turns to meth for the energy to put in long hours. Butler (Little Faith; The Hearts of Men) charts his worsening addiction in convincing hallucinogenic descriptions. A sense of foreboding explodes into dramatic events that will require luck--and deception--to resolve.
As in his debut, Shotgun Lovesongs, Butler insightfully explores his protagonists' psyches and the dynamics of male friendship. He also patiently reveals why Gretchen, a workaholic lawyer, is desperate to have her house ready. In this poignant story, time and life are precious yet so easily wasted. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck
Discover: In this gripping parable of the American dream gone awry, the dictum "money can't buy happiness" rings true for a wealthy homeowner and her hard-working construction crew.
The Second Season
by Emily Adrian
In The Second Season, Emily Adrian (Everything Here Is Under Control) has created an ironically funny, high-stakes novel about a woman trying to become the first-ever female announcer in the NBA. Ruth Devon was a college basketball star until her knee blew out, after which she married her coach, Lester, and planned to settle down as a stay-at-home mom. But, unable to resist the game, Ruth becomes a college basketball announcer and then a reporter on the sidelines of NBA games, while Lester, now her ex-husband, has moved from coaching to announcing from the box. Ruth has some guilt about how much time she's spent away from her 18-year-old daughter, Ariana, as her career advanced, but she absolutely loves her work. When Lester announces he's retiring, 42-year-old Ruth is determined to get his job.
The problems in Ruth's way: her sweet, younger boyfriend wants to spend more time with her, not less. No woman has ever been an NBA announcer. And she may be pregnant, which might ruin everything.
With wit and verve, Adrian traces a dilemma familiar to many women: work or parenthood? As she juggles her reporting and her relationships with Lester, her boyfriend and Ariana, Ruth's unsure if she's handling any of it correctly. Absolutely irresistible, The Second Season is a fast-paced, fascinating character study. Readers of Emily Henry or Taylor Jenkins Reid are sure to love Emily Adrian. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff
Discover: In Emily Adrian's lively novel, a tenacious woman attempts to become the first female announcer in the NBA.
Mystery & Thriller
Just One Look
by Lindsay Cameron
Lindsay Cameron's psychological thriller Just One Look features the sort of narrator who is more than just unreliable--she's terrifying. Cassie Woodman is a temp lawyer assigned to sort through e-mail messages and mark them as pertinent to a case or not. Tedious as this job is, Cassie finds a bit of happiness in a six-month-old exchange between Forest and Annabelle, a partner and his wife, and starts stalking them on the Internet. Cassie, aided by misuse of alcohol and over-the-counter medications, combs through search results and social media and soon finds out that they've split up, news that ratchets up her obsession.
Determined to replace Annabelle, Cassie orchestrates meetings with Forest using information that technology makes alarmingly easy to access. Cassie isn't a tech mastermind--just a disturbed young woman--but with a little online digging she knows where he'll be and all of his preferences.
Cameron (Biglaw) reveals bits of Cassie's sinister past throughout, leading readers to wonder how it's possible Cassie's managed to go this long with only a restraining order against her. Out of control and repulsive as Cassie is, however, Cameron sometimes softens her just enough to make empathetic readers think she might be redeemable. Then Cassie stares at a knife on her table and imagines slicing her ex-boyfriend's throat with it before instead calmly cutting a bit of cheese.
The draw of Just One Look is not that the main character should win the day, but that readers will be breathlessly following the twists as they wait for her to do just the opposite. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: With Just One Look, Lindsay Cameron suspensefully pulls readers into the web spun by a young female stalker with technology and a bit of access to the object of her obsession.
Let's Not Talk Anymore
by Weng Pixin
Singaporean creator Weng Pixin's vibrant Let's Not Talk Anymore began with a "big 'f*ck this, f*ck you!' kind of attitude" after one of her "many disputes and disagreements with [her] Mom." The work made her think more deeply about not just her mother, but her matrilineal ancestry. In sharing the genesis on her website, Weng explains how "comics became a place for me to imagine" their lives.
Five girls, distinguishable mostly by hairstyles, line up to grace the first page. A who's-who spread follows, with names and lineage displayed as five portraits on the left side, further elucidated on the right with each of the teens momentarily caught as 15-year-olds: great-grandmother Kuān in 1908, grandmother Mèi in 1947, mother Bīng in 1972, "Myself" Bǐ in 1998, imaginary daughter Rita in 2032. Individualized glimpses are presented in slice-of-life chapters for each of the girls, from Kuān to Rita, and repeated for four cycles. Weng creates her history and future while thoughtfully questioning roles of womanhood and motherhood. Kuān immigrated alone to Singapore from South China for her safety. Mèi was assaulted by her exploitative, adoptive mother's lover. Bīng's artistic dreams were overshadowed by her single mother's demands to help raise her younger brothers. Bǐ is an angry adolescent but appears as a near-perfect mother for Rita, who represents an idealized culmination of all her maternal ancestors.
Weng returns with her child-like characterizations, surrounded in vividly saturated backgrounds and landscapes she introduced in her 2020 debut, Sweet Time. Her narrative structure is intriguing, her stories moving--albeit, the younger two generations less so. What makes her book a standout, however is (again), her inventive, dazzling art. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Five matrilineal generations populate Singaporean graphic artist Weng Pixin's imagined personal history--and future, too--in compelling, gorgeously saturated full-color pages.
Love for Liberation: African Independence, Black Power, and a Diaspora Underground
by Robin J. Hayes
Historians and those interested in current affairs are sure to be intrigued by Love for Liberation: African Independence, Black Power, and a Diaspora Underground, in which Robin J. Hayes traces the roots of modern social-justice causes to the mid-century Black Power movement, via the connection of a Diaspora Underground. Hayes, a contributor to the Atlantic and writer and director of the award-winning documentary Black and Cuba, explains that diasporas always begin with discomfort in a homeland--even if that homeland is another region within a nation. This discomfort--whether a legacy of American slavery and the Jim Crow South or caused by brutal colonial practices in Africa--has led to a strong sense of Black community among Africans and Black Americans alike.
A diasporan mentality is also cultivated by mores that oppose mainstream ideas--such as "affirming that 'Black is Beautiful!' Or 'Black Lives Matter' [which] is radical in its challenge to racist regimes that consistently represent Blackness as ugly and inhumane." Inspired by mid-century freedom movements in Ghana, Algeria, Congo and other African nations, diasporans became motivated to improve Black political representation and Black livelihoods in the United States.
Thoughtfully researched and well-documented, Love for Liberation is a fascinating academic treatise on the ways Black Americans have created a cohesive culture, and strengthened connections with African communities. And, as Hayes clearly demonstrates, "although African independence and Black Power weren't able to fully actualize their goal of complete self-determination, today's generation of social justice activists appear to be taking cues from their limitations and the best of their examples," creating hope for the future. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff
Discover: Love for Liberation nimbly demonstrates how colonial violence against African freedom fighters resonated with Black Power activists, creating a Diaspora Underground.
Now in Paperback
by Kelli Jo Ford
Kelli Jo Ford, a Paris Review Plimpton Prize winner, makes a magnificent #OwnVoices novel debut with Crooked Hallelujah, which was named a Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020 and longlisted for the 2021 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the Center for Fiction's 2020 First Novel Prize.
In 1974, 15-year-old Justine lives in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma with her aging Granny and embittered mother, Lula. Almost seven years ago, Justine's father delivered his family to Beulah Springs Holiness Church for service and vanished: "Lula held herself together with a religion so stifling and frightening that Justine... never knew if she was fighting against her mother or God himself." Her first act of rebellion--sneaking out to meet an older boy--ends in rape. The traumatized, silenced teen gives birth to Reney, sealing their symbiotic relationship for life: "Mom was my sun and my moon," Reney later observes.
In the decades that follow, Justine works hard to break the cycle of abandonment and neglect for Reney. Despite floundering relationships with useless men, Justine eventually marries Pitch, whom she can't live without--no matter how many times they leave each other. Justine and Reney move to Texas, where Reney settles into a ready-made family, finding comfort and support in Pitch's family's farm, most especially with Pitch's debilitated mother, another forsaken woman, although she's still married to his philandering father. As Reney matures, she seems doomed to repeat her mother's mistakes but eventually finds the strength to drive far, far away.
A citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Ford adroitly, affectingly weaves Indigenous history into her spellbinding narrative, exposing displacement, cultural erasure and socioeconomic disparity. The interlinked story structure allows for an intriguing, vast cast, without losing sight of Justine and Reney. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In this splendid novel-in-stories, several generations of Cherokee women work to break painful cycles in their lives.
by Susie Yang
Susie Yang's electrifying debut novel, White Ivy, earned its spot on the longlist for the Center for Fiction's 2020 First Novel Prize. It was also named a Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick and a USA Today Best Book of 2020. Part immigrant story, part elitist takedown, part contemporary novel of wicked manners, White Ivy is an unpredictable spectacle.
At two, Ivy Lin was left with her maternal grandmother in China until she turned five, when her parents finally had the resources to reunite the family "in a wonderful state in America... called Ma-sa-zhu-sai." Reinventing herself as American proves arduous, with abusive parents, a thieving grandmother, a sudden move to New Jersey during high school and no friends. To survive, Ivy learns early the power of manipulation. Her first chance to escape is to college in Boston, after which she begins working as an elementary schoolteacher. A chance re-encounter grants her reentry into the Speyer family's seemingly halcyon circle--the (now-former) U.S. senator, his doyenne wife, enviously bohemian daughter Sylvia and, most importantly, perfect son Gideon, who was the object of Ivy's middle-school idolatry.
In just a few months, Ivy might grasp that happily-ever-after she's been relentlessly maneuvering to achieve. But now that she's at the edge of acceptance into society's inner circle, the alluring pull of self-sabotage grows stronger.
Yang's cast might be heavy with unlikable characters--scheming Ivy, pretentious Sylvia, bland Gideon and unrepentantly roué Roux (no spoilers!)--but the story they populate is delectably addictive and frightfully perceptive, as one surprise begets another shocking turn, leading readers far off expected paths. May the deceptions never end. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Ivy Lin proves to be the antihero readers will love to hate in debut novelist Susie Yang's assured, deft and biting novel of (manipulative) manners.
Children's & Young Adult
by Erin A. Craig
In Small Favors, a gloriously dark fairy tale that's perfectly enhanced with a romantic through line, Ellerie Downing is the "reliable one," the eldest daughter who won't let her family down. Usually she helps Mama, but with her twin brother, Samuel, "sneaking off all summer," she's begun tending the beehives with Papa.
At 18, Ellerie is ready to find her own place in the "wide and wondrous world" beyond Amity Falls. But there are "giant beasts in the woods" that are believed to have killed everyone on the recent supply train headed for the city. Soon the Falls will be cut off, with monsters and winter snows ensuring no one leaves until spring. When a charming stranger--"too attractive by half"--shows up, Ellerie thinks the future she's hoped for may be about to begin. Then tragedy strikes and Papa must get Mama through the woods to a doctor in the city. Ellerie is left behind to protect what's left of her family. With supplies dwindling and townsfolk at each other's throats, the nightmare is only beginning.
Erin A. Craig (House of Salt and Sorrows) has conjured a spellbinding tale of magic and horror. Her formidable protagonist, Ellerie, is a young woman fully capable of carrying her own troubles on her back--and then some. While it enriches the story, Ellerie's romance never derails her own sense of purpose. She's not immune to the darkness but she fights it harder than most. As the town of Amity Falls, which began full of rules and righteousness, deteriorates in the face of a powerful magic, readers may well wonder who the real monsters are in this story. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author
Discover: When her town is threatened by monstrous creatures, 18-year-old Ellerie must defend her family in this standout blend of fantasy and horror.
by Gordon Korman
The prolific Gordon Korman (War Stories) helps young people develop ideas about tolerance while still providing his well-known lighthearted atmosphere in this earnest middle-grade novel, Linked.
When swastikas show up in a largely racially homogeneous middle school in Chokecherry, Colo., everyone is mystified. Soon after the swastikas begin appearing, Link, who is known for his practical jokes, learns that his maternal grandmother was a Jewish baby left in a WWII French orphanage and adopted by a Christian family. Though she barely identifies as Jewish, Link decides to study for his bar mitzvah. Once Link finds a rabbi and begins to learn the necessary prayers, he receives help from an unlikely source: new student Dana. She is the Jewish daughter of paleontologists working to uncover dinosaur remains and doesn't seem to like Link at all. Before long, the students are also dealing with an obnoxious YouTube star who arrives to publicize and exploit the situation.
Interwoven with the larger story is one about students creating a symbolic paper chain of six million links, which represents Holocaust victims (the author's note credits the idea to the eighth-graders of Whitwell, Tenn., who did this project with paper clips in 1998). The students themselves, including Link, Dana and Michael, a Dominican American boy who becomes the chain project's leader, narrate the story in alternating first-person chapters, giving readers an inside account of each child's emotional experience. Korman writes with skill about antisemitism, tolerance education and developing and growing relationships. Although there are a few plot twists that may stretch readers' credulity, Linked is an absorbing novel of ideas appropriate for its tween audience. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: In this accessible and absorbing middle-grade novel, small-town kids in Colorado become famous after someone paints a swastika in their school hallway and they plan a project to counteract the hate.