Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 18, 2015


ReedPop: BookCon Tickets & Information

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

A Writer's Thrill

For writers, whose careers are mostly defined by thankless struggle, it's often the little things that sustain us, those all-too-infrequent moments that come at the fruition of a long-gestating project, that remind us why we subject ourselves to so much anxiety, frustration and self-doubt.

Gary Whitta

When I was a kid, I used to mock up movie posters with my name in that peculiar elongated font used for the "billing block" where the credits appear. When, many years later, I finally had a movie made, seeing my name on a poster for The Book of Eli, in that font, for real, was the greatest thrill, the literal realization of a life-long dream.

I came to write my debut novel, Abomination, kind of by accident. Unlike writing movies, being a novelist wasn't something I fantasized about as a kid. So I was in no way prepared for the thrill I would eventually feel seeing that book in one of my local indie bookstores for the first time. Maybe I'm being overly romantic, but I got the feeling that it was there because someone, a real person who cares about books, cared about this one.

I always love seeing the personalized handwritten recommendations from staff members in indie bookstores; it creates a sense of personalized community that's hard to replicate online. Here in San Francisco, the local independent bookstores are cherished, and readers have a ferociously protective attitude toward shops like Green Apple Books and the sci-fi/fantasy store Borderlands. I've frequented bookstores like these all my life, so to be able to give something back as an author and to see my book on those same shelves I've spent years perusing has been a thrill like no other. Yeah, even better than the movie poster. --Gary Whitta

Witta is a screenwriter and the author of Abomination (Inkshares, $15.99 paperback)


Weinstein Books: A Speck in the Sea: A Story of Survival and Rescue by John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski


Book Candy

Books by Other Names; Books About Food

"More goes in to settling on a title for a book than you might think." Following up on an earlier list, Mental Floss highlighted "what 10 more books were almost called."

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J. Ryan Stradal, author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest, recommended his "top 10 books about food" for the Guardian.

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"Can you identify these classic novels from their closing line?" asked Buzzfeed.

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Bustle screened "18 movies book-lovers will appreciate, because sometimes you just need a little break from literature (Gasp, I know!)"

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Toujours Paris. Design Milk showcased a Parisian flat with "three connected living spaces that are open but slightly partitioned by built-in bookcases with one angled side, which references the building's sloped roofline."


Thomas Nelson: A Stranger at Fellsworth (Treasures of Surrey) by Sarah E. Ladd


The Writer's Life

Sandra Brown: Romance Heightens Suspense

photo: Andrew Eccles

Sandra Brown is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and the author of 77 books--more than 60 of which have been New York Times bestsellers. Her latest, Friction (Grand Central, August 2015), is a suspense story centered on Crawford Hunt, a Texas Ranger involved a custody battle that becomes ever more dangerous. Brown is a life-long Texan who lives in Arlington with her husband, Michael Brown.

On its surface, Friction is about a Texas Ranger fighting for custody of his daughter who finds himself at the center of a courtroom shooting that jeopardizes his chances. He's also involved romantically with a family court judge. Beyond a straight summary, what would you say Friction is about?

I think it's about choices.

I wanted to do a book about a man trying to get custody of his child. In Friction, it's a man who in most every way is a great father, but then his job is the one obstacle that makes people raise their eyebrows and say, "Can he do this, as well-intentioned as he is?" Then he's thrust into this courtroom shooting, and from then on, everything he has to do makes his position in his custody case worse.

I thought that was a good dynamic around which to build a story, because he's forced to constantly make tough choices--choices that reinforce others' objections to his gaining custody of his daughter, but ones he must make because he is duty-bound and honor-bound to do everything in his power to catch the bad guys.

There were several moments in Friction where I was convinced I knew exactly where the story was going, and then something twisted and the story went in a new direction.

I work hard at those! I know the pivotal points in the story when I'm going to put a spin on something or make a sharp hairpin turn in the plot, making everything suddenly different than a few pages ago. All of those things are thought out, but by the same token, some of the best surprises in any of the books I've written are ones I never saw coming. It's like somebody else is in charge and is pulling the twists on me.

Do you find writing such a fast-paced novel as head-spinning and heart-thumping as reading one?

It takes a long time to work in all those twists and turns. But sometimes when I know a scene is coming up--a scene of great tension, or suspense, or when something really terrible happens--I get viscerally involved. My heart starts thumping, my palms start sweating. I get as involved as I hope the reader will. On those days, it's like my fingers can't type fast enough; I know what's going to happen and I just can't wait to get there.

Part of what makes Crawford Hunt such an interesting and compelling character is his penchant for bending the rules--though he always does so for the right reasons.

Crawford wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if he played by the rules all the time. To me, a really perfect character would be boring. We like to see our heroes stumble and bumble, because then when they are triumphant we can celebrate that triumph.

If you know that all of his or her choices are going to be good ones, then why bother with the story? Story by nature, as fiction, as myth, has to be a constant challenge for the hero. It can be the challenge of the elements; it's almost always the challenge of another character; and often (and I find the best books fit this) are those in which a hero's greatest challenges come from his own conscience.

I always try to make my characters a little bit edgy. If you blow on them one bit, they might just topple over into the other side.

What drew you to the location for Friction?

It could have been set anywhere, but I wanted Crawford Hunt to be a Texas Ranger. Of course, there's such lore around them, and they're so limited in number now (there are only 180 across the whole state of Texas, which covers 700,000 square miles and 254 counties). They have total autonomy, and jurisdiction anywhere in the state. They can initiate an investigation into anything without invitation.

So it was interesting to make Crawford just a little bit different than your average detective or cop, to give him a little extra oomph as the hero.

Friction is described as a mystery but has an element of steamy romance. What's it like writing a book that crosses between genres?

To me, there never really was a division between the two genres. It's just when I started writing more mystery/suspense/thriller, whatever you want to call it, I naturally incorporated the romantic element into the story.

Recently, romantic suspense has carved out its own niche as a genre. So I and many of my colleagues have had to more or less define what sets it apart, what makes it different. Romance heightens the suspense of a story, because you have given the characters a new reason to struggle. And suspense heightens the romance, because you're never as afraid as you are when someone you care about is threatened. There's a symbiotic relationship between romance and suspense, and it heightens the stakes of both to combine them.

Texas Monthly once called you one of the "masters of escapist American pop fiction." Do you think of your novels as escapist?

The term "escapist" was applied so often when I was writing romances, almost as a derogatory term aimed not at me so much as the reader. It implied that the reader was seeking and in some way needed this escapism. And those were basically women readers, so it came across as, "Poor things, they need this." Why is escape such a bad thing for women readers?

So I don't know that I would ever use the word escapist, but I rather like word entertainment, because that's why I read. I don't read to escape my life; I like my life. But I do like to visit other people's lives, and the lives and worlds of the characters that other writers create. When I set out to write, I always think in terms of entertainment. I like the term entertainment applied to Sandra Brown novels: when you get in one, you're going to have a heck of a good time. –Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm


New Press: Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn


Book Review

Fiction

Everybody Rise

by Stephanie Clifford


The American Dream continues to be a fascinating topic of fiction, especially for New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford, whose debut novel, Everybody Rise, is being compared with the works of Edith Wharton and Tom Wolfe.

Clifford's protagonist, 26-year-old Evelyn Beegan, lives an upper-middle-class existence, dallying around the outer edges of the Old Money set, mingling with them, but never quite belonging. Evelyn attended Sheffield, an elite boarding school, then relocated to New York City and took a job recruiting socialite movers and shakers for an exclusive social media start-up called People Like Us (PLU). Justifying it as necessary for her job, Evelyn forces herself to join in on weekend trips, benefits, galas and posh affairs that are far beyond her means. But it isn't long before Evelyn's focus is less about her career ambition and more about her personal ambition.

Clifford expertly develops Evelyn's addiction to her aspirations. The young woman who starts out resisting her mother's beauty recommendations evolves into a fashionista and an expert on debutante ball etiquette. Readers will cringe as Evelyn alienates her true friends and allows her growing need for acceptance to destroy her best qualities. Her whole world perspective goes out of focus.

In the words of "Ladies Who Lunch," the song containing the book's title, Everybody Rise is "another brilliant zinger" that puts the fine line of ambition under the societal microscope to examine where it turns from laudable to destructive. Timeless. Universal. I'll drink to that. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: In an examination of the American dream, reporter Stephanie Clifford's debut novel depicts a modern-day metamorphosis befitting Cinderella on the night of the royal ball.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9781250077172

HarperCollins: Celebrating 200 Years of Great Books


Into the Valley

by Ruth Galm


When Into the Valley begins, B. is cashing her first forged check. The Summer of Love in San Francisco, where B. has just left, is worlds away from the Sacramento Valley she's heading toward. The only time she feels at home is when an unsuspecting teller hands her a bundle of cash within the economical and sterile walls of a bank.

Ruth Galm's first novel is a spare and lyrical story of homelessness. At 30, B. sees hippies as misguided and naïve, but she feels detached from the pearl necklaces, beehive hairdos and patriarchy of the previous decade. She wanders into the desert east of the Sierra Nevada hoping to discover who she is and where she's meant to be, but instead begins to lose both her way and her self-control.

Following the advice of a hapless and criminal janitor she meets in her office, B. learns how to forge checks. But Galm wants the reader to know that, while B. does in fact become a wanted criminal, B. doesn't steal from the banks for the thrill or the cash. Instead, she wants to determine her own identity amid a major cultural shift. Only the secret wad of cash tucked under the seat of her car reminds B. that there are still parts of her identity all to herself, no matter how violently times change.

As the banks and the police begin to catch on, B. wanders the plains of California, weighing her options, until finally a bold act unveils for her an elusive truth she could never have predicted. --Josh Potter

Discover: An understated novel that explores the quiet but powerful emotions of loneliness and revelations that flow from losing one's way.

Soho Press, $25, hardcover, 9781616955090

Harper: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton


Barbara the Slut and Other People

by Lauren Holmes


Lauren Holmes's debut collection, Barbara the Slut and Other People, explores a range of human connections. In the title story, a high school student with a rule about not sleeping with the same guy more than once finds the word "slut" spray-painted on her locker and revels in its hot pink color. In "Desert Hearts," a recent law school graduate pretends to be a lesbian to get a job in a sex toy store and contemplates having a baby to feel less alone. In "Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall in Love," a young woman brings home a tourist, looking for a little action, and finds herself with a house guest who's overstayed his welcome--and fallen in love with her man-hating dog in the meantime.

In many of the stories, the connections in question are sexual; in others, they are more about families and friendships. Individually, each story is about a person's deep desires; as a collection, Barbara the Slut and Other People explores how those desires are shaped and challenged by the contexts in which the characters find themselves. In their depiction of love and acceptance, betrayal and heartbreak, these stories reveal and accept--and even celebrate--their characters' biggest flaws as they strive for intimacy. At times funny, at times crushingly sad, Holmes's book proves her to be a talented writer of fiction, asking readers to engage not only with who they are as individuals but also the world they live in together. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A collection of revealing short stories from a debut author whose characters seek human connection.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594633782

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Deadly Game  (Robert Finlay #2) by Matt Johnson


Mystery & Thriller

Rubbernecker

by Belinda Bauer


Due to a traumatic childhood incident, 18-year-old Patrick Fort is obsessed with death. He wants to analyze what happens when people die, which makes him a great candidate for the anatomy course at Cardiff University, which requires him and his classmates to dissect cadavers to determine cause of death.

When Patrick finds something unexpected inside his cadaver, he suspects that Number 19--the cadavers are assigned only numerical IDs--was murdered, despite the death certificate claiming natural causes. But Patrick's attempts to prove his theory are hampered at every turn, resulting in events that threaten to grant him personal experience with the very condition he seeks to understand.

Belinda Bauer's Rubbernecker is fast-paced and quick-witted, told from multiple points of view (one seems unnecessary, tied to an unrelated subplot that goes nowhere). Patrick's voice holds the most interest. He's a curious and intelligent boy with Asperger's syndrome, who takes everything literally and is deadly serious at all times, but is also funny and charming, albeit unintentionally. Bauer's (Blacklands) almost gleeful descriptions of cadaverous viscera display a macabre sense of humor that induces chuckles alongside groans of disgust. Then, with revelations that come only pages from the end, the author punches readers in the heart.

Though Rubbernecker, which was originally published in the U.K., received the 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, it's not just a mystery. It's also a portrait of a memorable protagonist who finds a way to embrace life by confronting what lies beyond. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A darkly humorous and affecting novel about a teen with Asperger's trying to solve a murder nobody thinks happened.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802123961

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Edge of Dawn

by Melinda Snodgrass


Lumina CEO Richard Oort is a paladin, the only human on the planet without magic bred into his DNA. However, he can wield an ancient sword to mend tears in the fabric of reality and battle massive Old Ones, elder gods from realms beyond our own. He can also use it to inoculate humans by removing their magic, thereby rendering them unable to be sensed by the monstrous creatures. The problem is, he's lost the sword.

Edge of Dawn is the third entry in a delightful set of novels by Melinda Snodgrass (The Edge of Reason) involving Richard and his compatriots as they attempt to use the corporate entity of Lumina to keep modern-day Earth safe from incursions by ancient deities.

Meanwhile, Richard discovers another paladin, a native girl who is only nine years old. Mosi is still recovering from the horror of her family's brutal murder at the hands of her brother, under the influence of an elder god. Richard must keep her safe, deal with the traitorous humans who sent the evil creature after her family, close recently opened portals and keep his company from being taken over by an executive board that includes one of Richard's former archenemies, the wizard Grenier.

Oh, and he has to come out to his love interest and security chief, who may or may not approve of Richard's bisexuality. Their long working relationship and the ambiguity of their attraction for each other makes Richard too nervous to keep quiet any longer.

Every page of Melinda Snodgrass's Edge of Dawn is packed with action and compelling storytelling, and it's a wild ride. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A saga of elder gods, magic and corporate culture with a fast pace and colorful characterizations.

Tor, $27.99, hardcover, 9780765338167

Biography & Memoir

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

by William Finnegan


William Finnegan (Crossing the Line; Cold New World), staff writer for the New Yorker, first got the surfing jones as a kid in Los Angeles, and nurtured it when his TV producer parents moved to Honolulu at age 14. A shy, reclusive white boy in a school of local Hawaiians and Asian immigrants, he found escape and friendship in the waves off shore from their cottage on the wrong side of Diamond Head. As he recalls in his memoir Barbarian Days, "the surf was your refuge, your happy hiding place, but it was also a hostile wilderness... an uncaring God, endlessly dangerous, power beyond measure." For the young Finnegan, surfing anchored him throughout the turmoil of his teens and then took him across the globe in search of bigger waves and broader adventures.

Barbarian Days is the detailed chronicle of his years of travel, friendship, romance and political awakening. His journey took him through the South Pacific islands to Australia, Indonesia and finally Cape Town--where teaching in an apartheid South African black high school "changed me... turned me toward politics, journalism, and questions of power." While Finnegan explores his own intellectual growth, Barbarian Days is primarily a surfing story of shortboards, "left" and "right" waves, and big swells with nicknames like Restaurant and Racetrack. In all, Finnegan might relate to Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer's recent comment about his growing food empire: "You can't become a champion surfer in a bathtub." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A New Yorker staff writer's chronicle of his lifelong passion for surfing.

Penguin Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594203473

A Tour of Bones: Facing Fear and Looking for Life

by Denise Inge


Visiting a variety of charnel houses, repositories of human bones located throughout the world, is not the way one usually spends a holiday, but Denise Inge (Wanting Like a God) had a special reason to visit four ossuaries: she lived on top of one in England. Knowing her house was situated over a room full of human bones, coupled with a diagnosis of inoperable cancer, prompted Inge to rethink her views on death and dying, and to face her fear of the dead, her fear of the unknown that lies ahead.

Although the idea of charnel houses might appear ghoulish, the deliberateness in preserving these human remains can change one's perspective, as Inge discovered in her travels. In the Skull Chapel in Czermna, where the skulls and bones of Germans, Czechs, Poles and Silesians lie together, "the vanquished and the victors laid side by side regardless of race or station... skulls alone are stacked floor to ceiling, each jawless chin seeming to devour the ash-white cranium on which it rests." Inge could still sense the antagonism these enemies felt toward one another in life. In Sedlec, she discovered chalices and chandeliers built out of bones; in Hallstatt, sun-bleached skulls were lovingly hand painted; in Naters, Inge juxtaposes the beauty of the Alps against the macabre. Each visit altered Inge's own feelings toward life and death further, leaving readers with a deep sense of the wonder of them both. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An unusual tour through repositories filled with human bones that changed the way one woman felt about life.

Bloomsbury, $29.95, hardcover, 9781472913074

Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim

by Justin Gifford


Mike Tyson used to visit him for advice. Ice-T and Ice Cube chose their names in his honor. He's had a substantial impact on gangsta rap and black culture. Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck was both the "definitive voice of black urban life" and a "misogynist who wrote trashy paperbacks that promote violence against vulnerable young woman," Justin Gifford (Pimping Fictions) argues in Street Poison, the first-ever biography of the writer. Tall, slender and cool, Slim dressed in flashy clothes, a suitable style for the life described in his popular autobiography, Pimp.

In 1918, Beck was born in Chicago, and his family later moved to Rockford, Ill. He lived a contented middle-class life and did well in school until his mother left her second husband to follow a hustler to Milwaukee, shattering the boy's sense of stability. In 1936, an 18-year-old college dropout, Beck started pimping in the streets and clubs while still living with his mother. In his own words, he was "street poisoned" and very successful; he made a lot of money, abused many of his prostitutes and did prison time.

After his final release in 1962, he gradually transformed himself into an author. Though major publications did not review them and few bookstores carried them, Iceberg Slim's books sold in the millions of copies and had a deep influence on African American writing. Without Slim, Gifford argues, there would be "no street literature, no blaxploitation, no hip-hop the way we know them today." Gifford's biography is as gritty as it is revelatory. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A groundbreaking biography of a black writer whose bestselling novels about his criminal youth had a deep influence on African American writing and culture.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385538343

History

Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat

by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo


Most people, including food writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, have had no idea that innovations such as the tin can, dry yeast and crackers were invented to feed soldiers at war. She opens Combat-Ready Kitchen with her realization that the contents of school children's lunchboxes bear a strong resemblance to what's served to special operations soldiers. From there, she takes a journey into the origins and science behind prepared foods.

Feeding hundreds of thousands of soldiers at war presents a particular set of problems. When soldiers are deployed in places of extreme heat or cold, and are on the move, solving logistical challenges of what and how to eat can determine the outcome of war. Small groups of warriors could raid and pillage to survive, but large-scale military campaigns require innovations such as cured meats, hard cheese and hardtack (dry crackers) to feed troops. The processed food on store shelves today is a modern extension of these innovations.

While Marx de Salcedo recognizes that making restructured meat appetizing and the chemical mix that keeps bread fresh for as long as possible are great inventions that have resulted in cheap, shelf-stable consumables, she also sees the ways in which heavily processed foods have not been good for public health. Welcome as their technological advances may be, she observes, the military cannot be the sole director of food innovation. At a time when social movements encourage people to eat locally and sustainably, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo offers an informed and scientific perspective on the origins, science and importance of prepared foods. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: A history of the quick and easy food items that populate the shelves of supermarkets.

Current, $27.95, hardcover, 9781591845973

Children's & Young Adult

Fuzzy Mud

by Louis Sachar


Fuzzy mud is pure poison, but even the vile mud's clueless creators are treated compassionately in this playfully pithy middle-grade novel from Louis Sachar (Holes).

Woodridge Academy is a fancy private school surrounded by woods that the students walk around, not through, to get to class. The older boys warn of a deranged, woods-dwelling hermit. But the scariest thing in Heath Cliff, Pa., is not that bloody toothless hermit, but SunRay Farm, a secret lab that alters the DNA of slime mold to create one-celled microorganisms, or "tiny Frankensteins," to burn as an alternative fuel source for an overpopulated, car-obsessed planet. On a trek through the forbidden woods with her friend Marshall Walsh, fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi stumbles upon this Biolene-brand fuel in the form of some curiously "fuzzy" mud. When Chad, a bullying classmate, shows up to beat up Marshall, Tamaya impulsively smashes the toxic goo into his face, unwittingly triggering a massive outbreak of a heinous, rash-producing infection. While this is certainly a cautionary tale about humankind messing with nature to calamitous effect, the lively narrative also deftly captures the emotional turbulence of Tamaya, a latchkey kid with divorced parents who doesn't want to be a Goody Two-shoes; Marshall's struggle with Chad's power over him; and Chad's anger over his parents' neglect. Bouts of middle-school malaise alternate with entertaining, over-the-top transcripts of secret U.S. Senate hearings with Biolene representatives.

Fuzzy Mud asks readers to contemplate overpopulation and how far humans will go to accommodate the world's increasing resource consumption, but Sachar keeps his story buoyant with snappy dialogue and plenty of action. --Karin Snelson, children’s editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Newbery Medal author Louis Sachar's (Holes) suspenseful middle-grade novel is about bullies, blisters and bioengineering gone bad.

Delacorte, $16.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 10-up, 9780385743785

Appleblossom the Possum

by Holly Goldberg Sloan, illus. by Gary A. Rosen


Holly Goldberg Sloan (Counting by 7s) partners with her illustrator husband, Gary A. Rosen, in this enchanting tale of family devotion that features a passel of possums. 

Appleblossom is the most timid possum in her litter of 13, struggling to master her mother's rules for survival in the face of cars, people and hairies (dogs). Mama possum teaches her babies how to navigate life's hazards through various theatrical exercises, with "playing dead" at the top of the list. As the possums are weaned from their mother's care, Appleblossom must embrace her independence: "She has to always move forward, even if she feels small and alone in the world and not much of an actor." Her first independent foray is disastrous: she falls down a chimney where she's discovered by a "littlest people," a child named Izzy. Izzy feels this accident is "the greatest thing that has ever happened to her," and the unlikely pair bond in a tenuous, yet intimate friendship. Appleblossom's family, however, doesn't know she's temporarily safe, so they mount a rescue. Here the narrative shifts back to the nocturnal marsupial world, and the possums practice their prowess as performers to survive the dangers that stand between them and their beloved Appleblossom.

Sloan successfully combines middle-grade adventure with a biology lesson about the miraculous life cycle of North America's only marsupial. Three-color line drawings appear throughout, highlighting the expressive body language of the dramatic possum family. Through Appleblossom, shy children will discover how to "fake it 'til you make it." --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: A winsome middle-grade novel about a shy possum named Appleblossom who befriends a human girl named Izzy.

Dial, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 8-12, 9780803741331

Education

Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph

by Kristina Rizga


Characterized as a "low-performing school" by national testing standards, Mission High in San Francisco has faced stiff penalties in the past decade for its low standardized test scores. But when education reporter Kristina Rizga went behind the scenes at Mission for a magazine assignment, she found a vibrant, racially diverse community of passionate, skilled teachers and intellectually curious students. Rizga spent four years at Mission, observing classes and participating in campus life while interviewing faculty members and students. Her first book, Mission High, presents a thoughtful, well-researched account of her time there, using it as a case study to explore the problems with education reform in the U.S.

While the school continued to post low test scores, Rizga found that Mission was making significant gains in other areas: rising college acceptance rates, decreasing dropout rates and improvement in students' critical thinking and other high-level skills. Focusing on a handful of students and faculty members, Rizga provides an in-depth look at Mission's personalized, "hyper-local" teaching model--the opposite of the "factory" model of standardized testing. She sets the school's challenges in context, giving a brief overview of education reform movements in the U.S. and arguing that top-down, nationally mandated policies and procedures ultimately hurt schools like Mission rather than help them.

In clear and cogent prose, Rizga makes a compelling case for allowing schools to direct their own learning. Mission High is both a breath of fresh air and an inspirational, practical model for struggling education communities around the country. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A compelling behind-the-scenes look at Mission High, a vibrant, diverse San Francisco high school that is bucking the standardized testing trend.

Nation Books, $26.99, hardcover, 9781568584959

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