Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

You Know It Don't Come Easy

Yesterday we all got some sad news: Borders Group will be sold to a liquidation group. All of its stores are closing, and 10,700 employees will be out of work.

There are so many things that could be said. After I wrote this editorial two weeks ago, I received more than a dozen considered responses. There were many things wrong at Borders. There are many things wrong with bookselling, with publishing, with the economy.

But today, we come not to bury a troubled company that has already made a difficult announcement. We come to praise its booksellers. For, despite any mistakes made at any level, from floor to corporate, at the height of its powers Borders offered the kind of handselling expertise that readers crave.

Each of the 11,000 people out looking for work has to consider this personally, so I will, too:

Goodbye to the first Borders store I visited back in the late 1980s. I marveled at a store that combined everything I wanted: a plethora of shelves, amazing magazine racks and a clean, well-lighted café.

Goodbye to Borders employees who helped me find books over the years for my two daughters, cheerfully checking "in the back" and allowing us (along with legions of others) to sit in their kids' sections for hours at a time.

Goodbye to the amazing store that had amazing events, like the Lyle Lovett concert that my husband and I attended for free, the Alexander McCall Smith reading and so many others I cannot list.

Goodbye to the Borders stores around the country that we visited as a family, always knowing that there would be a congenial, welcoming staff who would allow us to roam separately, then come back together at the checkout line, eagerly sharing our "finds" with each other.

It isn't a simple time for bookselling, but today? I'm thinking about the booksellers, who didn't ask for much except our trust. Others are, too; check out this Twitter hashtag: #ThankUBorders. --Bethanne Patrick

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Great Reads

Further Reading: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

This week's Starred Review is of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. Sankovitch, grieving her sister's untimely death, decided to slow down and read one book a day every day for a year (she blogged her experience at The book could have come off as yet another "year of..." stunt memoir, but instead, it's a beautifully paced look at how mindfulness can affect the psyche.

If you've read or are considering reading Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and want...

Another book about a year of reading: Try So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson. Nelson, currently the books dditor of O Magazine, decided in 2003 to read one book each week and see how it connected with her personal life. She didn't always manage to stick to her planned "curriculum"; the results surprised her, and may surprise you as well.


Another book about titles you should consider: Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure is the reading list of your dreams from your dream literary professor. Dirda has a Ph.D. but has spent most of his academic capital writing literary criticism and book reviews rather than footnote-studded monographs. A win for readers, who will find the titles considered here far from the madding, ordinary ones.


A book about loving books: Nicholas Basbanes's A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books may not make you a bibliophile or--gasp!--a bibliomane, but at least it may help you to understand the authors and others who would, like Erasmus, buy books, then, if there's any money left over, spring for some food. It also makes a great gift for the bibliomane in your own life.



Borders Bows Out

Borders Group is going out of business. Finally. Fully. There is no last-minute white knight to save what's left of the second-largest book retailer in the country.

Sadly, some 10,700 employees will lose their jobs over the next two and a half months as the company closes its remaining 399 stores, two-thirds of which are superstores.

The end came yesterday, when the company said that because there is no "formal proposal from a going concern bidder," it does not need to have an auction today and can instead present the bid to liquidate to the judge on Thursday. Closing sales may begin as soon as this Friday. The last stores are expected to close by the end of September.

The liquidators are Hilco and Gordon Brothers, who made a bid of between $252 million and $284 million.

In a statement, Borders Group president Mike Edwards said, "Following the best efforts of all parties, we are saddened by this development. We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, e-reader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now."

He added, "I extend a heartfelt thanks to all of our dedicated employees and our loyal customers."

With the Borders collapse, Barnes & Noble will be the only national bookstore chain. It and other book retailers will now undergo a second thumping as a result of bargain-basement pricing at 399 bookstores around the country.

The mass closings recall warnings of some in the business in the 1990s who feared that the chain superstores then sweeping the country and putting many independent booksellers out of business would someday themselves close and leave many communities without bookstores. 

Read the full story from Shelf Awareness Pro here.

Book Candy

This bed/bookshelf combo from the Its Hadrian tumblr arrives courtesy of the DC Universe girl tumblr. Any grown-up bookworm could probably imagine building something similar, but we like the idea of building these in kids' rooms and incorporating their favorite themes and motifs into the cozy spaces.


If you're a bookish gal and haven't yet seen these Anthropologie Bookbinder Heels, prepare to swoon. However, we recommend you use your mad reading skillz and peruse the user reviews before buying: it seems that the chunky, book-spine heel may not lend itself to a well-fitting shoe.

Bloggers, Get the Shelf Giveaway Widget

We've had a great response from booksellers, librarians and bloggers who've embedded our widget on their sites. The widget asks readers to sign up for the new Shelf Awareness for Readers and then enters them to win a signed first edition of a handpicked book. This week, the widget automatically updates with a staff fave, Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers (St. Martin's), "where suburban angst meets the Rapture." You can download the widget here.

Books About Booze; Potter Potions

You may be a teetotaler, but the Daily Beast's list of the Greatest Books on Booze may make you feel a little drunk on literature. From The Sun Also Rises to Lucky Jim, the titles listed involve copious cocktail mixing and many empty bottles that recall the era of manly men writers--until you realize that two of the books on the list are by Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Equal rights for elbow benders!


Buzzfeed offers a list of 20 Alcoholic Beverages Inspired by the Harry Potter Series, including two versions of Butterbeer (light and dark), different shots for each Hogwarts house and a "Severus Snape" involving blackberry schnapps and vodka. But where is "The Dobby?" Or a "Wingardium Leviosa" concoction? We smell (rather, taste) a compilation possibility. 


TV Tonight: Biblioburro

In a coproduction with Latino Public Broadcasting, tonight PBS is airing a documentary called Biblioburro, "the story of a librarian--and a library--like no other. A decade ago, Colombian grade-school teacher Luis Soriano was inspired to spend his weekends bringing a modest collection of precious books, via two hard-working donkeys, to the children of Magdalena Province's poor and violence-ridden interior. As Soriano braves armed bands, drug traffickers, snakes and heat, his library on hooves carries an inspirational message about education and a better future for Colombia. His simple yet extraordinary effort has attracted worldwide attention--and imitators--but his story has never been better told than in this heartwarming yet unsentimental film."

Josh Ritter's Novel Video

Book trailer of the day: Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter (Dial Press), in which the singer rounded up friends, family and fans (Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Mary-Louise Parker, et al.) to do a reading of the first chapter of the novel. To learn more about this popular singer-songwriter's literary debut, take a look at our interview with Ritter in which he reveals more about why he chose to pen a story about a World War I vet in West Virginia who attempts to flee his angry in-laws while caring for his newborn son.

Book Review


Stone Arabia

by Dana Spiotta

Like her National Book Award-nominated Eat the Document, Dana Spiotta's new novel has roots in the 1970s. This time, instead of focusing on the era's politics, she attends to the intimate details of family life, the slow erosion of dreams and the faint persistence of hope.

Narrated mostly in the voice of Denise Krasnis, a woman struggling in midlife, Stone Arabia is the story of her relationship with her older brother, Nick Worth, a talented if only modestly successful post-punk musician in bands with names like the Demonics and the Fakes. Now, in 2004, Nick lives in obscurity in Los Angeles's Topanga Canyon, subsisting on a bartender's income. When not working on an elaborate fictional narrative of his life he calls "The Chronicles," he's recording an equally imposing, provocative series of experimental CDs, distributed sporadically and rarely.

Denise, who calls her own story "The Counterchronicles," can't escape the incessant drumbeat of stories from the wider world that insinuate their way into her life as she realizes that she "had, in middle age, become a person whose deepest emotional moments happened vicariously."

Spiotta captures the stew of love, frustration, anger and lack of communication that are the stuff of adult sibling relationships: "We don't talk out everything," Denise tells her daughter, Ada, a filmmaker who's working on a documentary on her uncle's career. "We keep a lot in the air between us." As she watches, with concern and alarm, her brother's increasingly reclusive behavior, she must deal with their mother's early dementia, fearing she's destined for the same fate.

In a voice that rarely rises above an intense whisper, Dana Spiotta's novel leaves us with some profound questions: How well do we know the ones dearest to us and, in the face of our most well-intentioned efforts, can their inner lives ever truly be known? --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Dana Spiotta's new novel is an intimate exploration of the complex territory of an adult sibling relationship.

Scribner, $24, hardcover, 9781451617962

Always Something There to Remind Me

by Beth Harbison

Beth Harbison (Shoe Addicts Anonymous) has created a world where ex-boyfriends from high school do not work at a car wash 20 years later.

Protagonist Erin reconnects with her first love, Nate, two decades after their teenage break up to find a man who's as successful, sexy and in love with her as ever. There's nary a paunch in sight as the two romantically collide in a supremely moving sexual reunion. The problems begin on the way to the bathroom, when Erin finds Nate's wedding ring. Meanwhile, Erin is engaged to a catch of her own--the wonderful Rick, who, for all his attributes, doesn't light Erin's fire the way Nate does.

Harbison's wry sense of humor tempers the angst-ridden portions of the book. The story moves back and forth in time, from the passionate teenage Erin to the jaded adult Erin who is torn between doing the right thing and following her heart. We find out what broke up Erin and Nate in the first place--when they were madly in love--and wonder why he didn't try to win her back sooner.

This book will make you want to go through notes from old boyfriends from high school and wonder what might have been, although in most of our cases a trip to the car wash can alleviate any regrets. However, in considering why people stay in mediocre relationships, Harbison's love story is somehow both hopeful and gratifying. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Beth Harbison's latest beach read, about high school romance 20 years after the break-up.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312599102

The Very Thought of You

by Rosie Alison

Like 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The King's Speech, Rosie Alison's The Very Thought of You is so absorbing that you don't realize how little has happened until after you've finished reading.

That is, how little has happened on the surface. Like most humans, Alison's characters eat and sleep, fight and make love, take trips and suffer accidents. But book's real action is psychological: battles are fought in the characters' minds and hearts, their actions betraying very little of their inner struggles.

The slight action of The Very Thought of You unfolds at Ashton House, a Yorkshire estate converted to a boarding school as housing for London children fleeing the Blitz. Its narrative switches among the perspectives of several well-drawn characters, with just enough time spent on each one's thoughts for them to be sympathetic and not tiresome. Eight-year-old Anna Sands is the common thread, pulling the reader through Mrs. Ashton's unfulfilled desire to have a child, Mr. Ashton's deep regrets over both his inability to walk and his wife's longing, and his unfolding attachment to schoolteacher Ruth Weir.

Alison deftly handles love, regret and loss, creating a web of dramatic irony all the more impressive because it's never obvious. The result is like a watercolor half filled in, a psychological landscape made more real by the spaces left blank. The Very Thought of You is a fine first novel from a keenly perceptive writer. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at Intractable Bibliophilia

Discover: A child fleeing World War II London discovers a world of unspoken love and loss.

Washington Square Press, $15, trade paper, 9781451613971

The Last Letter from Your Lover

by Jojo Moyes

London 1960: Jennifer Stirling wakes in a hospital to learn that she has survived a terrible car accident. She is the wife of a wealthy business magnate who provides Jennifer with a life some women only dream of. The problem is, Jennifer can't recall who she is or who she was--until she discovers a heartfelt love letter signed with the letter "B," asking her for forgiveness and to leave her husband. It proves to be just the jolt Jennifer's memory needs in reconstructing the past and a love affair she only half-remembers.

JoJo Moyes (Sheltering Rain; The Peacock Emporium) structures this captivating romance in chapters named for the months surrounding the fateful accident in 1960, and weaves a tale that ultimately unravels in 2003. A modern-day journalist, Ellie, caught in a complicated love affair of her own, discovers love letters misfiled in a newspaper archive. Searching for meaning in her own life and a story that might save her career, she sets out to find and reunite the lovers immortalized on the page. But is it too late?

At times, the shifts of chronology might make the reader feel as off-balance as Jennifer in does piecing together the facts that resulted in the accident and its tragic aftermath. But Moyes is an intelligent, engaging storyteller who lures the reader through the complexities of the narrative via dramatic twists and turns of missed opportunities, glitches that keep lovers apart and cliff-hangers that build up reader expectation only to deliver the unexpected. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A passionate page-turner that pays homage to the lost art of letter writing and the power of love.

Pamela Dorman/Penguin, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670022809


by Esmeralda Santiago

In her ambitious novel about 19th-century Puerto Rico, bestselling memoirist Esmeralda Santiago (When I Was Puerto Rican) creates a bumper crop of characters in conflict. The plot of Conquistadora rides on the trajectory of Ana Larragoity Cubillas, a small, unwanted daughter of Spain whose deficit of riches, aristocratic looks and demure inclinations stunt her prospects in 1800s Sevilla. Ana bucks under the constraints of her convent school and revels in lightly supervised summers at her grandfather's farm, where she finishes off her suitability for mantilla matronhood by becoming entranced by the conquistadordiaries of a 16th-century ancestor who served under Ponce de León. Ana rails that she was born the wrong sex and 300 years too late, but she spies her chance when the twin brothers of a beloved classmate inherit a sugarcane plantation on the wilder coast of Puerto Rico.

Eighteen-year-old Ana launches her personal conquista plan of marriage, expatriation, moral fungibility and arduous work on the brothers' plantation in the Caribbean. It's Ana who has la buena cabeza for business, but her entire annexed family pays the price of her ambition, and four decades of economic and human strife based on slavery ensue. Like its heroine, the novel's prose exhibits more swagger than finesse, with some inelegant racy bits and chunks of dialogue that fail to evoke a 19th-century tonality, but overall Conquistadora is a satisfying and informative big read that delivers a powerful ending. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: A dramatic history of 19th-century Puerto Rico, via a teenager who chases her second-wave conquistadora ambitions on a sugarcane plantation far from the constraints of her Sevilla roots.

Knopf, $27.50, hardcover, 9780307268327


Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past

by Simon Reynolds

"This is the way pop ends," acclaimed music critic Simon Reynolds writes, "not with a BANG but with a box set whose fourth disc you never get around to playing and an overpriced ticket to the track-by-track restaging of the Pixies or Pavement album you played to death in your first year at university." The phenomenon in recent culture--evident in art, food, film, advertising, fashion, toys, but especially music--to revive, retool and re-live our immediate past has haunted Reynolds throughout his laudable career. Part pop-music history, part philosophical treatise, part memoir, Retromania explores, among other things, this causality dilemma: "Is nostalgia stopping our culture's ability to surge forward, or are we nostalgic precisely because our culture has stopped moving forward?"

Whether describing a New York Dolls concert, philosophizing on the difference between vinyl and digital or tracing the history of post-punk, Reynolds is scathing and articulate, relevant and ever critical. He recounts his "visceral" discomfort at the introduction of the iPod and rails against mash-ups, which came back "like a badly digested dinner" in the work of Girl Talk. With astounding thoroughness, expertise and maybe a tinge of doomsday-calling, Reynolds analyzes how the instant accessibility made possible by the Internet has changed the ways in which we collect and experience music. Encyclopedic in scope yet focused in theme, Retromania is a brainy examination of the recycled zeitgeist that defines our time in terms of times that have come before. --Claire Fuqua Anderson, fiction writer

Discover: A brainy examination of the retro trend in pop culture by one of England's most prominent music critics.

Faber & Faber, $18, trade paper, 9780865479944

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

by Nina Sankovitch

When Nina Sankovitch's older sister, Anne-Marie, died suddenly at age 46, Nina was bereft: "I began a race the day Anne-Marie died, a race away from death…away from loss and confusion and despair." She had survivor guilt and was afraid of living a life not worth the living, so threw herself into her family, coaching soccer, leading a PTA group; she started a fitness regime; she made herself available to everyone from her youngest son to her father. After three years, she realized that she couldn't outrun sorrow and, as her 46th birthday approached, she began thinking about what she and her sister had shared--Laughter. Words. Books. Thus she got an idea--using books as a way not to escape from life, but to escape into life. On her birthday, she began a plan to read one book a day for a year and to write a review of each. Which she did, and posted on her blog, Read All Day.

Sankovitch's eclectic reading list and unalloyed delight in reading are catnip for us. The books are interwoven with stories about her children, her husband, her cats, her parents, her sister Natasha and Anne-Marie's hospital room. In reading, she finds that words are a witness to life, they help her remember, and "remembrance is the bones around which a body of resilience built." Her prose can be elegant and lyrical--her description of a painting of a sunrise in a Barcelona museum is stunning. Some scenes are hilarious, others poignant. As Sankovitch finds books by Ernest Gaines or Dickens or John D. MacDonald or Connie Willis or Eudora Welty, she pens a testament to the value and the joy of reading, and the fun of discovery. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A woman uses reading to deal with the loss of a beloved sister, one book a day for a year.

Harper, $23.99, hardcover, 9780061999840

Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty

by Mustafa Akyol

Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish journalist and a devout Muslim with a compelling argument for reconciling Islam with the values of secular societies. Islam Without Extremes is an accessible, informative book that's both a crash course in Islamic history and a case for Islam's uncorrupted, freedom-friendly future.

It is Turkey, Mustafa argues, that provides us with a symbol of what that future could look like. "Turkey cannot alone shape the future of the Muslim world," Akyol writes. "But what it can and does do is present an example of a synthesis of Islam, democracy, and capitalism."

Rooting this assertion in bases both Qur'anic and historical, Akyol uses clear, straightforward language to make his case. He traces the "war of ideas" between rationalist and traditionalist schools in Islam that have characterized the religion for centuries and draws out the economic and political motivations behind them. This foundation in Islam leads to a thorough examination of Ottoman and Turkish history, in which Akyol explains how the economic and political climate of his home country creates the conditions for a society that is both Islamic and democratic.

A large part of his argument relies on drawing a striking parallel between rigidly dogmatic religious extremists and the equally rigid and totalitarian secularist (as opposed to secular) powers that ruled Turkey by turn. Akyol convincingly argues that a liberal, secular state, in which its citizens are free to practice (or not practice) the religion of their choosing, is the only state in which Islam can flourish as it is truly intended. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice

Discover: A provocative argument for an interpretation of Islam that reconciles secular, liberal values with the religion.

Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393070866

Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now

by Lama Surya Das

What a helpful, hopeful book Lama Surya Das offers to anyone who finds life overwhelming! His encouraging, steadying and compassionate voice shows us how the "conveniences" of modern living--especially the electronic--far from being time-savers, alienate us from our connection to the real world and from ourselves: "...we are cutting time up into thinner and thinner slices until it slips through our fingers." Working with easy meditations and exercises, the reader comes to see the reality of two "times": that of the clock and the absolute time-less-ness of Now, what he calls Buddha Standard Time. A mundane example of this is the experience of being "in the Zone"--clock time no longer has any relation to the amount perfectly accomplished by one in that Zone.

While lama training is well beyond most of us, what we can do is begin with Lama Surya Das' meditations and become familiar with the vast Space within ourselves. This Space is always there, is always perfect and is always accessible. It begins with simple, mindful breathing; with gazing up into the night sky; with listening to the ongoing songs of your own body, blood, breathing. There are no cushions to buy, no incense to light (unless you wish to); all you need is with you now. With this comforting beginning, Lama Surya Das leads the reader deeper and deeper into Sacred Time, and finally to understand that "every home is a temple, and this earth is like an altar upon which we walk in the splendor of our renewed vision of expansive time and space." --Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: A helpful meditation book that leads the reader into the time-less-ness of Now.

HarperOne, $25.99, hardcover, 9780061774560

The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America

by Hannah Nordhaus

The Beekeeper's Lament is a deceptively calm rendering of the history of the honey bee in the United States. Nordhous instructs her readers in the bee's biology, but most importantly, in the pathogens and pests assaulting the honey bee. The creature is susceptible to a frightening array of diseases, like foulbrood, known to the ancients, to the more modern attacks of the Arroa and other mites, to "multiple viral, bacterial... and fungal infections" and, most alarming of all, to syndromes such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which the entire hive vanishes. Nordhous follows "bee guy" John Miller in his seasonal endeavors, from everyday hive maintenance to the challenges of shifting thousands of hives, insuring a seamless alignment of bee proximity to the plant flowerings, which are dependent upon them.

Geneticists and bee guys alike are working feverishly to find sustainable solutions to the honey bees' problems; most agree that agricultural monoculture, with pesticide use, exacerbates the difficulties facing the bee. This urgency is not merely about loss of honey for consumers or livelihoods of thousands; even though the famous statement attributed to Einstein--"If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live"--is not his, the fact remains that it is true and posits a very different future for us. Most likely, no one solution will emerge to help the honey bee, but there is some small degree of comfort in knowing that researchers and beekeepers are tireless in their pursuit of any avenue that may bring them closer to restoring the bees' health. --Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: The intimate and critical connection between the honey bee and life on earth as we know it.

Harper Perennial, $14.99, trade paper, 9780061873256

Children's & Young Adult

White Crow

by Marcus Sedgwick

Two teens come together in this taut psychological novel to explore the question of whether or not there is an afterlife. Marcus Sedgwick (Revolver) hauntingly juxtaposes their contemporary stories with that of a pastor in the 18th century. They share in common the town of Winterfold, on the Suffolk coast of England. Once a thriving town with 12 churches, Winterfold is gradually disappearing into the sea. A high point in the novel occurs when native townsgirl Ferelith wins over the summering Rebecca by taking her to Winterfold's sole remaining church at dusk. With the church's eastern-facing wall claimed by the ocean, it is now, in Ferelith's words, "a temple to the sea."

The story unfolds through the diaries of the 18th-century parson, Ferelith's first-person account and an omniscient narrator who describes the developments in beautiful Rebecca's and goth-girl Ferelith's tenuous friendship. Through his development of these three narrative threads, the author delivers some chilling twists and terrifying surprises, all the while underscoring the timeless human preoccupation of what comes after death. Like Ferelith, the parson becomes involved with a newcomer, Dr. Barrieux. A man to rival Sweeney Todd in more ways than one, the doctor survived France's Reign of Terror, and he invites the pastor along on a "voyage to the unknown" from which they will "return with the truth." The pastor gradually reveals the dark undercurrents of that "voyage," and the two teens unwittingly get swept up in it as well. Sedgwick takes readers on a gripping ride to uncover what lies beyond this life. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A spellbinding tale that explores the timeless human preoccupation with what lies beyond this life.

Roaring Brook/Macmillan, $16.99, hardcover, ages 12-up, 9781596435940

Small Town Sinners

by Melissa Walker

Sixteen-year-old Lacey Anne Byer loves her small town, her lifelong friends, her loving parents and her close-knit church, where her father serves as the youth pastor. For the first time, she's old enough to have a meaningful part in the annual "Hell House" production, a dramatic presentation of sin and redemption intended to bring people to God. Each scene depicts a sin--domestic abuse, gay marriage, drunk driving, suicide--and its corresponding punishment, both in this life and the next. Lacey longs for the part of "Abortion Girl," a character who dies a gruesome death in an abortion clinic, but only after repenting. Initially Lacey's best friend's sister, Tessa, is cast in the coveted role. But when Tessa tells her family and the congregation that she is pregnant, Lacey gets the part. She throws herself into the role, but as her friends' lives unravel and she begins to fall for a former classmate with a dark past, Lacey experiences an epiphany of her own. She comes to realize that, well meaning as they may be, her parents' rigid way perhaps isn't hers, and that compassion for others in spite of their failings may be more Christ-like.

Well-drawn, three-dimensional characters who grapple with faith and doubt, confusion and conviction and with painful secrets help make this an unforgettable novel. Readers will find no easy answers here, whether they believe the tenets of Lacey's church to be repellent or comforting. Perhaps Lacey's question "Is it okay to not know what I believe?" is really the best answer of all. --Jane Henriksen Baird, public librarian in Alaska

Discover: A story of how the painful changes in her friends' lives lead a 16-year-old pastor's daughter to discover what it truly means to be a Christian.

Bloomsbury, $16.99, hardcover, ages 14-up, 9781599905273

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