Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 17, 2017

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Theories of Mass Incarceration

photo by Chris Taggart, courtesy Fordham Law School

The United States contains about 5% of the world's population, yet holds nearly 25% of its prisoners. John F. Pfaff, a professor of Law at Fordham Law School, in Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration--and How to Achieve Real Reform (Basic Books), argues that current accounts of the causes of this mass incarceration are fundamentally misguided, and wants us to reconsider what we must to do build a more equitable and humane society.

He says, "The most widely accepted explanations--the failed War on Drugs, draconian sentencing laws, an increasing reliance on private prisons--actually tell us much less than we like to think. Only about 20% of people in state and federal prisons are there for drugs. Over half of all people in prison have been convicted of a violent crime.... The dominant factor in the rise of our prison populations is rising admissions, not longer sentences. Most prisoners are locked up for very short periods of time." Other factors include a major shift in prosecutor behavior in the mid-1990s, when prosecutors began bringing felony charges against arrestees about twice as often as they had before.

"One theory is that we simply have more prosecutors: as crime dropped over the 1990s and 2000s, the number of prosecutors rose from 20,000 to 30,000, and those additional 10,000 prosecutors needed something to do. Another theory is that prosecutors may have become more aggressive in hopes of using a tough-on-crime reputation to win higher office."

The current discussion about incarceration is often about the inflated rates for African Americans: "The black-white incarceration rate remains shockingly wide, with the black rate more than 5 times greater than the white rate. Surprisingly, imprisonment for drug offenses explains almost none of this racial gap. Urban prosecutors, for example, focus most of their attention on crime in the cities, but they are elected by county, not city, voters. This results in wealthier, whiter suburbanites having a strong say over who enforces the law in the city, even though those suburbanites do not feel the costs of over-enforcement borne by more-minority urban residents." --Marilyn Dahl

The Writer's Life

Daphne Merkin: Reckoning with Depression

photo: Tina Turnbow

There are few things more under-discussed, while simultaneously increasing in frequency, than depression. While standards of measurement are debated, there is mounting evidence that its prevalence is increasing.This has also led to more narratives about depression, including This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin (just published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Merkin is a former staff writer for the New Yorker and a contributor to ELLE. Her writing frequently appears in the New York Times, Bookforum, Departures other publications. Her previous books include the novel Enchantment and two collections of essays, Dreaming of Hitler and The Fame Lunches. She lives in New York City.

There's a sense in this book of a safari, taking a boat up tributaries of a river, finding the sources, mapping it out. Do you feel closer to having a "map" of how depression comes together for you?

I don't know if I feel closer to having a "map" of depression, if only because depression is so elusive an animal, but I do feel closer to being able to navigate its landscape when it arrives. I think it's important to keep an eye on the light at the end of the tunnel--which, hopefully, is not the light of the oncoming train, as Robert Lowell once darkly quipped, but the light of a future where depression doesn't have so much sway. One of the intrinsic problems with depression is that in some way it always presents itself as "new," just when you think you've left it behind. So, it is important to keep an open mind, so to speak, about the possibility of its returning rather than imagining that it's gone for good. That doesn't mean walking around with one ear constantly bent to internal rumblings, but to be aware and conscious of the warning signals so as not to be caught totally off guard.

Many people seem to have ideas about living with depression that fall into two categories. The first is that one should remain as optimistic as possible and work toward a goal of "curing" depression. The other is that depression is simply "incurable," and that one's overall contentment can be increased by accepting it and working within those parameters. Do you feel drawn to the idea of possibly living depression-free at some point?

I think the whole point is to try to avoid these do-or-die scenarios about depression, because neither of them really apply--at least not for me. It's hard to give up on the hope of "curing" one's depression, although I think there are people for whom severe depression remits, never to return. I am definitely still captured by the idea of living free of depression, but experience has told me otherwise. If you have a predisposition to this illness, there are too many slings and arrows that can set it off, from minor scrapes to hard falls. At this point I work hard on keeping my depression at bay by whatever means possible--medication, therapy, friendship, negotiations with myself--and hope that it will slink away forever, without actually believing that it will.

What books did you look to for inspiration, or comfort, in writing this book?

I always look to books for comfort, whatever I'm doing, so I'm not sure I looked to particular ones for inspiration or comfort while writing this book. I wanted it to be as readable as a good novel, so, to that end, I re-read some of my favorite novels, like Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, to make sure it had some narrative propulsion. I also read a lot of memoirs to see how the personal material was handled and to gather clues on how best to frame my own experience. I didn't particularly look at books about depression because I wanted to try to go my own way, without undue influence.

Tell us about your experiences in therapy: what has worked, what hasn't worked, what do you look for in a therapist? What have been your biggest challenges in finding support?

My experiences in therapy have been manifold and I do ultimately credit therapy with helping me get through the dark times. That said, I have had better and less good therapists. I think what's important for me is that the therapist in question doesn't get overwhelmed or scared off by the negative power of my depression. Depression is an isolating illness as it is, and it isn't useful for someone else to feel vanquished by it--especially someone you're looking to for support. That happened to me with one psychoanalyst who barely believed in medication but suddenly started espousing ECT (shock therapy) for me when my mood plunged. It seems to me that the biggest challenge is finding a therapist who doesn't underrate your depression but also has the vision to see beyond it on your behalf. A sustaining sense of humor is crucial as well.

There's still a lot of fear about ECT. I've seen dramatic results in a couple of people, and I've also worked with people on their fear of going anywhere near it. Did you feel that that therapist was turning to ECT out of a fear that they had underestimated your depression, or overestimated their ability to help you in other ways?

I recognize that ECT can really work--I personally know people who swear by its efficacy. And I haven't come to any permanent decision about it for myself, despite harboring fears of it--specifically the memory loss that comes in its wake. In my own situation, I did feel that my therapist was turning to ECT precisely out of a sense of fear--and, perhaps, a sense that he had miscalculated the beneficial effects of therapy. Perhaps had the possibility of ECT come up in a different way, I might have been more open to it. In some ways, the whole approach goes against my ideas about how identity is formed and the mind/brain division, but my ideas are undoubtedly arbitrary and unscientific in the extreme. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo

Book Candy

Presidents and Poets

Infographic of the Day: My Poetic Side showcased "U.S. poet laureates and the presidents they served under."


Spring is coming: Flavorwire explored "10 gorgeous libraries with gardens."


"Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it." Bustle shared "15 quotes from The Handmaid's Tale that everyone needs to remember in the coming years."


Headline--and word--of the day (via the Guardian): "Thieves steal £2 million of rare books by abseiling into warehouse."


The #UnitedStatesOfBooks is a new social initiative and Read-Down book list series from Penguin Random House that celebrates, on Instagram and, "the literary spirit of each of the 50 states."


Buzzfeed unveiled "24 pieces of bookshelf porn that are borderline NSFW."

Great Reads

Rediscover: James Baldwin

Writer and activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) scrutinized racial, sexual and class disparities in American culture. He was raised in Harlem by an impoverished mother and abusive stepfather, where abuse by white police officers, a search for solace in religion, and the realization that he was homosexual all greatly influenced his future writing. Baldwin, disillusioned by the treatment of black and gay men in the United States, moved to France at age 24. He wrote Go Tell It on the Mountain, a semi-autobiographical novel, in 1953, and published Notes of a Native Son, an essay collection, in 1955. Giovanni's Room (1956) caused controversy with its predominantly white cast and explicit homoeroticism. Baldwin's extensive later works include The Fire Next Time, a book of two essays ("My Dungeon Shook" and "Down at the Cross") exploring the role of race in American history and the intersections between race and religion. Baldwin became an avid supporter of the Civil Right Movement, though his permanent home remained a village in southern France.

Prior to his death, Baldwin was working on Remember This House, a memoir about his relationships with civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2016, Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck adapted this unfinished manuscript into I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about racism in the U.S. narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, now nominated for Best Documentary Feature in this year's Academy Awards. On February 7, Vintage released a companion book featuring 40 black-and-white images from the film ($15, 9780525434696). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Following his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen shares eight short stories in The Refugees. Each entry in the collection examines a snapshot in the life of an individual straddling two disparate spheres--their homeland and their adopted country. Nguyen's penetrating gaze will mesmerize readers and open windows to the particular nuances of a population struggling to find its identity.

Nguyen constructs intricate relationships among his characters, whether it is a familiar connection, like the married professor and Mrs. Khanh from "I'd Love You to Want Me," or something more distant, like Arthur Arellano's link to his organ donor, Men Vu, in "The Transplant." Each word and action carries powerful significance; no detail is irrelevant. In "Someone Else Besides You," the souvenirs Thomas collected with his ex-wife while they were married--which she displays around her new home--send a starkly different message when he visits unannounced than her words, "Don't come back, Thomas." Because Thomas's identity is rooted in his struggling relationship with his father, a triangle of complication enhances the intensity of their story.

While Nguyen offers philosophical battles both internal and external, he also uses language that is delivered with reverence and grace, conjuring robust imagery. "Michiko was the one who wanted to see Vietnam, hearing from relatives who had toured there that it reminded them of Japan's bucolic past, before General MacArthur wielded the postwar hand of reconstruction to daub Western makeup on Japanese features."

The Refugees is simply a beautiful collection of captivating stories. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen offers a collection of short stories about people struggling to redefine themselves in new worlds.

Grove Press, $25, hardcover, 224p., 9780802126399

The Evening Road

by Laird Hunt

The Evening Road by Laird Hunt (Neverhome) meanders the backcountry roads of rural Indiana on a hot and troubled night, exploring human ugliness and the lives of two remarkable women.

Ottie Lee Henshaw is a red-haired beauty, eternally exasperated with her ill-kempt husband, Dale, and pursued by her randy boss, Bud. On this summer afternoon in 1920, Bud comes in excited by the prospect of driving to the neighboring town of Marvel to attend the "show": a promised lynching. Ottie Lee sets off with Bud, Dale and others; with a shifting cast of companions, she'll spend the rest of a long, sweltering night trying to get to Marvel.

Ottie Lee's adventures take up the first half of this novel before her counterpart, Calla Destry, appears. Calla is a light-skinned woman from the black part of town who faces her hard, violent world with stark defiance: she is inclined to head straight into Marvel to break the lynching's intended victims out of jail, while her family and community run the other way, lest they become victims themselves. It soon becomes clear that Calla's real aim is to find the man who has promised her a new beginning. But her wanderings parallel Ottie Lee's, and the two soon become more closely involved than either realizes.

The halves of this story are told in the first-person perspectives of these two women, and both are strong vernacular voices that bring flavor and color to their narratives. The Evening Road is a sad and raucous story, ugly and beautiful at once, evocatively starring two very different women. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Two women from different sides of the tracks explore rural Indiana on a single night that is both allegory and starkly real.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780316391283


by Ali Smith

The stunning Autumn is the first of a projected quartet of seasonal novels by Scottish author Ali Smith, whose earlier novels Hotel WorldThe Accidental and How to Be Both were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Set in the factional, jingoistic post-Brexit United Kingdom--where "what had happened whipped about itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm"--Autumn is a compact story of the unlikely friendship of two neighbors: Daniel, an iconoclastic old man with a house full of art, books and music, and Elisabeth, an impressionable, lonely young woman, 70 years his junior, who harbors a festering grudge against her annoying, self-serving mother. A marginally employed adjunct lecturer in art history, Elisabeth has returned to her mother's house to spend time with now 101-year-old Daniel. He lives in a nursing home where he sleeps through flashing images of his life more often than he listens to Elisabeth read Dickens to him--although he processes enough to conjure his own darker version of A Tale of Two Cities.

The backdrop of Autumn might be social disarray, but the story is one of life going on and the seasons passing. As Smith writes toward the end of her novel: "Here's an old story so new that it's still in the middle of happening, writing itself right now with no knowledge of where or how it'll end." If fall is the twilight of the year, what will Smith's long cold winter bring--and better yet, her spring and summer? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Ali Smith's first of a projected quartet of seasonal novels is a triumphant story of a May-December friendship within a divided Britain.

Pantheon, $24.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781101870730

The Twenty Days of Turin

by Giorgio De Maria, trans. by Ramon Glazov

Intertwining the present and the past, Giorgio De Maria's cult novel of societal breakdown, The Twenty Days of Turin, appears in English for the first time, smartly translated by Australian writer Ramon Glazov. A nameless office worker is obsessed with events of a decade earlier, when a mysterious collective created a secret and ultimately dangerous library. Ominous messages and suspicious activity convince the narrator that the same forces are regrouping. "A business we believed was over and done with is coming back into motion with a coldness, a clarity, which would have been unthinkable in the time of the Twenty Days...."

Ten years prior, this group amassed diaries and journals from willing citizens who allowed others to read their offerings: "The prospect of being read quivered in the distance like an enchanting mirage." Unsettling events occurred. Mass insomnia overtook the citizens of Turin. A deep feeling of unease and dissatisfaction infiltrated society. This culminated in a terrifying 20 days, when hundreds of people were randomly and horrifically murdered. After that, the library was supposedly destroyed--but was it?

Italian novelist and playwright De Maria wrote this during the 1970s, when terrorism and corruption reigned. He presciently describes a society where human connections are decreasing, where spilling personal information becomes addictive, and where "browsing the thoughts of others" brings voyeuristic pleasure as well as unknown risks. De Maria gives mundane events menacing undercurrents, bringing to mind H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson. Readers will recognize the contemporary social media landscape portrayed in this cautionary, relevant novel. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore

Discover: The Twenty Days of Turin is the dystopian foreshadowing of the emotional and societal chaos when secrets become fetishes and personal interaction is discouraged.

Liveright, $24.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781631492297

Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula

by Bram Stoker, Valdimar Ásmundsson, trans. by Hans De Roos

In 1901, Valdimar Ásmundsson published Makt Myrkanna (or Powers of Darkness), an Icelandic translation of Bram Stoker's popular gothic novel, Dracula. Stoker approved of the translation, collaborating with Ásmundsson on his efforts and providing an author's note to appear in the original edition. In 2014, Hans De Roos set out to translate Ásmundsson's Icelandic tale back into English--and was astonished to find that Powers of Darkness was not merely a translation of Stoker's classic novel, but rather an entirely new adaptation of the story. Large swaths of Stoker's original text had been removed or modified, resulting in a tightened version of Dracula that more fully drives home the terror of the infamous monster.

Powers of Darkness follows Stoker's original outline in many ways, using Harker's journal entries to convey the terrors of Count Dracula's castle, and following a similar timeline and cast of characters. But Stoker and Ásmundsson's adaptation draws heavily on both Norse mythology and aspects of the Icelandic language as well, changing the original story in subtle and fascinating ways. These alterations are expertly highlighted throughout the text in De Roos's detailed and explicit annotations, which provide linguistic, cultural and historical context for the revisions made to the original Dracula. With a foreword by Dacre Stoker, a descendant of Bram, and an afterword by Dracula expert John Edgar Browning, Powers of Darkness is a delight to read as a classic tale of horror and fear, and as a fascinating look at the role of translation in the interpretation and understanding of classic literature. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A re-translation of the Icelandic version of Dracula reveals an updated and adapted version of Stoker's original gothic tale.

Overlook Press, $29.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781468313369

Mystery & Thriller

The Possessions

by Sara Flannery Murphy

Sara Flannery Murphy's debut novel, The Possessions, resists easy genre classification. The protagonist, Eurydice, a shy young woman with a troubled past, works as a "body" for the Elysian Society. Her job involves channeling dead wives, daughters and girlfriends for their grieving loved ones by taking a pill called a "lotus." Eurydice's life is one of routine and numb efficiency, interrupted by a new client, Patrick Braddock, who forges a more intimate connection with her as she channels his deceased wife, Sylvia.

Outside of the imaginative premise, though, The Possessions is surprisingly grounded. There are few futuristic or otherworldly touches aside from the lotus, and Murphy dispenses with the dense world building common to science fiction. Patrick Braddock's seemingly idyllic relationship with Sylvia soon reveals itself to be more complicated as Eurydice starts playing amateur sleuth and learns more about the circumstances surrounding Sylvia's unusual death.

The Possessions is essentially a psychological thriller with a science fiction twist. Numerous mysteries weave in and out of the main plot, adding a page-turning element to the book, and another ingredient to Murphy's intriguing genre fusion. The more questions are answered, the more fragile Eurydice's identity seems to become. When she starts to confuse Sylvia's thoughts and emotions for her own, The Possessions raises the terrifying possibility that Eurydice might be permanently displaced from her "placeholder" life. Murphy's debut novel mixes these intellectual fears with more down-to-earth threats, resolving its mysteries in shocking and thoughtful ways. The Possessions is difficult to classify but very easy to enjoy. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Men and women channel dead loved ones in this dense psychological thriller that questions the permanence of identity.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062458322

Long Time Lost

by Chris Ewan

Chris Ewan (Safe House) has wrought more hairpin twists and turns than a mountain road in the adrenaline-spiked thriller Long Time Lost.

Widower Nick Miller lives a covert life protecting compromised witnesses from a ruthless British crime family. When Miller falls hard for his latest charge, Kate Sutherland, his carefully managed program begins to disintegrate, threatening to expose every witness he's helped, as well as his own dark secrets.

Ewan, channeling his inner Robert Ludlum, wheels his characters across various European locales to great dramatic effect. What begins as a botched hit on the Isle of Man becomes an ever-tightening game of cat-and-mouse in Rome, Prague and the Swiss Alps. Although the plot's machinations strain credulity at times, Ewan more than compensates with sly, self-conscious campiness, poking fun at the well-trodden tropes of the Euro crime thriller genre. Ewan also succeeds in drawing his characters' flaws and foibles with genuine insight and tenderness, including the novel's duplicitous villains. These adroitly developed dimensions allow for nice character depth and more than one surprising reversal.

Above all, though, Long Time Lost offers skillful and dazzling prose. Ewan revels in the atmospherics of his attractive settings. Descriptions of a standoff in a remote Swiss chalet, near the end of the novel, achieve a tense, foreboding grandeur: "She could still hear the distant boom of thunder far away across the Alps and glimpse the muted stutter of lightning." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author.

Discover: This evocative and highly entertaining thriller follows a tightening cat-and-mouse game throughout Europe.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 464p., 9781250117397

Behind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Single mom Louise rarely has time to date, but one afternoon she meets the man of her dreams in a bar, shares passionate kisses with him, and then finds out the following Monday that he's her new boss.

Adele has just moved to North London and doesn't know anyone. One day she literally bumps into Louise on the street, after which the two women chat and become friends. The problem? Adele is the wife of David, Louise's new boss, although Adele seems unaware of the indiscretion between her husband and her new friend. Complicating matters further, Adele asks Louise not to tell David about their friendship, claiming he "can be a bit funny about mixing work life and home life."

As she gets to know David more and the women's friendship intensifies, Louise notices that the marriage is very odd, with David keeping a tight leash on his wife, calling her several times a day--always at the same times--to check up on her. Is Adele in an abusive, oppressive relationship? Should Louise try to rescue her? How does she do that when even she can't stay away from David?

This psychological thriller jumps back and forth in time and alternates between Louise's and Adele's first-person accounts, one of which is more unreliable than the other. Though the women sometimes make unwise choices, Pinborough keeps readers in the dark until the unpredictable ending that has generated its own hashtag (#WTFthatending) on social media. How readers feel about that ending will depend on how much they're willing to embrace events that go beyond reality. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A woman suspects her friend might be in an unhealthy marriage, but she, too, finds the man irresistible.

Flatiron, $25.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250111173

Biography & Memoir

Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of the Astrophysicists

by Lawrence Weschler

Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of the Astrophysicists by Lawrence Weschler, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, is a profile of legendary sound editor Walter Murch's persistent attempts to promote his potentially revelatory theories in the field of astrophysics. It might seem like an odd preoccupation for a man known for his groundbreaking work on films such as Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, but Weschler makes the case for Murch as a borderline-obsessive polymath with insatiable curiosity and far-reaching insights. Murch has spent decades investigating and promoting his own updated interpretation of the centuries-old Titius-Bode law, which hypothesized that--to simplify things greatly--planets and moons are distributed in predictable, mathematically consistent patterns. His ideas have a number of complicated corollaries, including an elegant link between the positions of the planets and notes on a musical scale.

Murch has run into difficulty introducing these ideas to the insular and highly technical community of astrophysicists, however, who consider his elaborations on Titius-Bode to be little more than numerology. One of the more obliging scientists Weschler talks to concludes, "Murch comes off as a charming amateur, who is having a good time playing with numbers, but there is nothing new or profound in what he is finding." Regardless of whether Murch's ideas are scientifically accurate, though, Waves Passing in the Night makes incisive points about the impenetrability of modern physics and the sad decline of the amateur scientist, whose unorthodox thinking once led to profound discoveries. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: The story of a legendary sound editor who has spent decades determined to advance his remarkable theories in astrophysics.

Bloomsbury, $25, hardcover, 176p., 9781632867186

Current Events & Issues

Pill City: How Two Honor Roll Students Foiled the Feds and Built a Drug Empire

by Kevin Deutsch

In 2015, two West Baltimore computer geek teens engineered the city's largest-ever prescription drug heist and proceeded to upend and disrupt forever the traditional street-corner drug business. With police preoccupied by protests after Freddie Gray's death, Willie "Wax" Harris and James "Brick" Feeney hooked up with leaders of the Black Guerrilla Family street gang to steal pharmaceutical opiates worth $100 million from a dozen neighborhood drugstores. Possessing a premium product at zero cost and with their own algorithm, they set up a darknet-encrypted phone service for serious addicts and rookies to order pills anonymously at rock-bottom prices with Uber-like doorstep delivery. They called their business Pill City, and crime journalist Kevin Deutsch (The Triangle) tapped into his street resources and gang access to discover who they were and how they did it.

With direct connection to Wax and Brick over their encrypted lines and firsthand observation of the old-school street gangs fighting to protect their livelihood, Deutsch connects the dots. Pill City examines how these wonky sons of junkie moms bypassed probable college scholarships to take the express train to riches. Along the way, they unleashed bloody turf wars and seeded a multitude of largely poor African American addicts and overdose fatalities. Streetwise, brutal, deeply researched and filled with candid interviews from both sides of the law, Pill City is true-crime reporting with an edge--while the opiate epidemic it describes is still gaining steam across the United States. Pill city has become pill country. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Two West Baltimore teens upended the opiate drug business with darknet algorithms and cheap prices.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250110039

Children's & Young Adult

Great, Now We've Got Barbarians!

by Jason Carter Eaton, illus. by Mark Fearing

Parents are always nagging their kids to clean up their rooms. One messy little boy's mom is no different. She tells him, "If you don't clean up after yourself, we're going to have pests!" But really, what's the harm if his abandoned food scraps attract a few ants or a "little bitty mouse?" "What was the worst that could happen?"

As it happens, there is something worse than tiny pests, hence the book's title Great, Now We've Got Barbarians! When the crumbs and sticky messes around the house reach critical mass, the big, hulking barbarians infiltrate. Our grubby hero thinks Vlad, the first barbarian, is cute, and gives him a cupcake. But after Törr shows up, "seeking glory" (and cheese curls), the boy shoos him out of the house with a fly swatter. Things devolve quickly, with shaggy barbarians watching TV, stealing blankets to make forts and using school supplies to scratch their hairy backs. Even traps and the pest exterminator don't get rid of the "snoring, snarling, belching, badgering, grumbling, growling, loitering, looting, and lazing savages." It's time to take drastic measures: get out the rubber gloves and brooms and start cleaning.

Jason Carter Eaton (The Facttracker) and Mark Fearing (Tommy Can't Stop!) team up in a hilarious picture book that parents will love every bit as much as kids. The cartoonish barbarians, with their scruffy beards, horned helmets, scars and tattoos are like overgrown puppies, and just as threatening. Even dyed-in-the-wool slobs won't mind being on the receiving end of this fun cautionary tale. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A little boy's slovenly habits attract an infestation not of ants but barbarians in this riotous picture book.

Candlewick, $15.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780763668273

American Street

by Ibi Zoboi

Arriving with her mother from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at Kennedy Airport, "holding hands for courage," 17-year-old Fabiola Toussaint, a U.S. citizen by birth, is ushered through Customs while immigration officials detain Manman. Fabiola is forced to leave her behind in New York, and lands alone in Detroit to face the only other family she has, uncertain of the "good, brand-new life" her mother promised. "Back in Haiti, it was always just me and Manman. But now, my world has ballooned and in it are these three cousins, and my aunt, too." Fabiola dares to hope: "Family takes care of each other." While she waits for her mother's release, her three cousins help her adapt to American English, high school in a large city and the social hierarchies on and off the street. Known as the "Three Bees"--Chantal is the brains, Donna the beauty, Pri the brawn--they hover as Fabiola navigates new relationships, including the sweet promise of first romance. Fabiola must figure out if--and how--she fits in as the fourth Bee.

Author Ibi Zoboi, who immigrated to Brooklyn, N.Y., from Haiti at four, "pulled from [her] own memories of living in between cultures" to write her electrifying debut novel; even as Fabiola morphs into an urban American teen, Zoboi keeps Fabiola intimately connected to Haitian traditions through Vodou, lwas (mystical spirits) and patron saints. Zoboi's raw, gritty, cautiously hopeful narrative captures a family in transition, working to support each other, stay together and do more than just survive the dangers and temptations on American Street. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: In this compelling YA debut, Fabiola Toussaint gets separated from her mother during their journey from Haiti to Detroit and learns that the American dream is hardly guaranteed.

Balzer + Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9780062473042

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures

by Kwame Alexander, illus. by Joel Sartore

Photographer Joel Sartore set out to document every animal in captivity, asking the question "once we love something, won't we do anything to save it?" His hope for his National Geographic's Photo Ark project is that people will "look these animals in the eye, and then fall in love with creatures as dazzling as a pheasant or as odd as an octopus."

In Animal Ark, Sartore teams up with Newbery Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander (The Crossover; Out of Wonder) to add a poetic narrative to his stunning collection of big, bold animal photographs. On every page, an elephant, a bat, a snake or neon-bright grasshoppers are set against a black or white backdrop, with Alexander's playful yet pointed verse meandering around the images. Each creature is allotted the same amount of space, giving the chameleon ("turquoise and gold/ camouflage in the trees/ moods changing with the breeze") and the wolf ("HOWL like you mean it... the world is listening") equal air time. Several pages fold open to reveal still more exquisite photos, along with lyrical exhortations to respect and protect vipers, beetles, foxes and tigers. Because, Alexander writes, "The majestic and powerful are counting on us to help them."

A final foldout includes thumbnail photos of every animal showcased in the book, labeled with name, threatened status and where the creature can be found in the wild. Any reader who loves poring over detailed close-ups of animals--every feather, fang and shell ridge is visible--will happily lose themselves in Animal Ark. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Magnificent and highly detailed images of animals by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore are accompanied by lovely, meaningful haiku by Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander.

National Geographic, $15.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781426327674

Powered by: Xtenit