Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Joan Didion's Clear-Eyed Thinking

Joan Didion
(photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Revered author Joan Didion died last week at the age of 87; her work has reverberated throughout my life. The man I married gave me Joan Didion's The White Album (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16) as a gift when we first started dating. Didion's essays provide cultural touchstones to those of us who grew up in the late 1960s and '70s. Did I think about movies the same way after reading "In Hollywood"? Had I ever considered how water came through the California desert to Malibu before "Holy Water"? Didion's clear-eyed, sometimes seemingly emotionless recounting of events, people and places so integral to American society gave her readers space to consider their perceptions and experiences in new ways.

My mother died at 67 of pancreatic cancer in May 2005, and The Year of Magical Thinking (Vintage, $16) arrived in October to help me process the grief. Didion had lost her life partner and collaborator, John Gregory Dunne, and she expressed her feelings in a way no one else could. The utter disbelief. The sense that those empty shoes at the bedside would most certainly be filled again. The idea that people were judging a seemingly emotionless expression that was actually numbness.

Watching Vanessa Redgrave portray Joan Didion on Broadway in The Year of Magical Thinking was only surpassed, for me, by the moment when Didion joined her onstage. The play included an addendum, for by then Didion had also lost her daughter, Quintana. The author experienced so much loss, yet left behind an abundance of life experience, most recently in Let Me Tell You What I Mean (Knopf, $23).

Quoting an incarcerated Paul Ferguson, who told Didion that writing had helped him "reflect on experience and see what it means," she considers her experiences through writing, but admits, "writing has not yet helped me to see what it means." Didion's stringent commitment to objectivity in her writing has helped this reader and, I suspect, many others, to find their own way toward meaning. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera: From Mutual Fans to Co-Authors

Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

YA authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera both sold their debut novels, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and More Happy than Not, within days of each other. They read--and obsessed over--each other's books, started e-mailing and, the idea for their first collaboration, What If It's Uswas born. The two authors are both Lambda Literary Award nominees. Albertalli lives in Georgia and Silvera lives in California. Here, they discuss Here's to Us (reviewed in this issue), their follow-up to What If It's Us.

Becky Albertalli: Talking about Here's to Us as an actual book is surreal! 

Adam Silvera: For real. It feels like this book was both forever in the making and took forever to write. It's also a sequel that would've never happened had we published our original ending for What If It's Us, which was a lot neater. I love our published ending even more, and I'm grateful for the doors it left open to continue Arthur and Ben's story. Before we jump ahead, should we quickly recap What If It's Us

Albertalli: Okay! I'll start with a spoiler warning for What If It's Us. You may want to skip this whole interview if you haven't read it yet, but definitely skip this question.

So, the main narrative of What If It's Us ends with Arthur and Ben amicably breaking up due to Arthur's return home to Georgia. But there's also an epilogue which gives a few snapshots of the boys during the first semester of their freshman year of college. Despite the distance, they've remained close friends. Ben's been single throughout this entire time period--he needed to take some time to focus on himself. Arthur has casually kissed a few guys--including Mikey, who seems like he's becoming more of a regular presence. But Arthur's lingering feelings for Ben have kept him from fully committing.

Which brings us to Here's to Us.  

Silvera: In the sequel, Arthur and Ben are a little bit older, a little bit wiser and a little bit seeing other people. Maybe a lot bit for Arthur, who is full-on dating Mikey from the What If It's Us epilogue, and they're very cute and compatible in a lot of ways. Then we have Ben who is sort-of, kind-of dating this boy Mario from his creative writing class, and eagle-eyed readers will see Mario's existence hinted at in the epilogue, too. I loved writing Mario so much and I absolutely understand why Ben is so attracted to him, though I feel like I got pulled off course from the main love story as I leaned into this new romance. How did you find this experience?

Albertalli: Developing Mikey's character was really challenging too. From the beginning, we both thought it was important to lean into letting the boys truly explore these new relationships. Mikey and Mario had to make sense. As you said, we had to fall in love with them a little bit ourselves. But at the same time, we knew which love story we wanted at the heart of this book. And, of course, we're very aware that our readers have opinions about this, too. One of my favorite memories from this year is when Adam and I did an event together promoting Infinity Reaper. It was the first time we'd ever mentioned Mario, and the Zoom chat exploded with the most hilariously brutal anti-Mario memes imaginable.

Silvera: It was so hilariously brutal!

Albertalli: We had to debrief with each other afterward, because we legitimately couldn't stop laughing. We have the best readers on earth, hands down--but I'm curious to know if you felt any pressure knowing how invested people are in that elusive Arthur-and-Ben endgame?

Silvera: It's been clear for years that readers love Arthur and Ben and were either frustrated with us as the authors for not delivering the happy ending they envisioned, or they appreciated the realism behind the ending, maybe even imagining the boys reuniting down the line when they were older. I loved being able to continue this story. It's deeply realistic, highly romantic and feels true to the question we've raised all along: Is the universe pushing Arthur and Ben together, or pulling them apart for different partners? Did anything surprise you about how the story played out?

Albertalli: It did! I think the thing that surprised me the most, actually, was how much I ended up adoring Mikey--and even Mario (Arthur's competition!). Which, as I mentioned earlier, was intentional--I just didn't expect to shed literal tears over them! What about you? Any surprises?

Silvera: I can't say too much, but this sequel was originally framed around a storyline that was front and center from the first chapter, and when working with our editor we decided to play it down a bit. It was a tough shift, but I'm surprised at how well it worked.

Albertalli: That was one of the puzzle pieces I enjoyed the most, too. It was a brilliant editorial note--we leaned all the way into it, and it really affected the momentum of the entire book.

Silvera: How do you feel about where we ended the story?

Albertalli: I love where we ended it. To be honest, we've had the basic events of the epilogue locked in for years. People always assume Adam and I have very different visions for the ending which makes total sense, given our [previous titles]. But we were on the exact same page for both endings. We really can't wait for readers to reach the Here's to Us epilogue.

Silvera: No spoilers, but what are you most excited for readers to discover?

Albertalli: I think I'm most excited to see if people pick up on all the callbacks to What If It's Us--practically every scene functions as a kind of do-over, which feels exactly right for this series. What about you?

Silvera: I can't wait until readers see where all their favorite characters end up. I'm super biased, but the Here's to Us epilogue is my favorite epilogue.

Book Candy

Merriam-Webster Serves Up Appetizer Names

For your holiday table, Merriam-Webster looked up "17 tasty names of appetizers. Enjoy. They're complimentary."


George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four "will be retold from a woman's point of view," Open Culture reported.


Illustrator/cartoonist Tom Gauld imagined literary awards for non-readers in the Guardian.


"The secret lives of cowboy 'buckaroo' poets" were chronicled by Messy Nessy Chic.


"A metal detectorist discovered a tiny gold book from the 15th century that might have belonged to King Richard III's wife," ArtNet reported.

Book Review


I Know You Love Me, Too

by Amy Neswald

The fraught relationship between two half-sisters links the 14 stories of Amy Neswald's exceptional debut collection, I Know You Love Me, Too. Ingrid and Kate, eight years apart, share a father who died when Ingrid was 20 and Kate 12. "Relationships between half-sisters should be half as complicated," Ingrid muses. "But they're not." Ingrid was shuttled between her divorced parents, never quite welcome in her stepmother's home--except by clinging Kate. To Ingrid, Kate seemed more annoyance than sibling. Meanwhile, in the decades that follow, Kate will keep wishing that Ingrid "just once [would] say you loved me."

Awarded the 2021 New American Fiction Prize, Neswald displays prodigious excellence in crafting intimate moments that hold vast resonance as she reveals the sisters' complicated history. Ingrid becomes a celebrated artist at 48 in "Things I Never Told You," her life encapsulated in her paintings. Premature sex teaches Kate she's been abandoned to grow up alone in "Lucky." Ingrid's admission in "And She Did," that "she didn't know what love was and how to keep it," overshadows all future liaisons. An injured bird in "Sweet Jesus" becomes proof of unconditional love. Strangers enable unexpected self-awareness in "Triptych" and "The Butterfly Collector." A gunshot--and middle-age--inspires transformative perspectives in "Forty-Six." Whale-watching facilitates sororal bonding in "Friday Harbor" and the titular "I Know You Love Me, Too."

Enhanced with inventive observations--success "arrived too late and she doesn't know how to care for it"; "Ingrid channels her obese aunt, her succulent swirls of fat"; "she's run out of things to say. She blames this on contentment"--Neswald effortlessly alchemizes the prosaic into something extraordinary. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Amy Neswald's superb interlinked debut story collection is a wondrous examination of half-sisters connected through the decades by their shared dead father.

New American Press, $17, paperback, 226p., 9781941561263

One in Me I Never Loved

by Carla Guelfenbein, trans. by Neil Davidson

In One in Me I Never Loved, acclaimed Chilean novelist Carla Guelfenbein offers a thoughtful and emotionally evocative meditation on the tension between freedom and possession in women's intimate relations. It is Margarita's 56th birthday, and she suspects her husband may be having an affair. She spends her day away from him on the Barnard campus, where she considers the recent, mysterious disappearance of her apartment building concierge, a woman she never really knew but now cannot stop thinking about. Interwoven with Margarita's story are parallel narratives from the 1940s, when Doris, the young lover of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, is getting her first taste of freedom, and the life of a young woman named Juliana is about to be changed forever.

Translated from the Spanish by Neil Davidson, the collagist quality of Guelfenbein's narrative provides the story with unexpected texture as these three women's lives overlap and diverge from one another in unexpected ways. While separately each plot--and Margarita's, in particular--may seem quietly contemplative, when threaded together, the three stories take on a new urgency that is enhanced by the novel's compact prose and all-in-one-day time frame. The women at the center of each narrative--Margarita, Doris and Juliana--may be different from one another in their circumstances and personalities, but the bittersweet ways in which they grapple with their desires to belong to someone else, and yet simultaneously break free of expectations, underline the emotional acuity of Guelfenbein's novel. Even Margarita's neglectful husband receives the tender treatment of the author's humanist approach, which is dedicated to putting her characters' emotional nuances before cheap thrills. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A rhythmic and intimate portrait of one day in the life of three women, One in Me I Never Loved probes the depths of female longing and the ambiguity of desire.

Other Press, $14.99, paperback, 144p., 9781590518724

The Ballerinas

by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel Kapelke-Dale's debut novel, The Ballerinas, offers an excoriating view of ballet as an industry, an artform, a calling and a passion. It's the story of three women in the Paris Opera Ballet and how dance shapes their friendship, bodies, lives and, ultimately, understanding of themselves as women.

As the only daughter of one of the most legendary ballerinas in Paris, Delphine has lived and breathed ballet from birth: "Dance is what I do. It was as simple, and as messed up, as that." Ballet school is where she meets her childhood best friends Lindsay and Margot; the POB company is where they grow their friendship as women; and dance is what ultimately brings Delphine back to Paris after 13 years spent choreographing in Russia.

Kapelke-Dale trained in classical ballet, and her deep understanding of this world is evident in the nuanced way she captures complex tensions: between Delphine and her estranged friends, between the company and the dancers they employ, between the female ballerinas who shine and the men, as required by the artform, who "show them off," between an individual's love of dance and the sacrifice it demands. "We'd honed ourselves for so many years into something resembling perfection.... It was about taking our strength and making it pliable, supple, compliant." The Ballerinas reveals with sharp insights what happens when talented and passionate dancers like Delphine and her friends reject that compliance: the strength of the women they are and the friendships they have built, and the beauty of the dance they perform both on stage and off, and what it takes not merely to survive but to shine. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Discover: A debut novelist offers cutting insights into ballet as an industry in this story of three ballerinas, their friendship and the lengths to which they pursue their love of dance.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250274236

A Reason for Hope

by Kristin von Kreisler

The title of Kristin von Kreisler's seventh book, A Reason for Hope, has a poignant double meaning. A trauma victim climbs from despair to optimism, aided by Hope, a yellow Labrador retriever "courthouse dog" trained to offer comfort.

Tessa Jordan, 36-year-old bookmobile librarian and caregiver to a band of feral cats on her Puget Sound island, looked forward to a date with a well-respected man from the community. But she awoke the next morning with no memory of their evening, and obvious sexual assault injuries. In sensitively written detail, A Reason for Hope describes Tessa's shame, fear and emotional turmoil as she reluctantly calls the police, as well as County Prosecutor Will Armstrong's efforts to support Tessa while building a case to prosecute her attacker. The conflict between a victim's hesitation and legal protocols leading to justice are well drawn, as is the professional reserve Will and Tessa maintain even as the situation opens to the possibility of a romantic spark. As Hope's handler, Will makes sure she is available when Tessa might need a paw on her foot or a soft ear to stroke. "I am here. Don't you worry. I care," Hope seems to say, lying in her "library-lion" pose. Victim-support group meetings empower Tessa, while Hope stays alert to who might need a calming friend.

Tensions rise during painful trial prep and courtroom confrontations. Meanwhile, Hope's role expands as she and Will befriend Tessa's seven needy cats, offsetting the novel's somber theme of sexual and domestic abuse. As the title implies, both Hope and hope eventually prevail. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: In this sensitively written novel, a victim of sexual abuse struggles through recovery and legal procedures with the support of a yellow Lab "courthouse dog."

Kensington, $15.95, paperback, 336p., 9781496737335

Mystery & Thriller

They Can't Take Your Name

by Robert Justice

The struggle for justice in the land of the "free" is fueled by equal parts hope and desperation in They Can't Take Your Name, Robert Justice's promising debut novel. Set in the heart of Denver's Black community--the historic Five Points--Justice delivers a touching portrait of loss, love and the courageous exercise of being a Black person in the U.S.

Langston Brown is a man wrongly convicted for the infamous "Mother's Day Massacre" at a downtown Denver bank 15 years ago. His daughter, Liza, leaves behind Juilliard for law school to fight for Langston's release from Death Row. Meanwhile, local son Eli Stone is finally about to realize a "dream deferred" four years after his beloved wife's death--their plans to reopen the renowned Five Points jazz club, The Roz. When a desperate Liza meets Eli at The Roz, she shares the devastating news that Langston's execution date is set within 30 days. Finding strength in each other to overcome the pains and wrongs of the past, Eli and Liza make it their common cause to stay Langston's execution and clear his name.

Justice creates memorable and strong characters and explores the internal tensions among the Black social and political community with an unflinching eye. With the often-overlooked venue of the Mile High City as a viable location for future entries in the crime genre, They Can't Take Your Name is a first novel that hints at more to come for Eli and Liza as they navigate a hopeful, if uncertain, future. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver, Colo.

Discover: A stinging social critique that manages to entertain as it inspires, this debut novel showcases a memorable setting and characters in the historic Five Points community of Denver.

Crooked Lane Books, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781643858425

Jane Austen's Lost Letters

by Jane K. Cleland

Cozy mystery lovers have enthusiastically befriended smart, crafty Josie Prescott over Jane K. Cleland's 13 previous novels. An expert appraiser and antiques dealer with her own TV program, Josie unravels spellbinding mysteries in and around her quaint, coastal New Hampshire hometown.

In Jane Austen's Lost Letters, Josie is haunted by the past in more ways than one. Even though her beloved father died decades before, his influence suddenly looms large when a mysterious woman, an elegantly dressed stranger, tracks Josie down after the taping of her TV show. The woman, in her 70s, claims to have been her father's "good friend." This news comes as a surprise as Josie thought she knew everyone in her father's orbit. The woman, in an obvious hurry, gives Josie a package, then disappears. The parcel contains a short, handwritten note from her father and two carefully preserved letters, chattily written and filled with great wit, dated 1811 and 1814. Josie, a literary aficionado and antiquarian, instantly recognizes that the letters were written by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra and her niece Fanny. Are these authentic literary finds? Who was the delivery woman, and why did she rush off? And what's the connection between the letters, the woman and Josie's father?

These questions set Josie on a winding, deepening quest for answers where danger and murder abound. Cleland's (Hidden Treasure; Glow of Death) knowledge of and admiration for Jane Austen shine through this well-plotted, suspenseful narrative where long-term fans--and new ones--will eagerly invest in this exciting series full of surprises. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: In this complex, enthralling mystery, an antique dealer seeks to authenticate letters that might have been written by Jane Austen.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250779380

A History of Wild Places

by Shea Ernshaw

Hauntingly atmospheric, Shea Ernshaw's A History of Wild Places explores the isolated cult-like community of Pastoral and one family that is about to be rocked to its core. Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, are lifelong members of Pastoral, an idyllic commune founded in the 1970s. Since its founding, however, Pastoral has grown increasingly alienated from the rest of the world, as its residents have come to believe that to leave the community limits would be to catch a mysterious and deadly disease called the rot. But when Theo finds evidence that two outsiders--a missing children's book author and the man hired to find her--have entered Pastoral and since disappeared, Theo, Calla and Bee's bonds with each other and with their community will be tested.

Split between the three protagonists' perspectives, A History of Wild Places is written as a kaleidoscope of colliding realities. The result is a novel about paranoia that is hypnotic in the way it pieces together the lies its characters tell each other and themselves. While the mystery at its center--the fate of one enigmatic author--keeps readers guessing, it is the mesmerizing details about Pastoral that prove truly captivating in this chilling tale. Full of discomforting rituals, mysterious myths and rugged beauty, Pastoral is as seductive as it is terrifying, a fantasy world transformed into nightmare by an uncannily familiar desire for control. Ernshaw's slow-burn thriller may have a conclusion, but the spell Pastoral places over its readers cannot be so easily resolved. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: As spellbinding as an old, dark fairytale, this psychological thriller explores the deep corners of forests and human desire alike.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 368p., 9781982164805

City of Shadows

by Victoria Thompson

City of Shadows, the delightful fifth entry in the Counterfeit Lady series from historical mystery writer Victoria Thompson (City of Schemes), finds heroine Elizabeth Bates returned from her honeymoon and happily busy with married life. Content to have left her prior life as a professional con artist behind, nevertheless Elizabeth finds herself unable to refuse a request for aid from a dear friend. Her friend's mother has fallen under the influence of Madame Ophelia, a séance medium who is clearly intent on draining their financial resources. Only Elizabeth's shady connections and inside knowledge can save them.

Soon, Elizabeth finds herself fully absorbed in machinations as she and all her friends, including her respected attorney husband, Gideon, plot to run a con of their own. They gleefully concoct a masterful plan to out-con the Madame and her associates. But who will win this test of actors and high-concept deceptions--the dangerous charlatan with her criminal co-conspirators or Elizabeth's crew of gifted amateurs and friends from both sides of the law?

This charming tale has a clever, engaging heroine surrounded by a marvelous cast of secondary characters. Set against the colorful backdrop of late-Gilded Age New York, the heroine's commitment to the suffragette movement provides noteworthy historical context. The interwoven schemes to trick the Madame are brilliantly complicated and thoroughly enjoyable. Although the novel is easily read as a standalone mystery, readers will certainly want to indulge in the prior four connected stories. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: In a delightfully clever mystery, newlywed Elizabeth Bates uses her disreputable background to defeat a con artist and save a friend's financial security.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780593197530

Social Science

A Killer by Design: Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind

by Ann Wolbert Burgess, Steven Matthew Constantine

"What drives someone to kill?" It's a question that renowned forensic nurse and criminal profiler Ann Wolbert Burgess is particularly equipped to answer (and does) in her riveting debut memoir, A Killer by Design: Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind.

One of the few female trailblazers within the male-dominated halls of the FBI, Burgess was a key player in the creation of the Bureau's first criminal profiling team, the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU). In the early 1970s, Burgess's groundbreaking research into rape and sexual trauma attracted the attention of "mindhunter" FBI agents John Douglas and Robert Ressler. Soon she was called in to consult on the most difficult and extreme serial killer cases. Driven by a desire to help victims and prevent future crimes, Burgess worked alongside the FBI for two decades to identify, track down and interview dozens of the country's most violent offenders, such as the "BTK" (bind-torture-kill) killer Dennis Rader and Henry Louis Wallace, the first documented Black serial killer. The memoir includes Burgess's intimate reflections on her work and ability to process horrific acts of violence into actionable data, and reveals a pioneering spirit unafraid to buck convention and spur innovation in a traditional and male-dominated field.

Full of behind-the-scenes depictions of FBI briefing sessions and never-before-seen interview transcripts, the book sheds light on the fascinating intricacies of the profiling process and the criminal mind. A Killer by Design is a crisply written and important addition to the field of criminology. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver, Colo.

Discover: Ann Wolbert Burgess offers a riveting memoir of her time elevating criminal profiling to a science within the FBI.

Hachette Books, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780306924866

Essays & Criticism

Mothers, Fathers, and Others

by Siri Hustvedt

Mothers, Fathers, and Others collects 20 visionary and vulnerable essays by the critically acclaimed writer Siri Hustvedt (Memories of the Future). Unapologetically feminist and at times self-revelatory, Hustvedt's essays range from the experiences of being and reading in New York during the pandemic ("Notes from New York," "Reading During the Plague") to re-imaginings and re-articulations of the lives of the women in her past ("Tillie," "A Walk with My Mother"). Standout essays include "Mentor Ghosts," Hustvedt's meditation on the variety of mentors she's almost had and the collective desire to seek ever-elusive mentoring relationships, and "Scapegoat," her brutally candid investigation of popular fascination with horrific true-crime cases like that of Sylvia Likens.

With an astounding ability to draw connections and plunge readers headlong into a subject, Hustvedt manages in this collection to cover an incredible scope of topics, often in tight, quick-moving prose. She draws on her longstanding love for and expertise in literature, visual arts and psychoanalysis, and her essays confidently guide readers into enlightening, vital and often uncomfortable topics that underline so many day-to-day experiences. Whether discussing the roots of misogyny or the desire to find parental figures at all stages in life, Hustvedt's essays provide a clear-eyed and patient approach that often feels rare. Such an approach, which thrives on Hustvedt's unexpected humor and seamless storytelling, reminds readers of how vital immersive, slow thinking is in contemporary times. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Offering no easy answers but a myriad of moving insights, this collection of 20 essays delves into the shifting boundaries between oneself and others.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781982176396

Children's & Young Adult

What Is Love?

by Mac Barnett, illus. by Carson Ellis

Mac Barnett (Paolo, Emperor of Rome), lauded author of dozens of titles, poses a timeless question that has no absolute response in What Is Love?, a poignant, often humorous exploration of one of life's most personal experiences. "When I was a boy," Barnett's story begins, "in the garden out front of the house where we lived, I asked my grandmother, 'What is love?' " Being old, he thinks, must mean his grandmother would know. Instead, being wise, she encourages, "If you go out into the world, you might find an answer."

And so, the boy ventures forth, querying all manner of people. Their answers vary: a fisherman insists "Love is a fish"; an actor, applause; a carpenter, a house; a farmer, a seed; a soldier, a blade. Even a cat opines "love is the night," until a dog insists "this!"--a surprising chase--is love. None of the interpretations seem quite right, but the boy's doubts are met with repeated admonishments of "You do not understand." Yet the boy finally perceives enough to return to the house that is home where he finds wafting smells of dinner, the happy barks of his dog, his welcoming garden and, most importantly, his beloved grandmother.

Caldecott Honor artist Carson Ellis (Duz Iz Tak) invitingly renders the child's quest in vibrant, multi-layered spreads of gouache on watercolor paper. Her illustrations beckon audiences into bloom-bursting fields, rolling paths through hills and sky, a rose-strewn stage and parades of people toting their personal symbols of devoted inspiration. Barnett, meanwhile, gently underscores to all readers the familiar, rewarding comforts of true, unconditional love. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: When a boy sets out to discover What Is Love?, many voices respond, but he must find his own answers in this touching, timeless affirmation of familial and familiar bonds.

Chronicle Books, $17.99, hardcover, 44p., ages 3-5, 9781452176406

Here's to Us

by Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera

Two years after their meet-cute in a Brooklyn post office, 18-year-old ex-boyfriends Arthur Seuss and Ben Alejo reunite in the achingly romantic sequel to What If It’s Us.

"The last time I watched Arthur walk away was two summers ago. I'm reliving that deep uncertainty in my chest all over again," aspiring writer Ben muses when Arthur returns to New York City as an intern for a queer off-Broadway play. Both teens have new love interests, but separately experience glimmers of hopeful uncertainty for a potential relationship "do-over." Arthur admits, "Maybe it's just one of those ex-boyfriend things, but [Ben's] face makes me forget what year it is." Ben and Arthur's sincere introspections, dramatic interludes and sometimes painful self-discoveries are told in alternating points of view and buoyed by interactions with Ben's brash yet steadfastly loyal best friend, Dylan. Ben cursorily examines his race and ethnicity, mostly in relation to Arthur (who's white) and his current love interest, Mario Colón. Ben recalls a conversation with Arthur about being white-passing and Puerto Rican, "something I never had to educate Mario on since he's in the same boat." 

Here's to Us transitions seamlessly from its predecessor yet stands strongly on its own. Powerhouse young adult fiction duo Becky Albertalli (Kate in Waiting) and Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End) craft a rich narrative with strong character arcs that dovetail in an anticipatory conclusion. The two authors answer the question, "What would happen if we got back together?" beautifully in this funny and sweet contemporary YA novel. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms

Discover: Two years after they met, ex-boyfriends reunite in New York City and wonder if the universe is sending them signals to try again in this achingly romantic queer love story.

Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins , $19.99, hardcover, 480p., ages 14-up, 9780063071636

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