Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Remarkable Women: Then and Now

The year has already brought a number of excellent books for children and teens written by and about incredible, inspirational women. We're showcasing three of them here in honor of Women's History Month.

Marilyn Nelson skillfully uses poetry to form the image of Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage (1892-1962) in the distinctive and thought-provoking YA biography Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor's Life (Christy Ottaviano Books, $18.99). Nelson's striking verse gives powerful voice to the highs and lows the artist experienced, and the accompanying photos of Savage's sculptures are awe-inducing. This astute portrait of Savage, who overcame many obstacles to pursue her calling, celebrates the talent, tenacity and benevolence that shaped her character and changed the world of art.

Adrea Theodore, a woman of color, a parent and a pediatrician, unpacks her experience of being the only brown or Black student in a classroom in her sensitive picture book debut, A History of Me (Neal Porter Books, $18.99), dynamically illustrated by Erin K. Robinson. The author acknowledges the prejudice and exclusion experienced by generations of their family, while also imparting an inspirational message through culturally affirming language. Robinson's evocative digital art features soft-focused portraits in the forefront with contemporary backgrounds, and creatively rendered, abstract historical scenes.

In Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler (Dutton, $16.99), Ibi Zoboi pays radiant homage to the woman who inspired and taught her, and with whom she shared a birthday. Zoboi deftly combines poetry, prose, quotes and photos to create what she calls the "constellation" of science fiction writer Octavia Estelle Butler: "I decided to call this biography a constellation because Octavia's mind and her imagination were truly complex wonders--bright and far-reaching." Through this visionary approach, Zoboi ensures that Butler's light will reach young readers. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Adrian Shirk: American Utopias, Past and Present

photo: Eleanor Howe

Adrian Shirk is the author of And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy, a study of American female mystics and prophets, named an NPR Best Book of 2017. Her second work of nonfiction, Heaven Is a Place on Earth (Counterpoint, $26; reviewed in this issue), is an exploration of American utopian experiments, from the Shakers to the radical faerie communes of Short Mountain to the Bronx rebuilding movement. She teaches in Pratt Institute's BFA Creative Writing Program and lives at the Mutual Aid Society in the Catskill mountains.

Throughout the book, you wrestle with the contradiction that nowhere perfect exists, yet people keep trying to create ideal communities. Is the attempt the important thing?

Perfection is only the dream from which the utopian attempt issues. Utopianism is about enacting immediate change, rather than reform--some kind of direct action that interrupts the life required by a violent empire. A noble failure is the greatest achievement, perhaps, given that longevity often leads to the accumulation of wealth and power in a way that will ultimately corrupt what might have been prophetic or paradigm-shifting about the utopian experiment to begin with.

And the utopian "escape" can and has often been paired with engagement with the world's problems--in fact, utopianism really is an engagement with the world in a deep way; the very impulse to dream of a utopian alternative is a direct response to the conditions of an unjust empire. There would be no need to "escape" otherwise, or architect alternatives.

At one point you say, "utopia is never far from its opposite." Dystopian novels are as popular as ever. To what extent do you think real-life utopias and fictional dystopias have the same aims?

I think real-life utopian experiments and fictional dystopias both offer warnings about the dangers of relying too much on ideology, and not enough on living, or choosing the person over the belief. So, in that way, real utopian experiments and fictional dystopian narratives are two sides of the same coin: a dystopia is a utopia that lost sight of--or never included--understanding itself as resistance to a violent empire, and thus starts to look like a violent empire itself.

Where you grew up in Oregon, the population is nearly three-quarters white, a legacy of Black exclusion policies from the 1850s onward. What are your concerns about the class and homogeneity implications of utopian experiments?

Oregon came into focus for me because of the way that the 19th-century white settlers there explicitly articulated a plan to create an all-white paradise. They really believed that it was a benevolent and public good, and that their lack of participation in chattel slavery and the Civil War was evidence of their good intentions. So that's perhaps among the worst-case scenarios.

If the pursuit of utopia is in some way about a rejection of the terms you've been asked to live under in your particular society or culture, and the innovation of an immediate alternative, then we quickly find ourselves asking: Who among us has the time, space, energy, money and access to engage in the risk of such an alternative? Even if said "utopian experiment" isn't some pastoral exit to a rural commune but perhaps, simply, the local volunteer-run women's shelter they want to contribute to or the food co-op they'd like to join in exchange for a weekly work shift.

And I guess that's why it was important to me to really broaden the scope of "utopia" as a descriptive category in the book: Where do we see evidence of utopian activity in our immediate surroundings, and how can we orient ourselves toward it, if we want to? Over time, I became more curious about communities or movements that perhaps hadn't achieved some perfect stasis or solution, but who had, as a primary tenet of their project, centered and maintained active concerns about homogeneity.

Intentional communities can be more environmentally sustainable because of the back-to-the-land philosophy and efforts at food and energy self-sufficiency. Can you imagine this model becoming more popular as we move away from fossil fuels?

Absolutely--and it already is. The Foundation of Intentional Communities reported in 2019 that, in the last decade, the United States alone has seen an increase of approximately 100,000 people who have moved into cooperative living arrangements, largely for reasons to do with ecological sustainability, as well as financial and material sustainability. That's distinct from, say, the mid-20th-century surge in communal living that was more shaped by ideological and political motives. There's something particular about communitarian upticks in moments of material emergency.

A few years ago, with your husband and friends, you set up a communal living project in the Catskills, the Mutual Aid Society. How does it compare, so far, with sites you visit in the book?

I knew that my desire to perform this research was related to a real, practical inquiry about how to actually transform our lives. The magical thing about book-writing and art-making in general is that it really does change your life in literal ways.

How does it compare? Gosh, I don't know. It arrived from similar questions: If we bought a house and some land for cheap, in driving distance from New York City, how could we mobilize it to make it a collective resource for others, and in doing so lower the overhead for things that would be impossible or too expensive for us and any of these people to do individually?

First, we ran it as an informal artist residency and soul retreat for people at request. Then, during Covid, it became an emergency boarding house and space of relief for folks participating in protests in the movement for Black lives, as well as a laboratory for new enterprises for folks who were temporarily unemployed. Now it's more of a cooperative artist's residency, something like a shared resource for an extensive network of collaborators. It is also my home.

We keep the organizing principles pretty practical, rather than ideological; there's a lot of shared labor, but it's not that organized; there have developed lots of rituals and holidays specific to the life of this place; and I've watched people make extraordinary things that they otherwise might not have. I've seen lives change. We've also suffered enormous loss, heartbreak and failure.

I hesitate to describe anything too pointedly because it is always changing. And that's a principle I gleaned from my research: nurture change, let go of authorial intent, choose the person not the idea, but make sure that at any moment that basic goal is being met: to have, through collectivity, a more luxurious and creative life for a lower overhead than we had before.

I was struck by the line "All books are written backward." Covid and caring for your disabled father-in-law were unexpected factors as you researched and traveled. How did the finished book differ from the one you'd intended to write?

What a great question. When I began the book years ago, I dreamed, I think, that I would finally stop writing weird hybrid messy narrative nonfiction and instead produce a really focused and tight pop-nonfiction book about this history. As always, there is so much I could add.

I started the book thinking that I was writing my way into one kind of story about my life--one where I would go on this wild research journey, marinate in my findings, tell people thrilling things about all that might be possible, stay married to my husband forever, have children, buy a house that we attempt to use in this cooperative way, but likely it falls away and we get subsumed into the very thing I was decrying.

I really thought that's where the journey of the book was going to take me. Instead, it took me somewhere way weirder, way cooler, way messier, and so the book, too, is weirder, cooler, messier, more surprising, more beguiling, more adventurous than I ever thought it could be. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Book Candy

Lost Words of Spring

"Lost words of spring." Merriam-Webster is celebrating "with these forgotten words of the season."


CrimeReads investigated "the joy of researching historical fiction."


"Her comics were everything Jim Crow America never wanted Black women to be," Messy Nessy Chic noted.


The New York Public Library featured "#LiteraryMarchMadness 2022: book-to-film adaptation edition."


Unseen J.R.R. Tolkien paintings, photographs and video clips have been released by the writer's estate, along with draft manuscripts and letters, the Guardian reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Bless Me, Ultima

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Rudolfo Anaya's classic Chicano coming-of-age tale Bless Me, Ultima. It follows Antonio Marez, a young boy living in rural 1940s New Mexico with his vaquero father and farmer mother. Tony is torn between these two disparate destinies, and between Spanish Catholicism and the indigenous spirituality of his ancestors. A curandera, or folk healer, named Ultima comes to live with the Marez family. Some see her as wise, others as a witch. To Tony, she becomes a guide through his own heritage and the many cultural forces attempting to shape his future.

Penguin Classics just released a hardcover 50th-anniversary edition of Bless Me, Ultima as part of its Penguin Vitae series. It includes a new foreword by Erika L. Sánchez, author of the National Book Award finalist I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (2017). Speaking of Anaya's legacy, she writes: "One of the forefathers of Chicano literature, he crossed many literary borders and has paved the way for many of us. Without his work, books like mine could not exist. As I often tell my students, literature is a conversation with the past, present, and future. We're all interconnected." --Tobias Mutter

Book Review



by David Keenan

Xstabeth by David Keenan (For the Good Times) is a daring experiment that questions what fiction can and should be. The plot revolves around a trio of characters: Aneliya, her hapless musician father and her father's more successful--and much more debauched--musician friend. Aneliya is caught between her father's naïveté and his best friend's cynicism, each representing distinct poles of artistic and commercial ambition. The novel takes a turn for the metaphysical when her father's music conjures a mysterious presence known as Xstabeth.

Xstabeth is not shy about its eccentricities. Readers will know what they're in for as soon as they get a look at Keenan's stutter-step prose: "Nick Drake said fame was like a fruit tree. He said. Who needs it. That made no sense to me. Surely everyone could use a fruit tree. Free fruit. It's not exactly hard cash. But still." Keenan's stylistic experimentation goes hand in hand with the novel's playfulness and humor, which is particularly apparent in self-deprecating interstitial chapters where invented scholars supposedly dissect Xstabeth in search of its true meaning. The chapters often seem to mock the very idea that the novel has a clear purpose or message to convey, and instead frequently go off on bizarre tangents, exploring the nature of symbolism, or the relationship between memory and mRNA.

Despite the novel's enjoyably mischievous aspects, Xstabeth is not simply an exercise in metatextual irony. There is something heartbreakingly sympathetic in Aneliya's affection for her father, a man who seems almost too pure and earnest for this world. Xstabeth is a surprisingly sincere novel that pushes the boundaries of fiction. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: Xstabeth is a playful, experimental novel that twists its central coming-of-age story into delirious knots.

Europa Editions, $20, hardcover, 128p., 9781609457341

Fencing with the King

by Diana Abu-Jaber

In Diana Abu-Jaber's absorbing novel Fencing with the King, 31-year-old Amani is in "free-fall," her marriage over, her writing (which once garnered her a "big literary prize") stalled and her teaching career threatened. She's even returned to living with her parents in Syracuse. Amani's Uncle Hafez invites her father, Gabe, to Jordan as an honored guest at the king's 60th birthday celebration. Gabe was once the royal's favored fencing partner, but after more than three decades away, Gabe requires convincing: "To Amani, Jordan was almost illicit; a story to which her father had never returned." With her mother unable to attend, Amani becomes Gabe's guest during the six-week trip in October 1995.

Amani, who knows little of her family history, expects the trip will reveal greater understanding about her origins, especially more insight about her enigmatic paternal grandmother, Natalia, who died before Amani's birth. Yet as welcoming as her extended relatives initially appear, straightforward answers are hardly forthcoming. Mrs. Ward, a family servant over multiple generations, gives Amani a literal link: Natalia's Nefertiti pendant necklace. "Her Arab family seemed to prefer a gentler, more oblique or decorative narrative. An arabesque," Abu-Jaber writes. But Amani continues to expose layers of deceptive family secrets.

While Abu-Jaber (Birds of Paradise) clearly favors Amani as protagonist, her clever polyphonic presentation provides readers with virtual omniscience: powerful Hafez is a cheater; his wife, Carole, knows him all too well; and Gabe remembers more than he realizes. This intricate family drama manages seamlessly to examine shifting borders, mutable identity, forced dislocations and paralyzing longing, all against a backdrop of historical and personal revelations. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Diana Abu-Jaber presents a Jordanian American family drama that confronts multi-layered, multi-generational secrets woven into a complicated history of loss and longing.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9780393867718

Science Fiction & Fantasy

House of Sky and Breath

by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas returns to her Crescent City series with House of Sky and Breath, an urban fantasy full of political maneuvering, scene-stealing secondary characters and battles as intense as the chemistry between her protagonists: the half-human, half-fae Bryce and the angel Hunt. Maas writes doorstoppers, but as she expands her world and cast--even adding two more narrators--the intricate plotting and crackling dialogue make it a read worth staying up for.

The book opens with a prologue in which a rebel dies while freeing her young brother from a death camp, only for him to end up caught between the powerful Asteri who imprisoned him and the rebels who want to use him. When Bryce's surprise fiancé asks for help locating the boy, Bryce and her allies have to decide which side they're on.

Bryce and Hunt disrupted the world order in House of Earth and Blood and are laying as low as a Starborn princess and the Shadow of Death can. Unfortunately, it appears they can't kill two archangels, save the city from demons and generate enough power to light up the entire metropolis without people noticing. Especially when one of those archangels was the governor of Lunathion, and his replacement is about to arrive.

With a few twists and a killer setup for the next book, Maas proves as adept at writing adult fantasy as the young adult books for which she's known. Readers will be eager for the next installment. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Discover: Sarah J. Maas's second Crescent City novel raises the stakes as Bryce, Hunt and an expanding cast of supernatural beings find themselves at the center of a conflict that spans millennia.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 768p., 9781635574074


Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell

by Taj McCoy

Taj McCoy's delightful debut novel, Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell, is certain to win readers' hearts with its authentic emotion, enticing food and wise yoga philosophies. When Savvy Sheldon's boyfriend dumps her for spending long hours at work and not staying in shape, she's devastated. Sure, she's gained a bit of weight and routinely works overtime at her high-stress job, but does that make her unlovable? His derisive words launch Savvy on a journey to work out, become stronger and reclaim her sense of confidence and self-worth. When she hires a handsome contractor to renovate her kitchen, he adds romance to the chaotic, energizing mix that has become her new life. Savvy faces choices that will determine her future happiness: Will she have the wisdom and courage to keep her current job and find time for exploring creative projects with a fellow chef? Can she make space for a romantic partner while also staying active with her friends, doing yoga, tennis and other healthy exercise? She's a woman with varying interests and talents, so creating a balanced, happy life will be a challenge.

Savvy's supportive family and a group of good friends, mixed into a plot with abundant humor, make for an entertaining read. The delicious food Savvy loves to create adds a mouthwatering layer of vivid color and depth to the characters and the Los Angeles setting. Women will find much to relate to in this excellent tale of Savvy's determined journey to claim her best life. --Lois Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: This entertaining debut follows a young woman as she learns vital life lessons after being callously dumped by her boyfriend.

Mira Books, $15.99, paperback, 320p., 9780778311843

Biography & Memoir

Uncommon Measure: A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time

by Natalie Hodges

In her fascinating debut, Uncommon Measure: A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time, violinist Natalie Hodges presents an accessible memoir in essays that bridge the time-space continuum in musical terms. "If you want to change the past, all you have to do is try to record what happened in it," she writes.

Hodges weaves her themes through the full work, disparate as they may seem at first. Her discussion of time's relationship to the way humans experience it will be recognizable to all, the way those looming challenges (or measures) make the moments before them fly by, and time stops once they are reached--in Hodges's case, literally, bow to floor, fingers plucking the violin's strings to complete the piece and exit the stage.

She also argues that no time is ever lost, no experience wasted. Learning to dance the tango helps Hodges understand how improvisation can work and how to trust the idea of prescience, knowing what her partner on the dance floor or fellow musicians are about to do--step or play or pause. Her description of Johann Sebastian Bach's Chaconne invites readers to listen as a violinist would. She pays tribute to her Korean immigrant mother and posits an enlightening suggestion to think of cultural "assimilation" in terms of symmetry rather than equality. It's a book to savor. The ideas are dense; readers will want to pause and digest them. They offer a way to see the world anew, to reframe experience, the way Hodges has come to understand her own: from the inside out. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A captivating debut memoir uses music as a way into thinking about performance, science, time, immigration and the universal human experience.

Bellevue Literary Press, $17.99, paperback, 224p., 9781942658979


The Double Life of Katharine Clark

by Katharine Gregorio

In The Double Life of Katharine Clark: The Untold Story of the Fearless Journalist Who Risked Her Life for Truth and Justice, debut author Katharine Gregorio tells the thrilling story of her great-aunt, the first American woman to work as a wire reporter behind the Iron Curtain. Gregorio recounts Clark's heroic efforts to spread the truth about Communism to the world.

From an early age, Clark exhibited a fearless independent streak that led her into the male-dominated world of journalism. Clark and her husband, a prominent Time-Life correspondent, were based in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, by the 1950s, covering a wide beat that included Hungary, Poland, Germany and Bulgaria. Clark followed the high-profile 1955 trial of Milovan Djilas, a high-ranking Communist leader in President Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavian government. Djilas had dared to criticize the regime and, stripped of his posts and privileges, refused to be silenced. He reached out to Clark to publish his articles in the American press, and an abiding friendship developed, despite heavy surveillance by government agents. This resulted in Clark's most hair-raising episode: smuggling the second half of Djilas's manuscript, The New Class, out of Yugoslavia after he was imprisoned in 1956. Working carefully to shepherd both The New Class and Djilas's autobiography, Land Without Justice, to their eventual blockbuster publications, Clark led a "double life" as a journalist but also as an advocate and friend to a man who--in theory--should have been her enemy. Clark's story, finally told, reads like an espionage thriller in Gregorio's capable hands--with the added wallop of its being true. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver

Discover: In this thrilling history, a pioneering female journalist finds the assignment and friendship of a lifetime with a disillusioned Communist leader in Cold War Yugoslavia.

Sourcebooks, $16.99, paperback, 384p., 9781728248417

Social Science

Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Searching for an American Utopia

by Adrian Shirk

Adrian Shirk (And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy) delves into the enduring allure of utopian communities in Heaven Is a Place on Earth, her second entrancing study of religious history. Following scholars such as José Esteban Muñoz, Shirk defines a utopia as "any gesture that points to a better future." Utopian experiments, she writes, often arise in response to "times of economic and social precarity" to counter the brokenness of capitalism and the emptiness of individualism. Certain sites seem to attract layers of utopian projects, such as Western New York, home to the Shakers, the Oneida Community and the Fourierists.

Shirk visits intentional communities, such as the Bruderhofs in the Catskills, the Simple Way in Philadelphia and The Farm in Tennessee. Brief "utopianotes" throughout the book describe pilgrimages to sites of former communes and recount her experiences with communal living. She describes living as a college professor in an "Adjunct Flophouse" in Brooklyn and attending a progressive church that felt like home. Later, she and her husband establish a Catskills compound, the Mutual Aid Society, where artists and acquaintances undertake long-term residency for minimal rent (and where she lives with her family today).

Points of reference are wide-ranging: early Christians' communal living in the biblical book of Acts, Nathaniel Hawthorne's utopia-themed The Blithedale Romance, the 1987 Belinda Carlisle song that serves as the book's title. Amusing asides tell the stories of utopia founders, visitors and "groupies," such as Marguerite Young. Shirk shares her personal struggles with failure, idealism and privilege, noting that these projects generally are undertaken by white people and require financial security. She consistently grounds the historical and theoretical material in this flowing narrative. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: This wide-ranging study of the utopian ideal in American culture is made personal through the author's own experiences with communal living.

Counterpoint, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781640093300

Now in Paperback

Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir

by Elizabeth Miki Brina

Elizabeth Miki Brina claims her voice with resounding clarity in her memoir, Speak, Okinawa. As the daughter of a U.S. soldier with Jamestown ancestry and an Okinawan immigrant mother, Brina's identity was always a negotiation of race, class and privilege. By opening her stupendous book with her maternal grandmother and leading into the 1945 Battle of Okinawa ("Okinawa had never known such carnage"), Brina adroitly announces her literary intentions: "I had not learned this history, my mother's history, my history, until I was thirty-four years old. Which is to say I grew up not knowing my mother or myself." The knowledge she reveals here--about herself, her complex heritage, her history--proves breathtaking.

Brina grew up in a "ninety-nine percent white" Rochester, N.Y., suburb and recognized racial disparity early: "White was always what I strived to be." That longing estranged Brina from her not-white, not-American, not-English-fluent, not-assimilated mother, Kyoko. As a teenage nightclub waitress supporting her destitute family in U.S.-occupied Okinawa, Kyoko dreamed of escape by marrying an American; her wish fulfilled left her a lonely, isolated alcoholic shamefully dismissed by her only child. Brina's father was the heroic protector, until Brina came to realize, decades later, that Kyoko "is the one who is stronger now."

"By being aware, being honest.... By apologizing. By forgiving," Brina begins her own restorative transformation. Interwoven with her nuanced metamorphosis is the inseparable history of Okinawa, colonized by China and Japan and, since World War II, with an unpopular, large U.S. military presence, despite its status as a Japanese prefecture. Moving fluidly between intimate memories and documented history, Brina creates a multi-layered literary gift. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Elizabeth Miki Brina embraces her complex dual heritage in a gorgeous memoir that also illuminates the devastating colonial history of Okinawa.

Vintage, $17, paperback, 304p., 9781984898463


by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Kaitlyn Greenidge wowed the literary world with We Love You, Charlie Freeman; her follow-up, Libertie, shows no hints of sophomore slump. Inspired by Susan Smith McKinney Steward, New York's first Black female doctor (and the third U.S. Black woman to earn her medical degree), Greenidge's novel alchemizes history into a gorgeously affecting story of a powerful mother, her headstrong daughter and the complex challenges they must deal with as Black women before and beyond the Civil War.

The titular Libertie is the freeborn daughter of Dr. Sampson, a woman so powerful that Libertie introduces her with a riveting opening sentence: "I saw my mother raise a man from the dead." Libertie recognizes her mother's "magic" when coffins are delivered to Brooklyn and enslaved escapees rise into freedom. At "eleven, nearly twelve," Libertie begs to help, to learn, to fulfill Mama's dream of having "a horse and carriage together, with 'Dr. Sampson and Daughter' written in gold on the side." But as Libertie matures, she recognizes that her dark skin and her mother's lighter one mean very different lives, that degrees of color are inextricably linked to both privilege and oppression. As Mama attends to more white women during Reconstruction--even as they dismiss Libertie's darker, assisting hands--Libertie's sense of betrayal solidifies into polarizing resentment.

Greenidge writes with an effortless flow, her prose enhanced with songs, chants and verses that remind readers how words have other functions beyond straightforward storytelling. As her characters grow into self-awareness, readers, too, are granted the illuminating gift of bearing witness. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Inspired by the life of New York's first Black female doctor, Libertie superbly examines the mother-daughter bond through a 19th-century lens rife with race and privilege.

Algonquin, $16.95, paperback, 352p., 9781643752587

Children's & Young Adult


by Jennifer Ziegler

Introverted Will struggles to connect with peers while processing family heartache in Jennifer Ziegler's authentic and compassionate middle-grade novel Worser.

Will Orser loves words. He respects their precision, believes them "the basis of a civilized society" and holds others to his exacting linguistic standards. "Despite his mastery of words, Worser [knows he is] unskilled at talking with people" and devotes his energy instead to his Masterwork, a lexicon years in the making. This makes Will's grammatically incorrect nickname, "Worser," especially insulting. As seventh grade begins, Will's mother recovers from a stroke and his "elaborate, excessive" Aunt Iris cares for them both. Meanwhile, Will hides at a bookstore where the owner, a man of few words, allows Will space to work and, later, to connect with surprisingly like-minded peers when the school's Literary Club is displaced. When the store is threatened, Will overreacts dangerously and jeopardizes his new friendships.

Ziegler (Revenge of the Flower Girls) offers a thoughtful take on a sympathetic, if occasionally unlikable, protagonist and brings readers along with Will's increasing self-awareness and sociability. Her sensitive portrayal of Will's avoidance of his recuperating mother is particularly poignant. Although his voice suits his age and emotional development, Will's prolific vocabulary and witty linguistic games--such as arranging state abbreviations into longer words or appreciating the perfect wetness (and etymological origin) of galoshes--should delight more advanced readers and inspire others to word play, too. A compelling and semantically delightful story for lovers of language and flawed protagonists. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Discover: An introverted seventh-grader obsessed with words proves both vulnerable and courageous in a middle-grade story that celebrates family, friendships and bravery.

Margaret Ferguson Books, $17.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 10-12, 9780823449569

Pretty Perfect Kitty-Corn

by Shannon Hale, illus. by LeUyen Pham

Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale (Princess Academy) and Caldecott Honor illustrator LeUyen Pham (Outside, Inside) follow up their smart and sweet Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn with another powerful story about friendship in a fluffy pink and purple package.

Sometimes, being thought of as perfect is no blessing. Majestic Unicorn "yearns to look the way everyone thinks he should." His friends gush over his shiny horn, his "magnificent haunches," his "purple as a dream" tail. But when his best Kitty-corn friend, Kitty, tries to paint a portrait of him, she can't get it quite right. Unicorn is frantic, trying to assume a more flattering stance: "Unicorn stands and twists, sways and spins, gallops in place, and poses thoughtfully--all at the same time." What happens next is a tragicomedy of errors, but true friendship, as always, wins the day.

The crackerjack team behind the Kitty-Corn books is pretty perfect at creating delightful stories about the messiness and sweetness of friendship (Best Friends; Real Friends; Friends Forever). Pham's digital illustrations on a white background feature expressive faces and droll, occasionally slapstick, humor. They are balanced nicely with Hale's witty and emotionally astute text (welcome back, goofy rhyming sidekicks Parakeet and Gecko!).

Readers of Pretty Perfect Kitty-Corn will witness the ways in which self-perception can be damaging, and good friends (those who are "precious, like the last cookie") should always share the magic message that we don't need to be flawless to be worthy of love. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Expecting perfection almost never ends well... unless one has a good friend who proves the unimportance of perfection, as revealed in this charming offering.

Abrams Books for Young Readers, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781419750939


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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