From the Shelf
Kids' Books for Hispanic Heritage Month
From September 15 to October 15, the U.S. observes National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Americans' heritage and culture and recognizing their contributions to the United States. Here are some wonderful children's titles written and/or illustrated by Hispanic or Latinx Americans to start the celebration a little early.
In Margarita Engle and Rafael López's Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln (Atheneum, $17.99) readers ages four to eight are introduced to the Venezuela-born piano prodigy Teresa Carreño, a great but largely forgotten performer. When she was eight, war broke out in Venezuela, so Carreño's father took the family to New York City. Soon Carreño was playing with orchestras and invited to perform near and far, most dauntingly and climactically for President Abraham Lincoln and his family at the White House.
Twelve-year-old Emilia is going through a period of transition in Pablo Cartaya's Each Tiny Spark (Kokila/Penguin, $16.99, ages 10-up). As her father comes back from deployment and her mother leaves for a job interview in San Francisco, she begins learning about the inequity all around her. Each Tiny Spark shows how politics are inextricable from the personal as Emilia's Cuban-American family deals with racial and religious politics every day.
The emphatic "Where are you from?" is an all-too-familiar scenario for many people of color who call the United States "home." One little girl attempts to answer simply: "I'm from here, from today, same as everyone else." But the insistence lingers and the bewildered child can't satisfy her interrogators. She turns to her Abuelo "because he knows everything, and like me, he looks like he doesn't belong." Certain details point to a South American, likely Argentinian heritage in Yamile Saied Méndez and Jaime Kim's picture book Where Are You From? (HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4-8), but the mostly nameless scenes also become an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the many backgrounds, roots and histories, of those who live in these United States.
In this Issue...
by Kate Bolick , Jenny Zhang , Carmen Maria Machado , Jane Smiley
Four esteemed authors explore their own connections to each of the four March sisters in this insightful 150th-anniversary celebration of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Erin Entrada Kelly's debut fantasy is an enchanting, nuanced middle-grade adventure.
by Catherine Gildiner
A clinical psychologist presents five patient profiles to demonstrate the value of therapy and the determination and resiliency of those who engage with and face down their traumas.
Review by Subjects:
From City Lights Bookstore
02/21/2020 - 6:00PMThe NetWest program of the North Carolina Writers Network and City Lights Bookstore will host an open mic night at the bookstore on Friday, February 21st at 6 p.m. Folks are encouraged to bring their poetry or short pieces to share. Sign-ups begin at 5:45 p.m. for a 10-minute reading session. The North Carolina Writers' Network connects, promotes, and serves the writers of this state. They provide education in the craft and business of writing, opportunities for recognition and...
02/22/2020 - 3:00PMCandice Hardin Littlejohn will be coming to City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, February 22nd at 3:00 p.m. for a signing and discussion of her latest novel, The Adventures of Dr. Dorothy Jarrod Volume 1: THE ORACLE. A recently divorced dead language specialist, Dr. Dorothy Jarrod, moves from her North Carolina hometown to teach at a far off Community College and to escape her ex-husband. While teaching, she receives an offer to partake in an expedition to Scotland, where discovery and adventure...
How to Become a 'Read Out-Loud Book Hero'
"The classic novel that is most often abandoned by readers" was explored by Mental Floss.
"Waffle House has an official poet laureate. For real," Atlanta magazine reported.
Author Louise Doughty picked her "top 10 ghost stories" for the Guardian.
Smithsonian magazine recalled the good old days "when the public feared that library books could spread deadly diseases."
Rediscover: Advise and Consent
American journalist and author Allen Drury is best known for Advise and Consent, a 1959 political novel about a scandalous Secretary of State nomination process. It won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, spent 102 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, spawned five sequels and made into a 1962 movie directed by Otto Preminger and starring Henry Fonda. Drury was the United States Senate correspondent for United Press between 1943 and 1945, which heavily inspired his novels. After the success of Advise and Consent, Drury wrote A Shade of Difference (1962), Capable of Honor (1966) and Preserve and Protect (1968), all set same in the same political universe. Preserve and Protect ends on a presidential assassination cliffhanger. Come Nineveh, Come Tyre (1973) and The Promise of Joy (1975) are alternate sequels, each imagining a different outcome of the assassination attempt. Drury also wrote two novels set in ancient Egypt and a trilogy following fraternity brothers over the courses of their lives. He died in 1998 at age 80.
The title of Advise and Consent comes from the U.S. Constitution, which says the president "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States." When fictional Secretary of State nominee Robert Leffingwell is accused of once belonging to a communist cell, his nomination hearings take a dark turn in a story based on the real Alger Hiss nomination scandal. Advise and Consent was republished by WordFire Press in 2017 ($29.99, 9781614755746). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Søren Sveistrup: Exploring the Darkness
|photo: Les Kaner|
Søren Sveistrup is an Emmy and BAFTA Award-winning screenwriter and producer of TV series including the global hit The Killing. He also wrote the screenplay for Jo Nesbø's The Snowman. Sveistrup obtained a Master's in Literature and in History from the University of Copenhagen and studied at the Danish Film School. He lives in Denmark with his family, and The Chestnut Man (reviewed below) is his first novel.
What made you think this story should be a novel instead of a series?
I studied literature at the Copenhagen University before I attended film school, so writing a novel is actually a return to a former interest. I remember two reasons. First, I felt the need to create something on my own instead of in a team, the latter being very much the case when you write movies or TV. Secondly, I felt I could add something to the crime novel genre, at least regarding many of the crime novels I had been reading. I wanted to see if I could write a novel that kept myself and the reader on the edge of the seat during the whole roller coaster ride, in the same way I've tried to do in my scripts.
What are some differences and similarities between writing a novel and writing a script?
I approached the writing process very much the same way as always, but one of the biggest differences is that you don't have to think about how this or that situation or chapter should be transformed into a scene consisting of actors, camera angles, light settings, the right landscape, a budget, etc. You can write whatever pops into your head and you don't have to discuss it with anybody besides your publisher or agent. That's a phenomenal freedom, but it also makes it a much lonelier process. Besides that, a TV series consists of images, whereas a book is constructed solely out of words--words that create different images in every reader's mind.
You've said part of the reason you write is to explore and control your emotional landscape. What self-discoveries did you make while writing this book? Which of your own emotions ended up in The Chestnut Man?
When I initiated the book, I had many other projects. A couple of movies, a few TV series and some other things, and then I topped it with an ambitious book project. Eventually I had a mental breakdown and felt burned out for many months. When I returned to work, I decided to write the book and drop everything else; in fact, I promised myself to keep my life very simple. I realized that the burned-out side of me could be expressed through Detective Hess, while my aversion towards that feeling could be expressed through the female detective, Thulin. I guess many of my emotions are expressed in the book--my hopes, fears and anxieties. It's like that every time when you create something--you give everything you've got at that exact time.
Was either Hess's or Thulin's point of view easier to write than the other?
Hard to say. My personal mood changed while I was writing the book so I guess the POV challenges stayed the same.
In addition to emotional distress, some of the characters experience extreme physical torture. Tell us about your decision to put them through that.
To be very honest, I actually don't like to write those chapters, even though people tell me I'm good at it! They are too morbid and terrifying, even for me. But the thing is: you can't cry wolf and then never show the wolf and how the wolf terrorizes. I love whodunits and building up suspense and expressing the hopes and fears of the characters, but sometimes you just have to show the reader where the tension and fear all stem from. Some people might believe those scenes mean the writer is a sadist, but it's really the other way around--it's just me writing about my anxieties and worst-case scenarios.
Denmark consistently ranks in the top three of the happiest countries in the world, according to the UN's annual World Happiness Report. Why do you think such dark thrillers come from there?
The Danes in general are a very friendly people, so I would like to be the clever one that could answer that question--but I'm not! Maybe because of our fear that the happiness will one day disappear. Or that it will show itself to be one big illusion. Or maybe from the fact that living in one of the best welfare systems in the world doesn't mean we don't have serious problems that are being shoved under the carpet.
A wealthy society like the Scandinavian [one] means everything looks good and perfect, at least on the surface. But of course we have cracks in the surface, and maybe Scandinavians sometimes feel a greater need to hide this away because of the seemingly perfect facade. A bit like the never-ending competition on Instagram and Facebook that makes it hard for people to admit their lives are not always perfect and happy-happy. This kind of mental dishonesty accumulates frustration, anxieties and depression, which often seem to be the fuel for Scandinavian crime novels.
What's next for you? The next book in this series or back to screenwriting?
At the moment, I'm thinking about the follow-up story to The Chestnut Man. But screenwriting could also be around the corner. It depends on the next idea I get. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?
by Brock Clarke
Calvin Bledsoe lives an unremarkable life in rural Maine until a heretofore-unknown aunt appears at his mother's funeral. Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? by Brock Clarke (An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England) is a coming-of-age story told by a middle-aged man. "I may have been Calvin Bledsoe," he says, "but for perhaps the first time ever I wondered what it meant to be him." Reminiscent of Aunt Augusta in Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt, Calvin's flamboyant aunt Beatrice whisks her stodgy nephew to Europe: "My aunt had an aim and I just didn't know what it was at the time."
Calvin is named after the theologian John Calvin, on whom his mother was an expert; the preacher was an outsized presence in his life. Calvin's natural inclination to fade into the background, because his namesake always overshadowed him, is upended by Beatrice's dynamic personality and mysterious history. They become involved with spies, thieves and adulterers, to Calvin's shock and his aunt's equanimity. When the trip's purpose becomes clear, Calvin realizes, "Learning lessons is like hard exercise, especially if the lessons you're learning are the opposite of the lessons you've already learned."
The dialogue is quick and witty, with John Calvin quotes perfectly and sometimes hilariously integrated into Calvin's thoughts and conversation. This novel deals with sober subjects (life, death, betrayal) in an uplifting and often humorous manner. Readers who enjoyed Andrew Sean Greer's Less will find this novel equally satisfying. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: In this humorous and warm novel, a middle-aged man takes an unwelcome European trip with his aunt, leading him to question everything he's accepted about his life.
by Daniel Handler
In Bottle Grove, Daniel Handler's seventh novel for adults, love buzzes in the air like a diseased cricket. Padgett, a drunk with local family wealth (and a knack for being fired from menial labor), meets barkeep Martin Icke at a wedding in a San Francisco forest. The story follows the pair, as well as the fleetingly happy married couple, Ben and Rachel Nickels. Then there's the Vic, a hip moniker for a local tech tycoon who invented some majorly invasive software.
Handler's (All the Dirty Parts) story isn't so much a romantic comedy as it is a reckoning for romantic delusion. The tune may be perfect, but everyone keeps hearing it differently. Once again, his dialogue serves as a driving force for the story. Padgett and Martin share playful whispers over a stolen barrel of booze when they first meet in the frigid woods behind Ben and Rachel's wedding. And the prankster spirit Reynard (a shapeshifter, naturally) offers otherworldly wisdom. These and more turn every syllable into whimsical perfection.
The setting for Bottle Grove--a modern San Francisco in the throes of immense (and largely unwanted) change--also adds to the strange yet familiar version of the city that Handler has returned to throughout his career, stretching back to 1998's The Basic Eight. Taken together, these elements turn Handler's novel into a timely satire of love, wealth and the meaning of home. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer
Discover: Acclaimed novelist Daniel Handler delivers a hilarious yet bittersweet love letter to San Francisco with a story centered on two very different couples.
The Body of the Beasts
by Audrée Wilhelmy , trans. by Susan Ouriou
The Body of the Beasts, Québécois author Audrée Wilhelmy's third novel but first translated into English, explores the animalistic side of human nature and female sexuality. Mie, who lives with her mother and siblings near a remote fishing village, has the ability to cast her consciousness into the minds of wildlife. In this way, she explores her sublime but brutal homeland through the eyes of other creatures. But at the age of 12, Mie becomes curious about her own, human form and is determined to learn about it through sex with her older uncle, and her mother's lover, Osip. As she pursues her goal, Mie learns more about her mysterious and distant mother, Noé, the desire that drew Osip and his brother to Noé in the first place and her own body that was formed as a consequence of that desire.
With its childlike perspective, lyrical prose, ruggedly beautiful landscapes and sense of foreboding, The Body of the Beasts is first and foremost a dark fairy tale. The novel's centerpiece scene--in which Noé tells the story of a trapped Queen while brutally skinning a whale--brings this style together with the novel's larger themes of violence, sexuality and animalism. The fierce sensuality and visceral descriptions prove haunting--in the cases of Mie's longings, the wilderness's violence and the ruthlessness of male desire--but also awe-inspiring. In Wilhelmy's practiced, poetic hand, the flight of a heron and the panic of a crab are brought joyously to life. Nevertheless, the heart of the novel remains with Mie, whose competing curiosity and anxiety vie for the reader's attention until the final page. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The Body of the Beasts is a celebration of the body and nature as well as a nightmarish acknowledgement of the violence that is inherent to both.
Mystery & Thriller
The Chestnut Man
by Søren Sveistrup
A year after her young daughter was abducted and murdered, Copenhagen's Minister for Social Affairs Rosa Hartung returns to work. On the same day, a woman is found murdered and mutilated, with a nearby figurine of a man--made out of chestnuts.
Detective Naia Thulin catches the case and is partnered with Mark Hess, a detective recently suspended from Europol and sent back to Copenhagen for disciplinary reasons. Neither Thulin nor Hess is ecstatic about the work arrangement, but they must come together to chase a killer who makes it clear he has quickly escalating plans for multiple victims. At each crime scene is a chestnut man, with a shocking link to an earlier case. How many women will die before Thulin and Hess stop the sinister figure, and what do the murders have to do with Minister Hartung?
Fans of the series The Killing should find The Chestnut Man up their alley since it's written by Søren Sveistrup, creator of that international TV hit. The Chestnut Man has the same creepy, slow burn, and is headed by a dogged pair of detectives who don't always agree but learn how to serve a common cause. The torturous killings are not for the squeamish, almost every man besides Hess is a lecher who objectifies women and Hess's logical ideas are frustratingly dismissed by colleagues, but Sveistrup offers commentary on adults who inadequately protect children and the lengths those children go to survive when the odds are overwhelmingly against them. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Copenhagen detectives chase a serial killer who leaves behind crude figurines made of chestnuts.
Current Events & Issues
Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic
by Ben Westhoff
In 2017, more than 28,000 people in the U.S. died from the use of synthetic opioids, journalist Ben Westhoff reports in Fentanyl, Inc. The most dangerous of those opioids is fentanyl, "lethal at only two milligrams, an amount barely visible to the eye." Often added to other drugs or sold as pills that pose as "name-brand prescription tablets," fentanyl is like a game of Russian roulette. Its users don't always know that it's in the drug they've purchased and underestimate the power of the dosage. Others seek it out for its high, which is far greater than what they find in heroin.
Developed for medical use as a morphine substitute, fentanyl is so addictive that both the U.S. and the U.K. made it a controlled drug in the early 1970s. But by "tweaking its chemical structure," manufacturers produce substitutes that are equally effective, a strategy that's popular, lucrative and seemingly unstoppable.
Exploring the world of synthetic opioids, Westhoff interviews drug users and the dealers who are sheltered by the anonymity of the dark web. He also investigates manufacturers in China that ship fentanyl and the chemicals from which it's made to Canada, Mexico and directly to U.S. customers via FedEx and UPS under fake packaging.
Westhoff finds an effective solution to the opioid threat in European countries that concentrate on "harm reduction" and safe consumption sites instead of punishment, while the U.S continues its unsuccessful War on Drugs at the cost of $58 billion a year. Meanwhile, opioid deaths are "driving down life expectancy," enriching some and bringing tragedy to many others. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: A detailed and far-ranging investigation into the production, marketing and usage of fentanyl reveals an intertwined business network that spans continents and kills thousands.
The Girl Behind the Red Rope
by Ted Dekker , Rachelle Dekker
During a service at Holy Family Church, six-year-old Grace Weathers, her brother, Jamie, and their mother, Julianna, witness the appearance of an angel named Sylous, who warns of demons scorching the land and killing the unfaithful in three years' time. The angel's prophecy shakes the entire church. The rafters begin to crumble and the pews rip away from bolts holding them to the floor. The congregation panics and scramble to build a hidden community and escape the clutches of eternal damnation.
Thirteen years later, the utopian town of Haven Valley lies in the middle of the woods encircled by a simple red rope Sylous says keeps the demons out. Church leader Rose Pierce and her council members insist it's still not safe to rejoin society, while Sylous cautions of strangers pretending to be people of light who will enter Haven Valley.
Grace isn't happy about Haven Valley's strict, pious ways, especially the arranged marriages, but it's Jamie who escapes the town confines to see if the dangers beyond the red rope really exist. Grace covers for him and both rule-breaking siblings are brought before the council for punishment. Then an old man and a smiling child companion suddenly appear, asking for Grace and her family. Are these the strangers Sylous warned the town about?
The father-daughter writing team of Ted Dekker (The 49th Mystic), and Rachelle Dekker (The Choosing) have crafted a dark, fast-paced parable about fear-based religious zealotry running amok and the price of being a true believer. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: Teen siblings risk their lives to see if demons really do surround their hidden church community.
Psychology & Self-Help
Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Recovery
by Catherine Gildiner
Any doubt that seeking therapy is courageous will be put to rest by the patient profiles detailed in Good Morning, Monster. Catherine Gildiner is a clinical psychologist and author of a trilogy of memoirs (including Coming Ashore). As pseudo-memoirist for five of her most layered and poignant clients, Gildiner clearly demonstrates the value of analysis, the resilience of the human spirit and the vast generosity of sharing one's life story.
The patients vary in culture, socio-economic background and temperament. Within their treatments, Gildiner highlights tools available to clinicians to facilitate acknowledgment and change. Despite these interesting instructive moments, Good Morning, Monster is not aimed at academics; rather, it provides a window for the lay person to bear witness to the most intimate of processes.
The levels of despair and dreadfulness underlying each of the five stories can't be overstated. There is abuse, violence and neglect of every gradient. But there is also growth, buoyancy and wonderful wit and humor ("Laura" on intimacy: "Christ! Why not just dance naked in the streets?").
Gildiner is a talented narrator and admirably summarizes years of sessions without the accounts feeling choppy or incomplete. She's also wonderfully frank about her own mistakes and misreads as a psychologist, and she is quick to seek outside guidance when beneficial (finding cultural resources to aid a Cree man, for example). With hard work, each client reckons with the demons they wake with each morning, even when they've been told they themselves are the monster. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A clinical psychologist presents five patient profiles to demonstrate the value of therapy and the determination and resiliency of those who engage with and face down their traumas.
The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace
by Patricia Wiltshire
Depending on one's perspective, there are few nicknames greater than "the snot lady," the sobriquet earned by Welsh forensic ecologist Patricia Wiltshire for developing a method to obtain pollen particles from the nasal cavities of the dead. In The Nature of Life and Death, Wiltshire describes that method in terrific detail, part and parcel of her 45-year career studying the world of plants and, since the early 1990s, helping the police solve crimes through ecological trace evidence (pollen, fungal spores, soil, etc.) taken and left behind by victims and perpetrators.
Along with her practical history and pioneering of her profession, Wiltshire walks readers through numerous case studies recounting how her work helped locate a murder victim's body or linked a suspect to a crime. Those interested in plant and animal sciences or forensics will be particularly rapt at the microscopic levels of proof Wiltshire obtains.
Even as she writes for a broad audience, Wiltshire comes across as enigmatic as her subject matter. She writes from a self-centered but somewhat aloof point of view and in a straightforward manner befitting a lecturer. Wiltshire is under no obligation to share herself; her credentials and the case studies speak for themselves. Yet, at the three-quarter mark, she unexpectedly shows her animal-loving side and "explains" her "arrogance." Her disclosures can't help but thaw both writer and reader, serving not to change the absorbing material, but to heighten appreciation and understanding of its source. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Forensic ecologist Wiltshire shares how her profession came to be and how she uses microscopic portions of the natural world to help nail the bad guys.
A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations
by Pico Iyer
"I've been living in western Japan for more than thirty-two years," Pico Iyer begins, "and, to my delight, I know far less than when I arrived." In A Beginner's Guide to Japan, Iyer--born to Indian parents in England, raised in California, married with children in Japan--ruminates on what he adores and what still eludes him after three decades in his adopted homeland.
Through brief anecdotes and the occasional essay, Iyer (Autumn Light) explores many facets of Japanese culture. Strangers on trains routinely sleep on the shoulders of their seatmates; "love-hotels" abound, as do companies that hire actors to act as loved ones for people who are going through personal crises. Largely apolitical and irreligious, the Japanese value emotional and social intelligence over analysis and introspection: "they turn their backs on the public sphere, and make fantastic worlds out of their passions, counter-societies out of their hobbies." Iyer challenges the Western view of the Japanese as impersonal and robotic, noting how inanimate objects, even the simplest gift, are given "so much spirit and life." Striking observations, such as the ubiquity of small but jam-packed convenience stores in a nation that values minimalism, and the abundance of professional gangsters in an otherwise law-abiding country, speak to its contradictory nature.
Despite his deep affection for Japan, Iyer does not shy away from its unflattering aspects. Recent surveys reveal, for example, that a majority of Japanese men would never consider working for a woman and most Japanese women imagine being single is preferable to marriage; the country's reluctance to accept asylum-seekers speaks to its insularity. Iyer's Japan is a captivating, and sometimes maddening portrait of a nation unlike any other. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: This meditative and occasionally cheeky guide to Japan from Pico Iyer will delight Japanophiles and armchair travelers alike.
Reference & Writing
March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women
by Kate Bolick , Jenny Zhang , Carmen Maria Machado , Jane Smiley
Inspiring generations of women and authors, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women can be argued to exhibit an influence and staying power few contemporary novels have. For the 150th anniversary, four prestigious authors explore their connections to the four March sisters.
Like groomed Meg at the Moffats' ball, Kate Bolick (Spinster) has experienced the anxiety of fitting in and the concept of "frock consciousness," which she calls "a curious feedback loop of self-perception." Jenny Zhang (Sour Heart) empathizes with fan-favorite Jo, whose temper bucks the traditional feminine stereotype: "To be a woman is to know anger. To be underestimated, treated as inferior, have one's concerns classified as minor... how could one not feel angry?" Carmen Maria Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) argues that Beth's frailty (and eventual death) acts not only as a plot point but also dictates her quiet, sweet demeanor, eliminating the possibility of personal ambition. As one who also endured childhood illness, Machado focuses on personal independence and asks, "How do you stay out of other people's stories?" Jane Smiley (Golden Age) offers a fresh perspective on Amy, suggesting that instead of the spoiled and vain baby sister, she is the most self-realized and modern of the four women, "the thoughtful feminist... more like what we aim to be today."
Heavily autobiographical, Alcott's novel "lured readers not with fantastical adventures and talking animals, but with a realism that was radical in its forthrightness, giving voice to female adolescence." As much an exploration of what it means to be a woman in our modern world as it is an homage to Alcott's classic, March Sisters packs a thoughtful, empowering punch. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Four esteemed authors explore their own connections to each of the four March sisters in this insightful 150th-anniversary celebration of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
Children's & Young Adult
Lalani of the Distant Sea
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Newbery Medal winner Erin Entrada Kelly (Hello, Universe) makes her fantasy debut with Lalani of the Distant Sea, about a young girl who makes the deadly decision to try to rescue her community.
The Sanlagitans live under Mount Kahna's "shadow of vengeance, impatience, and fear." The island villagers believe the mountain punishes those who disturb it, so, every night, they offer Kahna benedictions. Across the Veiled Sea, "bathed in light" and offering "all of life's good fortunes," is Mount Isa. No human has ever actually "laid eyes on her," but "the Sanlagitans are certain the mountain calls to them. They die trying to answer." The strongest men are chosen to sail to Mount Isa; none--Lalani's father included--have survived.
Now, Lalani entertains herself with folktales. Her favorite is that of the mountain beast that lives in Kahna's woods, of "his mangled face, his house of stolen treasures, and his penchant for evil trickery." Her best friend Veyda, however, thinks the myths are "silly": "Why are we asking a mountain to remain quiet? Mountains are mountains." But it does seem that the Sanlagitans are being punished: everything is dying because of a drought. Lalani has no intentions of setting off on a journey to save her home, but when she wanders into Kahna's woods, consequences, danger and magic find her.
Inspired by Filipino folktales, Lalani of the Distant Sea is brimming with injustice, beauty, pain and wonder. Throughout are chapters with imaginative, elegant line drawings by Lian Cho introducing creatures that inhabit Lalani's world, some taken directly from Filipino myth, some created entirely by Kelly. Lalani is a fluid, intentional novel grounded strongly in emotional reality and overflowing with the fantastic. Absolutely bewitching. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Erin Entrada Kelly's debut fantasy is an enchanting, nuanced middle-grade adventure.
Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers
by Celia C. Pérez
It's the summer before seventh grade, and 12-year-olds Ofelia Castillo, Lane DiSanti, Aster Douglas and Cat Garcia have no plans to ruffle feathers in their small Florida town. In fact, they don't even know each other. Lane, visiting her wealthy grandmother, leaves the daughter of the woman who cleans her grandmother's house an anonymous invitation to a secret meeting. She leaves two more invitations in the girls' restroom of the public library, figuring that "kids who spent time in places she liked were more likely to be kids she could potentially hang out with."
All three invitees show up, and the Ostentation of Others and Outsiders convenes. The girls fashion themselves as a kind of anti-scout club in reaction to the Floras, a prestigious local girls' troop that focuses on social etiquette. The Ostentation quickly solidifies around an unusual passion project: Cat wants the Floras to discontinue their yearly tradition of crowning Miss Floras with a 100-year-old hat made of bird feathers. Though at first the girls seem to have little in common, they rally around this mission. Unfortunately, while their zeal and moral righteousness are laudable, their techniques are not always wise or safe.
All four girls narrate in alternating chapters, giving context and depth to their individual and collective stories. The age of 12 can be both magical and miserable. In Strange Birds, author Celia C. Pérez (The First Rule of Punk) gathers up all the messy, wild, confusing pieces of early adolescence and offers them back to the reader as a lovely mosaic made with sparkly bits of independence, tradition, principles and friendship. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Four girls awkwardly come together to form a new club to protest the outdated traditions of an elite scout troop in their town.