Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, July 3, 2019
NYC's Book Culture: 'We May Close by End of Summer'
Chris Doeblin, the owner of Book Culture, which has four stores in New York City, now says he may close the stores by the end of summer if he doesn't have enough money to pay vendors and stock shelves, according to the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper at Columbia University, near two Book Culture stores.
In an open letter last week, Doeblin had said Book Culture needs financial support, pressured by the increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $10 an hour in the past three years, which boosted payroll 50% in 30 months. He said the store needs at least $500,000 in loans, which he wants to be guaranteed by the city government.
Book Culture has been aided, Doeblin told the Spectator, by "generous landlords," including Columbia University, which lowered rents for the Book Culture store at 114th St. and Broadway.
Since he issued the open letter, Doeblin has met with New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and plans to meet with members of the Committee on Small Businesses of City Council to secure funding and bring attention to the plight of local businesses in the city, he told the Spectator.
Doeblin added: "If there's one last service we can provide to the community, it's to make City Hall and the government aware that we need to do things differently. We can't continue to do nothing about Amazon and Walmart and the huge mega companies of the world and expect a future where small businesses like Book Culture exist."
Avoid the Day Bookstore Pops Up in Rockaway Beach, N.Y.
Jianna and Jason Heuer, owners of the popular Avoid the Day Bookstore, Bar, & Cafe (ATD), Rockaway Beach, N.Y., initially opened their "brick and mortar community space" as a pop-up for select weekends in June, but it "has proved to be a great addition to the peninsula; so much so, that the Heuers have extended their stay at their  Beach 90th Street location," the Wave reported. The owners also have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a more permanent presence in the community.
Jianna Heuer's dream of opening a "bookstore bar" gained momentum when she joined the Ladies of Business Rockaway Beach. "The dream became realistic due to the examples and encouragement from the group," she said. "With the support of the women in LBRB, it felt like a real possibility to be able to open a business like this in the Rockaways. We started small by doing pop-up shops in local businesses and it seemed to be well received. When we got the chance to do a month long pop-up in a vacant storefront, we jumped at it. Now, we are excited to be launching our Indiegogo campaign in hopes of raising enough money to open a permanent shop."
|Owners Jason and Jianna Heuer|
Avoid the Day has "received stellar reviews from residents since their opening weekend at the beginning of June," the Wave noted. "A few blocks from the beach and boardwalk, it's no surprise that this pop-up store has proven to be a hit amongst locals and DFDs alike with its unique mix of coffee and culture, not to mention the delicious baked goods."
Heuer added that since moving to Rockaway Beach in 2016, "we found great neighbors and an amazing community we really wanted to be a part of in a significant way. I don't think there is anywhere else we would have been able to make this concept work due to the local support.... Other business owners have each other's back and people that are just in town for the beach are interested and engaged with new concepts and ideas. Plus, riding your bicycle to work is a nice perk."
An editorial in the Wave expressed full support for Avoid the Day, noting: "It's time for that to change, and our friends Jianna and Jason Heuer--who have been running the Avoid the Day pop-up bookstore on Beach 90th Street--are just the folks to do it.... Us newspaper folks have a fondness for books, the feel of a physical book is akin to the careful page-turning of a print tabloid. When you consider that print book sales are consistently rising--since 2013, book sales have increased each year, according to statista.com--this is a wonderful opportunity. Yes, we are a little biased. We've gotten to meet Jianna and Jason, lovely people who both work in publishing, and they'd be the perfect people to bring a bookstore here."
Sisters Festival of Books Making Debut in October
Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Ore., has announced the first-ever Sisters Festival of Books. The three-day celebration of books and the literary culture of Central Oregon and the Pacific Northwest is scheduled for October 18-20, and proceeds from the festival will go toward creating a scholarship fund for students graduating from Sisters High School.
On Friday, October 18, the festival will kick off with a catered evening reception featuring local and regional authors. The festival will be in full swing on Saturday, with a variety of events and signings scheduled from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Paulina Springs Books running a pop-up store throughout the day. And on Sunday the festival will conclude with a suite of free children's and family programming at Paulina Springs Books.
More information about the festival can be found here.
Obituary Note: Brenda Maddox
Brenda Maddox, a biographer "whose books included one about James Joyce's little-studied wife and muse, and another about Rosalind Franklin, an overlooked DNA researcher," died June 16, the New York Times reported. She was 87. Maddox's Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom (1988), about Nora Barnacle, was adapted into the 2000 movie Nora, with Susan Lynch in the title role.
Her biography Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (2002) "brought heightened attention to Dr. Franklin, an English scientist whose important contributions to the early study of the structure of DNA had gone largely unacknowledged as James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick shared the limelight for their now-familiar double-helix model," the Times wrote. (The two men, along with Maurice Wilkins, later received a Nobel Prize.)
Maddox's other books include Who's Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor? (1977); D.H. Lawrence: The Story of a Marriage (1994); Yeats's Ghosts: The Secret Life of W.B. Yeats (1999); Maggie: The Personal Story of a Public Life (2002), about Margaret Thatcher; and George Eliot in Love (2010). Her last book, Reading the Rocks: How Victorian Geologists Discovered the Secret of Life, was published in 2017.
"It's a cliché, but my mother really was a writing machine," said her son, Bruno Maddox. "Usually the first sound I heard when I woke up, because it had woken me, was her banging away.... She loved the job of writing. The pens, the notebooks, the Post-it notes, the sound of the keys, then drafts and galleys and a big party somewhere, then wake up and start another one."
The Guardian noted that Maddox's semi-autobiographical The Half Parent: Living with Other People's Children (1975), published at a time when books about blended families were still unusual in Britain, "would be passed by hand from family to family as they negotiated the grating reality of trying to create domestic bliss."
Although she was born in the U.S., Maddox told the Australian newspaper the Age that she had lived in Britain since the 1960s and nothing could drag her away from London: "I like it better there: the language, the literature, the landscape, the irony, the humour, the history. People have a sense of their own mortality. In America, somebody dies and you look for someone to sue; it's not supposed to happen."
Image of the Day: Guardians of the Bookstore
Phoenix Books, Essex, Vt., was visited by superheroes recently, and about 60 people--kids as well as adults--stopped by to meet their favorite characters. The Guardian Legion is a Vermont cosplay and charity group. Celebratory snacks (including Wonder Woman's lassos and superpower-inducing veggies) and activities completed the event.
Little City Books Part of Hoboken's Renaissance
HomeGrown focused on the city of Hoboken, N.J., where host Stephanie Willoughby spoke with residents and small business owners about the city's "past and present, and how the community comfortably blends its history with all the promise of its future."
Among the small businesses featured was Little City Books, owned by two longtime Hoboken residents, Kate Jacobs and Donna Garban. "Jacobs explained that the town is evolving from the singles bar scene, for which its well-known, into a more family-friendly destination," HomeGrown noted.
"People love to buy books for their kids. Everyone has memories of growing up with a local bookstore or the library," she said. "So it's really great to feel like we are the bookstore for these kids.... I think there's a real cultural renaissance happening in town. There's more disposable income that can support things like bookstores and theater. And, we're a part of that."
Bookseller Moment: The Joy of Summer Reading
Chalkboard of the Day: Novel Bay Booksellers
"Words are important. Books are filled with words. Ergo, books are important!" Novel Bay Booksellers, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., observed in sharing a photo of its latest sidewalk chalkboard message, which reads: "You say 'Bookworm.' We say 'Bibliophilically Enthusiastic Invertebrate.' "
Pennie Picks: The School of Essential Ingredients
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has chosen The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (Berkley, $16, 9780425232095) as her pick of the month for July. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she wrote:
"Life is made up of small moments, and Erica Bauermeister captures a collection of those moments beautifully in her novel The School of Essential Ingredients, this month's book buyer's pick.
"When eight strangers gather for a monthly cooking class they are all at different places in their lives. Over the duration of the class, readers learn about each character as the characters, in turn, learn about themselves.
"This book gives readers plenty to feast on."
Personnel Changes at Viking/Penguin
Brianna Linden has been promoted to senior publicist. She joined Viking/Penguin as a publicity assistant in 2016.
Sara Leonard has been being promoted to associate publicist. Before joining Viking/Penguin last year, she was a bookseller at BookPeople in Austin, Texas.
Media and Movies
This Weekend on Book TV: Dan Abrams
Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.
Saturday, July 6
6 p.m. Michael Bobelian, author of Battle for the Marble Palace: Abe Fortas, Earl Warren, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the Forging of the Modern Supreme Court (Schaffner Press, $31.99, 9781943156665), at Kramerbooks and Afterwords in Washington, D.C. (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m.)
7 p.m. Joseph Menn, author of Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World (PublicAffairs, $28, 9781541762381), at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.
8:50 p.m. Nigel Hamilton, author of War and Peace: FDR's Final Odyssey: D-Day to Yalta, 1943–1945 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 9780544876804), at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass. (Re-airs Monday at 6 a.m.)
10 p.m. Jamil Jivani, author of Why Young Men: The Dangerous Allure of Violent Movements and What We Can Do About It (All Points Books, $28.99, 9781250199898). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)
Sunday, July 7
12 p.m. Live In-Depth q&a with Paul Kengor, co-author of The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, $27.95, 9781610171540). (Re-airs Sunday at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.)
7 p.m. Jonathan Hansen, author of Young Castro: The Making of a Revolutionary (Simon & Schuster, $35, 9781476732473).
8:10 p.m. Dan Abrams, co-author of Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy (Hanover Square Press, $27.99, 9781335016447).
HBO's John Oliver vs. Amazon Warehouses
HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver fired a 20-minute broadside against the warehousing and shipping industry dominated by Amazon, "exposing the grim, exhausting work conditions behind our every overnight delivery," Deadline reported. Oliver called Amazon the "Michael Jackson of shipping" because they're "the best at what they do, everybody tries to imitate them, and nobody who learns a third thing about them is happy they did."
He added: "The injury and illness rate in the warehouse industry is higher than coal mining, construction and logging. I didn't know there were jobs more dangerous than those other than maybe rodeo clown, Oompa Loompa or shark dentist."
Oliver conceded that Amazon "is not the worst actor in this industry. But being not the worst is a low, low bar."
Dave Clark, Amazon's senior v-p, worldwide operations, responded with a statement posted on Twitter in which he cited the company's $15-per-hour minimum wage, called Oliver's accusations "insulting" to Amazon workers, and defended conditions at the fulfillment centers. "As a fan of the show, I enjoy watching John make an entertaining case for the failings of companies, governments and most recently--Mount Everest. But he is wrong on Amazon," Clark wrote.
Oliver's segment ends with a new slogan suggestion: "Amazon. Try not to think about it."
TV: The Sandman
Netflix has "given an 11-episode series order to The Sandman, based on Neil Gaiman's DC comic, from Warner Bros TV," Deadline reported. Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman, Grey's Anatomy) is slated to write and serve as showrunner on the series, with Gaiman executive producing alongside David Goyer.
"We're thrilled to partner with the brilliant team that is Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg to finally bring Neil's iconic comic book series, The Sandman, to life onscreen," said Channing Dungey, v-p, original series, Netflix. "From its rich characters and storylines to its intricately built-out worlds, we're excited to create an epic original series that dives deep into this multi-layered universe beloved by fans around the world."
Gaiman, who will write the first episode with Heinberg and Goyer, noted on Twitter: "I'm hoping we can make something on television that feels as personal and true as the best of the Sandman comics did. Just set thirty years later than Sandman the comic."
The Guardian offered a project summary: "Moving between the dawn of time to the eve of the new millennium in London and the Renaissance, the Sandman follows Morpheus as he gets to grips with the changes that have taken place in the world as he lay captive. It also tells the stories of his six siblings, the Endless, who include Death, Destiny and Desire."
Books & Authors
Awards: Miles Franklin, Wainwright Golden Beer Book Shortlists
The shortlist for the A$60,000 (about US$42,065) 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award, awarded to "a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases," consists of:
The Lebs by Michael Mohammed Ahmad
A Sand Archive by Gregory Day
A Stolen Season by Rodney Hall
The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones
Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills
Speaking on behalf of the judges panel, author and literary critic Dr. Bernadette Brennan said that the shortlist "showcases a diverse and exciting range of Australian voices and experiences. Each writer has been unafraid to take risks in their narrative, in one or more of structure, subject matter or style. These books celebrate, for the most part, some of the complex, disparate and urgent aspects of contemporary Australian life."
The winner will be announced July 30.
A seven-title shortlist has been unveiled for the £5,000 (about $6,315) Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize, which celebrates the best books about nature, the outdoors and U.K. travel. The winner will be announced August 15. The shortlisted titles are:
Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Wilding by Isabella Tree
Time Song by Julia Blackburn
Our Place by Mark Cocker
Thinking on My Feet by Kate Humble
Out of the Woods by Luke Turner
The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland
Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week
Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, July 9:
Knife by Jo Nesbø (Knopf, $27.95, 9780525655398) is the latest Scandinavian noir with Harry Hole.
King of the Mississippi: A Novel by Mike Freedman (Hogarth, $26, 9780525573784) follows the bitter rivalry between two management consultants.
The Trouble with Gravity: Solving the Mystery Beneath Our Feet by Richard Panek (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 9780544526747) explores heavy questions about the force of gravity.
Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino (Regnery, $28.99, 9781621579830) looks at Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing.
Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem by Daniel R. Day (Random House, $28, 9780525510512) is the memoir of the Harlem fashion designer.
America's Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr. by Steven M. Gillon (Dutton, $29, 9781524742386) is a biography of JFK's son.
The Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison's Ten-Year Road Trip by Jeff Guinn (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501159305) chronicles the annual summer car rides of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison between 1914 and 1925.
Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Cummins (Atheneum, $17.99, 9781534416642), features a turtle who, after his person leaves for school, takes a trip all the way across the living room.
Contagion by Teri Terry (Charlesbridge Teen, $18.99, 9781580899895) follows a teen who suspects a countrywide epidemic might be biological warfare.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (Berkley, $16, 9780451491879).
Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer (Quirk, $14.99, 9781683691228).
IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites
From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:
The History of Living Forever: A Novel by Jake Wolff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, 9780374170660). "Jake Wolff takes as many risks within the narrative of The History of Living Forever as his characters. The author's daring success can be measured in the feverish beat of his readers' pulse as they are captivated, challenged, surprised, and moved. This tale of the alchemy of immortality, of the quest for an elixir of life, is powerfully driven by a tension between the desire to transmute the nature of life versus a reductive drive to prolong it. The mutability of time and character suffuse the story, making 16-year-old Conrad's coming of age unexpectedly multi-layered and complex. If ever a book invited looking into the future, it is The History of Living Forever. I predict that it will have a long and glorious life." --Kenny Brechner, Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers, Farmington, Maine
Resistance Women: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini (Morrow, $26.99, 9780062841100). "Mildred Harnack, an American woman, moves with her husband to Germany, but while they're building their life together, the Nazi Party is rising to power. Mildred and her friends can't stand by and watch their communities be torn apart, so they conspire to resist. The women work together to provide information about the Germans to the American forces, but when their resistance cell is exposed, everyone is at risk. Beautifully written and heavily researched, Chiaverini brings Mildred and her compatriots to life on the page with a vividness that kept me up all night reading." --Mary Ruthless, Foggy Pine Books, Boone, N.C.
His Favorites: A Novel by Kate Walbert (Scribner, $15, 9781476799407). "Kate Walbert is one of my favorite writers and she continues to create memorable novels, as evidenced by this new one. There's something about the way she tells her story of a young girl struggling to balance a wild energy with a soft heart who is preyed upon by a charismatic and overbearing teacher that makes the novel both sing and pierce the heart simultaneously. I read this in one evening and was completely overtaken by it. It is excellent." --Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield's Books, Sebastopol, Calif.
For Ages 4 to 8
Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley (Random House, $17.99, 9781524773205). "Levi is about to spend his first day at a new school, and he's scared! 'Big boys don't cry,' his father tells him as he sends him on his walk to school. But as he walks, Levi encounters a fisherman, a harpist, Army men, a biker man, all sorts of men, and to his surprise, for some reason or another, they are all crying! This charming and funny book has a warm illustration style and will help teach kids that expressing emotion is healthy, while at the same time making them chuckle at how everyone Levi encounters is tearing up." --Jen Manglass, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, Mass.
For Ages 9 to 12
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai (Holt, $21.99, 9781250314093). "If books came in cake form (and WHY NOT, I ask?), Pie in the Sky would be the apple mille-feuille of the bunch. Lai masterfully creates a story of grief, familial love and discord, and alienation that will have readers both biting their nails and loudly guffawing. The character of Jingwen helps us remember that growing up means forgiving yourself and others--even if letting go is the one thing you don't want to do. A delicious confection that will be devoured by fans of Raina Telgemeier, Vera Brosgol, and Shaun Tan." --Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga.
For Teen Readers: An Indies Introduce Title
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante (Putnam, $17.99, 9780525514022). "I have not stopped thinking about Marisol since I turned the last page of her story. Her strength shines through as she takes on pain for her sister amid the promise of their new life together. The reasons she has to leave El Salvador are revealed bit by bit, which adds a level of tension and intrigue. As the plot unfolds, we learn the many threats Marisol faces as an immigrant, a sister, a daughter, and a lesbian. This incredibly well-crafted book carries important messages about the complexities of love." --Jennifer Kraar, City of Asylum Bookstore, Pittsburgh, Pa.
[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]
Reading with... Susan Richards Shreve
|photo: Linda Fittante|
Susan Richards Shreve is the author of More News Tomorrow (Norton, June 4, 2019), her 15th novel. She has written a memoir, 30 books for children and edited five anthologies. She is a Professor of English in the Master of Fine Arts in Fiction program at George Mason University. Shreve is one of the founders of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and, until last year, she was the foundation's chair. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and has taught as a visiting professor at Princeton University, Columbia University School of the Arts and Goucher College. She lives in Washington, D.C.
On your nightstand now:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Border Districts by Gerald Murnane
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout (galley)
See What Can Be Done by Lorrie Moore
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
I have a table beside my bed with the books listed above. Underneath the table, there are stacks of other books lying in wait. From the top of the table, I've read all the books but Elizabeth Strout's galley, and I wander in Lorrie Moore's criticism. The rest are teachers--I dip in and out learning from other writers. Murnane is an Australian writer who is new to me, and I am interested in how he creates a sense of urgency in the moment, writing in first person with very little resembling a story. Jane Eyre still feels current in our lives as women. Olive Kitteridge (the first Olive) was a stunning example of Strout's deep understanding of her characters. Olive is a difficult woman but you've got to love her. Levels of Life is an astonishing story of deep connection and grief about the loss of Barnes's wife and agent. I read it again and again after my husband died, as if I were in conversation with Barnes about our shared sadness.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Little Engine That Could. I have many copies--mine when I was very young, a second copy I bought in high school to remind me, and copies for each of my four children. The Little Engine made it over the mountain to deliver Christmas toys to the children when the big engine broke down.
A classic story of victory against odds.
Your top five authors:
All dead--but these are the first writers from whom I learned to love books. All character-driven narratives about the lives of the living
Book you've faked reading:
Proust: Remembrance of Things Past. I have read Phyllis Rose's excellent My Year of Reading Proust and keep thinking that soon, I will read the thing itself.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Great children's literature is for all of us.
I was once on an NPR talk show with Diane Rehm discussing Charlotte's Web with a scholar of children's literature and unexpectedly, I wept when I spoke of Charlotte's death. There are many, many books that I admire but I need to be truly moved to love a book.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
The jacket is beautiful and ominous--dark gray trees, a splash of blood red and a repeated fixed circular design in white.
This is her debut novel and it's brilliant, disturbing and more than lives up to the promise of the cover.
Book you hid from your parents:
My parents were open to anything I chose to read, especially my mother. I did however hide the very trashy True Romance magazines under my bed.
Book that changed your life:
The Great Gatsby changed my life.
The first time I read it I was in high school, completely engaged with the book until Gatsby is killed in his swimming pool. Then I was furious at Fitzgerald for giving Jay Gatsby such an undignified death.
Later understanding the novel, understanding irony in particular, I wanted to be a writer. I love a book that explodes in metaphor beyond the limitations of its story.
Favorite line from a book:
"Call me Ishmael." From Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Five books you'll never part with:
Each of these books resonates with a particular moment in my life. I still remember what captured my attention.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
With Tess, she knew when her father died that she would never be completely happy again. I was young and that was news I didn't want to know.
In The Runaway Bunny, the Mother Bunny follows her little bunny everywhere. What comfort!
There was a moment reading The Catcher in the Rye that I found my voice--not Salinger's, nor Fitzgerald's, who was a big influence on me at that moment. I was in college and had written my first novel--something in Salinger's prose struck a chord and the formal voice of that first novel gave way to a new rhythm in my sentences that felt authentic. Maxwell's book is ultimately a memory of a moment in childhood when he failed a friend. Reading that scene, I was full of regret as if the failure had been my own.
And Shakespeare. What humanity!
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Moby-Dick. I read Moby-Dick in college on demand, found the whaling information tedious, the book too masculine. I thought the story could have been told in half the number of pages.
I am reading it now as if for the first time and though not finished, I am amazed by its range and power. An American novel equal to its subject.
Review: For Black Girls Like Me
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99 hardcover, 336p., ages 9-11, 9780374308049, July 30, 2019)
Mariama J. Lockington's debut, For Black Girls Like Me, is composed of brief chapters and poems that highlight the growing pains 11-year-old Keda experiences during and after a big family move.
Born in Atlanta, Ga., African American Keda was adopted at six months by two white, classical musicians from Baltimore. Now, Papa has become principal cellist of the New Mexico Symphony and the whole family has to be uprooted and moved across the country. Keda must leave behind her best friend, Lena--"the only other girl I know who is like me. An adopted mismatched girl"--and start over at a new school in the middle of the year. Life in New Mexico is different but in many ways the same. Constant micro and macro aggressions from her sister, mother, classmates and others leave Keda feeling alienated and alone. She does, however, have the Georgia Belles, a chorus of women who visit her in her dreams, and Lena, with whom she converses through a purple journal they mail back and forth. The transition also exposes weaknesses in Keda's family. Mama's erratic behavior combined with the growing distance between Keda and her 14-year-old sister, Eve, are catalysts for combustion when a racially charged incident occurs at Keda's new school.
Intentional, candid scenes are beautifully paired with considerable internal reflection. When Keda's mother says, "People just can't see past color, can they?" Keda thinks, "I feel like punching her. I am the one with the color after all." Keda is aware--emotionally and intellectually--of the space where her family, and larger community, are present but refuse to see her. She longs for a mother she's never met, "a mother who sees" her and understands the ins and outs of her complicated placement in the world. Poignant chapters explore Keda's frustration with her mother's inability to gently, lovingly groom Keda's "difficult" hair and depict her hoping her family will show more consideration to her nuanced position as a black girl in their white family.
Lockington's focused imagery and impressively balanced rhythm between prose and poetry share the perspective of a black girl trying to find a place in her community and in her family. Lockington ends with a refrain from a song written by Keda--"I love. I hurt. I wonder. I love. I hurt. I wonder"--showing that, even with the struggles of being a black girl in a white family, Keda will make sure her voice is heard. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer
Shelf Talker: Lockington's middle-grade debut is a loving tribute to the social experiences of transracially adopted black girls.