Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Lion Forge: Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels

From My Shelf

Neal Porter Books: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Winnie's Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Read-Alouds

One night a few weeks back, I was at my friend Emily's for dinner. I noticed a stack of books on her mantel and asked if she'd been enjoying any of them. Her answer was a hearty yes!
 
Dear Emily. She and I bonded years ago over our literary tastes. So I was not at all caught off guard when she picked up Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf, $16) and began reading portions of "Especially Heinous" aloud. To our shared delight, the story is composed entirely of plot summaries of Law & Order: SVU.
 
"It gets even better with the perfect versions of Detectives Benson and Stabler, named Henson and Abler," she said, before reading an entry called "Appearances": "Benson sees Henson coming out of the precinct. Her stomach gnarls. The same face, but prettier. The same hair, but bouncier. She must find out what kind of products she uses. Before she kills her."
 
I have a deep fondness for reading aloud. Especially taut, dry wit. Even when nobody wants to hear it, I can't help myself. Reading the stories in Ben Marcus's new collection, Notes from the Fog (Knopf, $26.95; reviewed below), I caught myself whispering whole passages, like this description of a character's concerned office-mate in "The Grow-Light Blues":
 
"...a man who seemed to have been designed, by experts, to embody sorrow and regret. He shook his head with deep, theatrical empathy. His name was maybe Murray. Maury? Perhaps it was Larry. He was a tech."
 
Another favorite read-aloud is Sloane Crosley's work. Like her essay "Outside Voices," about a rich, noisy teen neighbor, in Look Alive Out There (MCD/FSG, $26): "Jared was quick to laugh, which would have been his best quality were it not for the laugh's resemblance to a hyena being choked to death by bubble wrap.... Really, I can't say enough bad things about it."
 
Perhaps to the vexation of everyone but Emily, I continue muttering essays and stories in their entirety, to no one in particular, laughing myself silly. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

St. Martin's Press: Sit Down and Shut Up: How Discipline Can Set Students Free by Cinque Henderson


Book Candy

Stocking The Bookshop

Isabel Coixet, director of the film adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop, set in 1959, talked with the New York Post about how she found vintage titles to fill the store, including 250 copies of Lolita.

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"We know which library section you're most like based on these questions," Buzzfeed noted.

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Flavorwire showcased a selection of "gorgeous photos of scenes from The Little Prince--in LEGO."

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"Book clinic: which books can best help me deal with noxious colleagues?" the Guardian asked.

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"Crime doesn't pay, but vocabulary might," Merriam-Webster noted in listing "12 words from the wrong side of the law."

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Gastro Obscura served up "the Communist cookbook that defined Prague's cuisine."


Mira Books: A Willing Murder (Medlar Mystery #1) by Jude Deveraux


Great Reads

Rediscover: Beautiful Boy

In 2005, the New York Times Magazine published the article "My Addicted Son" by journalist David Sheff, in which he described his son Nic's addiction to methamphetamine and its impact on their family. In 2008, Sheff expanded that story into Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction (Simon & Schuster), which was published concurrently with Nic Sheff's memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (Atheneum). The two books are both the basis for a film called Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell as David Sheff and Timothée Chalamet as Nic. It will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7 and open on October 12. Movie tie-in editions of both Beautiful Boy (Eamon Dolan/Mariner, $16.99, 9781328974716) and Tweak (Atheneum, $13.99, 9781534436572) come out today.

Both Sheffs have continued to write about drugs and addiction. In 2011, Nic wrote a followup called We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction (Little, Brown) about his continued fight to stay sober (Nic is also the author of several YA novels). In 2013, David released Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin), which combines personal experience and the latest science to give a wider view of addiction. High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction (HMH Young Readers) is a guide to all things intoxicating co-written by both Sheffs for ages 10 and up. This father/son collaboration is available January 8, 2019. --Tobias Mutter


Pegasus Books: Moby Dick: The Illustrated Novel by Herman Melville, illustrated by Anton Lomaev


The Writer's Life

David A. Kaplan: Holding the Court Accountable

photo: Damien Donck/Newsweek
David A. Kaplan, author of The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court's Assault on the Constitution (just published by Crown), his fourth book, is the former legal affairs editor of Newsweek, where he covered the Supreme Court for a decade. He has written for numerous other publications, including the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post and Fortune. He currently teaches courses in journalism and ethics at New York University. Kaplan received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University and his law degree from New York University School of Law. He lives in Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.
 
With a divisive president and a Congress whose hyper-partisanship produces mostly gridlock, describing the Supreme Court as the "most dangerous branch" may strike some people as odd. What's your justification for that label?
 
Of course it is the president who can start a nuclear war or commit troops in faraway lands. And Congress can pass foolish laws (or do nothing at all), often beholden to special interests. But I would argue that the power grab by the justices in recent decades is more insidious, more potentially destructive of American values in the long term.
 
Aren't there times when the Court simply is stepping into a void caused by the failures of the other branches? And if so, what's wrong with that?
 
I think that's right--the justices surely did that, for example, in Bush v. Gore in 2000, even though both a federal statute and the Constitution explicitly provided otherwise. But where does the Court derive any authority to intervene simply because other branches are derelict? That's "activism" of the worst kind, a presumption that judges somehow know best. In fact, sometimes Congress may fail to act precisely because it knows the Court will.
 
Whether it's decisions on abortion and gay marriage that delight liberals, or those on gun control and campaign finance that please conservatives, what you call the Court's "steady, institutional self-aggrandizement" proceeds unabated. How has that become its dominant philosophy?
 
The justices "do" because they "can"--and almost nobody in civic life pushes back. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, libertarians and statists--they all agreed when Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 that his successor could "transform" American life "for a generation." Those predictions are even louder now, with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. The Most Dangerous Branch aims to challenge that orthodoxy.
 
From what you know of Brett Kavanaugh, will his ascension to the Court continue this trend?
 
I've known him for a decade, but I don't profess knowledge of what lies deep in his constitutional heart. On a lower court, he's been bound by Supreme Court precedent--as well as the fact that at some level he was "running" for the Court. But while he (and most other judges) profess fondness for "judicial restraint," there's a lot in his opinions that suggests affection for judicial triumphalism. It's very difficult to find judges who follow through on their claims of humility and judicial minimalism. I think the justice that most recently came closest to it was John Marshall Harlan in the 1960s. On the current Court, I think it's Justice Breyer who most frequently tries to defer to representative government (unwise as democracy often may be).
 
Speaking of Kavanaugh, is there anything that can be done to fix a Senate confirmation process you say is "broken?"
 
Put me in charge! Next to that, I think it's highly unrealistic to expect either side to unilaterally disarm. Indeed, I think that when the Democrats do get control, you'll see further escalation--perhaps even energetic calls for Court-packing to undo a conservative majority and to retaliate for what was done to Judge Merrick Garland when his nomination to the Court by President Obama was stonewalled in 2016. Democrats could move to add two seats and thereby secure a liberal majority on the Court, or more modestly, to add a single seat, which would result in significant 5-to-5 ties and force the Court to form a super-majority to get anything done. In 1937, FDR's Court-packing plan was universally condemned, but that hardly means such a scheme never could succeed. We live in hyper-partisan times and have already seen the death of the filibuster for federal judges.
 
In a perfect world, I'd like to see a wholesale change in attitude on the Court's part--and correspondingly, on our part--of what we expect from the justices. We expect far too much. But I'd also endorse major changes in how we select justices--for example, enacting an 18-year term limit, with terms staggered so every president gets to appoint; or perhaps just staffing the Court with a rotating mix of chief judges chosen randomly from lower federal appeals courts.
 
As you recognize in discussing history--for example, the 1930s Court's hostility to FDR's New Deal--there have been pendulum swings in its jurisprudence. How likely are we to see a move back toward more judicial restraint any time soon and what might it take to prompt that?
 
History suggests that if the Court veers to the extreme right there will be a reaction. That will be because either the public so vociferously objects that the Court recalibrates, or because the public elects a different kind of president who will appoint more liberal justices. But neither reaction necessarily means more judicial restraint--they just mean a pendulum swing from a triumphalist Court of the right to a triumphalist Court of the left. We long ago abandoned any principled notion of a Court that truly holds back.
 
We all favor "judicial restraint" and oppose "judicial activism"--except, naturally, when we don't, in which case we just call them by the opposite label. Judicial restraint--and its cousin, "strict construction" of the Constitution--are the chameleons of American law, instantly able to change philosophical color when expediency requires. "Judicial activism" is what the other guy does. In truth, though, almost everybody's an activist today.
 
Despite his decisive vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act in 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts has been a fairly reliable member of the conservative wing of the Court. Why are you optimistic that he represents the "best hope" for the Court to "regain its stature?"
 
I wouldn't quite say "optimistic." But the chief justice will now be the "swing" vote, replacing Kennedy in what passes for the ideological middle of the Court. Temperamentally and constitutionally, Roberts is most likely to want to protect the Court's prestige. That could mean trying to rein in what may well be the overturn-any-precedents-we-don't-like radicalism of the Thomas-Gorsuch-Alito faction (we will have to wait and see if Kavanaugh's a member). The chief certainly has his ideological projects--to eradicate racial preferences and to deregulate political campaigns--but I think more important to him than any substantive outcome is preserving the Court's reputation. His love for the institution is authentic.
 
In the book's concluding chapter, you discuss some suggestions for reform, including term limits for Supreme Court justices. What would it take for such reforms to occur and what might be the source of pressure for them?
 
Terms limits or, for example, having a rotation of chief judges from the lower federal courts, would require a constitutional amendment. It will never happen. There's just too much incentive for the political party in power to say no. More likely (though not a whole lot more), would be that successive escalations might convince both sides that enough was enough. If, say, Democrats succeeded in packing the Court in 2021 or 2025, and Republicans then engaged in their own Court-packing down the road, one could imagine everyone would come to agree that the Court's integrity was being destroyed.
 
The fundamental problem with life tenure for justices (and all federal judges) is that life expectancy now is so much longer than in the time of Jefferson and Madison. One well-known federal judge recently called the federal judiciary "the nation's premier geriatric occupation"--and it wasn't a compliment. Presidents today have a disproportionate incentive to name youthful justices who might serve 30 years or longer, thereby robbing the Supreme Court of an entire category of qualified nominees who are deemed to have passed their "sell-by" date. Once upon a time, an ambitious staff lawyer in the Reagan administration ardently argued for a 15-year term limit for federal judges. His name was John Roberts. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers: This Land: America, Lost and Found by Dan Barry


Book Review

Fiction

The Masterpiece

by Fiona Davis


Grand Central Terminal is known today as a New York City icon. But in the 1970s, dilapidated and unsafe, it stood in danger of being torn down. In her third novel, The Masterpiece, Fiona Davis tells the stories of two fictional women whose fates become intertwined with that of the terminal, and their unexpected roles in the fight to save it.
 
Young, talented and hopeful, artist Clara Darden makes ends meet by teaching illustration classes at the Grand Central School of Art in the late 1920s. Despite sexism and snobbery from her colleagues and the school's director, Clara is determined to make it big. But the Depression and a complicated love triangle both take their toll, leading to Clara's disappearance from the art world. Nearly five decades later, recent divorcée Virginia Clay takes a job at the terminal's information booth. She stumbles upon the long-abandoned art school, and an unsigned painting that may hold clues to Clara Darden's whereabouts.
 
Davis (The Address) brings two very different eras to life, evoking the terminal's early Jazz Age glamour and its later state of decay. Both protagonists are women forced into independence, who build new lives on their own terms more than once. The terminal is full of colorful characters--Clara's fellow artists, Virginia's coworkers--and is itself a character, a part of the city both dynamic and enduring. Davis's compelling, richly detailed novel will appeal to art aficionados, those who love New York and anyone who relishes a story of reinvention. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Fiona Davis's third novel tells the stories of two women whose fates become intertwined with that of the iconic Grand Central Terminal.

Dutton, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9781524742959

Win a Free Trip to Miami Book Fair!


Notes from the Fog

by Ben Marcus


Notes from the Fog, the inimitable third collection of short stories from Ben Marcus, opens with an eerie but familiar shift in filial behavior. "Cold Little Bird" follows a father's slow unraveling as his 10-year-old son retreats into cool reserve and stiff politesse. "I don't want your help at bedtime anymore.... I don't love you." By the time the boy is caught reading 9/11 truther literature to his little brother, the father has had it. "He was shaking his fist in his son's face. Just old-school shouting."
 
With pitch-black humor and a speculative flair, Marcus (Leaving the Sea) is a virtuoso at isolating the radio static that forms in human relationships. In many cases, like the estranged siblings in "George and Elizabeth," this shortwave interference is intentional: "her spam filter... was probably a group of human people, arms linked, blocking unwanted communications." The stories here are lean, every sentence flexing more than the sum of its parts. Although, keeping with the author's postmodernist inclinations, the fiction becomes more and more inscrutable the deeper one reads in the collection. "Critique," for instance, might render almost entirely opaque were its molecular descriptions of a nefarious hospital-as-performance-art piece not prefaced by the chilling (and telling) opening line, "In the year of I Can't Breathe...."
 
There are many standouts in this accomplished collection, but the elegant turns in "The Trees of Sawtooth Park" make it rise ever so slightly above the rest. In it, the fog of a pharmaceutical experiment and an unprecedented blizzard gracefully lift to unveil the human condition as absurd. It is quintessential Marcus and what makes his work worth treasuring. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The remarkable third story collection from Ben Marcus fixates on the static in human relationships.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781101947456

Fig Tree Books: My Mother's Son by David Hirshberg


Mystery & Thriller

The Prisoner in the Castle

by Susan Elia MacNeal


Maggie Hope, former secretary to Winston Churchill and secret agent for the British Special Operations Executive, knows too much. Or so her superiors in SOE have decided, so they send Maggie to the Isle of Scarra, off the coast of Scotland. There, failed agents wait out the duration of the war, living in a grotesquely elaborate castle filled with the taxidermized victims of the late Sir Marcus Killoch's hunting addiction.
 
Maggie and her fellow "guests" at the castle are unhappy; they while away their days with sniping, arguing and drinking too much before dinner. But after five months on Scarra, things suddenly get interesting--and alarming. First, one member of their odd assembly dies of a heart attack, which doesn't raise too many suspicions. But then another drowns. And two more are found dead, apparently the victims of strychnine poisoning. Suddenly Maggie and her fellow prisoners realize that not only animals are being hunted on this island.
 
In clear homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, Susan Elia MacNeal (The Queen's Accomplice) has created a wonderfully believable scenario in which a dozen highly trained agents must pit their wits against each other and try to survive. Meanwhile, beyond the island, there are dangerous games afoot as Britain and Germany enter the desperate final days of the war. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear or Rhys Bowen are sure to love Susan Elia MacNeal both for her engaging characters and her historical accuracy. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this intriguing historical mystery, a group of isolated special agents must figure out who among them is a killer.

Bantam, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780399593826

Shelf Awareness Giveaway: Park Row: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger


The Thief of All Light

by Bernard Schaffer


Officer Carrie Santero is the first female cop in the history of the Coyote Township Police Department, located in sleepy western Pennsylvania's former coal country--"Pennsyltucky," people from the city call it. Santero's boss, chief of police Bill Waylon, sees her as a "race car" and is convinced that "a small-town PD was going to either sap the soul right out of her or drive her mental." As the gore-and-grief-filled The Thief of All Light progresses, the reader may find herself wondering, Not both?
 
Santero, a local gal, is in her fourth year on the force when she takes the lead on her first homicide: a disemboweled male corpse is found in a van parked outside a gay club. After two young women--one is Santero's best friend--go missing, Waylon decides to try to coax out of hiding his former partner, Jacob Rein. Rein is unusually canny, but he has been something of a recluse since serving 16 months of a four-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter after killing a child with his car.
 
Author Bernard Schaffer, a police detective who has previously published books independently, offers a gangbusters mainstream debut with The Thief of All Light, the first in the projected Santero and Rein series. There's great stuff here on the tensions between the old and new police guard, and the spiky dialogue elucidates character winningly. As for the story, it contains a couple of good surprises and one act shocking enough to make Hannibal Lecter lose his appetite. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In the bang-up first thriller in a new series, an unpolished trio of small-town Pennsylvania cops must connect the dots between a pair of abductions and a grisly murder outside a gay bar.

Kensington, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9781496717139

Romance

Josh & Hazel's Guide to Not Dating

by Christina Lauren


Hazel Bradford knows she's a lot to handle. She's loud, has a crazy, quirky sense of style and loves doing absurd things. She's a third-grade teacher, and eight-year-olds are basically her life. A lot of guys have been scared off over the years, but she would rather be herself than change for a boyfriend.
 
Then, Hazel discovers that Emily, a new co-worker, is the sister of Josh Im, Hazel's crush in college--until she threw up on his feet at a party. Emily, who thinks Josh's life is too dull, suggests that Josh and Heather hang out, just as friends. Hazel is enthusiastic, and Josh reluctantly agrees, only to discover that his world is about to be turned upside down.
 
Hazel and Josh start setting each other up on a string of double dates, although, strangely, they always find themselves having more fun with each other than their dates. There's definitely nothing going on between Josh and Hazel, right?
 
Hilarious, sweet and refreshing, Josh & Hazel's Guide to Not Dating is a nearly perfect romance. As Josh delves into Hazel's eccentric habits, and she learns more about his traditional Korean mores, they find unexpected connections and realize that maybe opposites do attract. Christina Lauren (a combined pen name of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) has created a funny, smart and dynamic heroine who attracts a quiet and kind hero. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this funny romance, two friends keep setting each other up on dates, until they finally realize maybe they should date each other.

Gallery Books, $16, paperback, 320p., 9781501165856

Biography & Memoir

The Man I Never Met: A Memoir

by Adam Schefter, Michael Rosenberg


The story of Adam Schefter's high-profile career as a sportswriter and analyst forms the backdrop of The Man I Never Met. Schefter recounts how he began covering the Denver Broncos, later joined the NFL Network and ultimately wound up at ESPN. Despite his professional ascendancy, however, Schefter felt largely unfulfilled in his personal life. Upon reaching his late 30s, his career was taking off, but he was lonely. His incredibly moving, forthright memoir details how he met, courted and eventually married Sharri Maio, a 9/11 widow and mother. Sharri lost her much-loved, charming and successful husband, Joe, in the World Trade Center attack.
 
When a friend set Sharri and Schefter up on a blind date, Schefter was leery. He wasn't sure he--a workaholic bachelor--could deal with the magnitude of Sharri's loss or the fact that she was a mother to a son who was only six when his father died. Despite clear differences in their personalities, Sharri and Schefter were instantly attracted to each other. Through a rather tumultuous courtship, both of their lives changed for the better, but not without struggle, stirring losses, hard work, compromise and acceptance.
 
In a spiritual, serendipitous sense, Schefter truly believes that Joe Maio--with whom he shares a birthday--was directly responsible for him finding the love of his life and finally having a family of his own. Schefter pays thoughtful homage to Joe and all whose lives he touched, acknowledging his great admiration and respect for--and gratitude to--an absent man who is and will forever remain an active part in all of their lives. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A noted sports commentator tells the moving story of how he met and married a 9/11 widow with whom he shares his life and love.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 208p., 9781250161895

History

Kafka's Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy

by Benjamin Balint


Who owns the working papers, sketches and correspondence of an artistic genius: the artist and his heirs, the country of his language and work, or the larger diaspora of his ethnic origins? In the case of Franz Kafka, the German-speaking, Jewish Czech who set the tone for 20th-century literature, the legal answer didn't come until 2016--more than 90 years after his death. Unlike the bureaucratic nightmare fiction of Kafka's famous The Trial, Israeli translator and historian Benjamin Balint's Kafka's Last Trial tells a true, but similar, story of the tangled bureaucratic path Kafka's archives traveled. Despite his expressed desire to have them burned, their fate eventually rested with the Israeli Supreme Court to adjudicate between Kafka's close friend Max Brod's secretary's daughter, who possessed them, and the National Library of Israel. In follow-the-money fashion, at the heart of this legal wrangling was Eva Hoffe's desire to sell the archive to the highest bidder--potentially the well-funded German Literature Archive in Marbach.
 
Balint's research into this labyrinthine legal morass leads him into the history of Kafka's friendship with the much more prolific writer Brod and their involvement with a coterie of Prague Zionists. Exploring the friends' nights of philosophical and literary bandying, which often ended in brothels and cafes, he describes how the personal papers eventually found their way to Brod's confidante and secretary Esther Hoffe. Mixing biography, history, literary criticism and legal thriller, Kafka's Last Trial raises intriguing questions about the conflict between the state's interests in an artistic legacy and those of the artist and his heirs. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Balint's compelling history of Kafka's papers raises complicated issues of national and personal rights to an artist's legacy.

Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781324001317

Nature & Environment

A Song for the River

by Philip Connors


In 1924, the land surrounding the Gila River became the world's first official Wilderness when the Forest Service created a buffer around the only mountains in the American Southwest not invaded by development. Philip Connors (All the Wrong Places) has spent more than a dozen years as a fire lookout in the Gila, the job of "looking out a window" one he feels contentedly qualified to perform.
 
Continually threatened by political plans for "improvements" (mainly a dam allowing New Mexico to "give the concrete finger" to Arizona), the Gila remains mostly unspoiled. From the solitude of its dense mountaintops, Connors shares intimate recollections forged from the soil, timber and water of the Gila over the course of several summers. Replete with exquisite reverence for the land, A Song for the River is, at its core, a love story--essays on intimacy, grief, vulnerability and connectivity among men, women, children and the wilderness that binds them.
 
The epicenter is a 15-day period marred by five deaths, including a fellow lookout and three remarkable teens taking part in "experiential education." Connors weaves in captivating environmental and fire science issues, but his ruminations about new burns ("the birthday for the next forest"), interspersed with contemplations on finding meaning and solace after catastrophic loss, offer a dazzling display of emotion, too. Intensely intimate, Song feels written for the Gila, the souls lost and those who love them, but ends up a beautiful, voyeuristic experience that brings the reader into the fold. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A seasoned fire lookout in the American Southwest looks back on recent summers filled with flames and personal loss while considering how nature heals itself and those around it.

Cinco Puntos Press, $22.95, hardcover, 246p., 9781941026908

Sports

Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City

by Albert Samaha


The Mo Better Jaguars of Brownsville in Brooklyn, N.Y., are a longtime Pee Wee football powerhouse. Under the direction of Coach Chris Legree, they dominated the local scene for years. But the program has struggled recently: growing concerns about concussions and creeping gentrification are only two of the pressures it faces. Journalist Albert Samaha spent two years shadowing the Jaguars--players, parents and coaches--and researching the challenges facing the boys and their beloved sport. The result is an insightful dive into Mo Better's triumphs and travails, filled with as much heart and grit as the boys who run through its pages.
 
Samaha delves into the stories of several players: Oomz, the tough-minded son of a Mo Better legend, who shares his father's nickname; Isaiah, a running back whose academic smarts are equal to his football skills; and Hart, a thoughtful lineman who works as hard as his less privileged teammates. Samaha also vividly portrays Chris and his assistant coaches, who grew up fighting the pressures their boys now face: substandard schools, tough family situations, the lure of Brownsville's street culture. Most Mo Better parents believe the neighborhood helps toughen up their sons for future challenges, but they also want their boys to make it out. Samaha explores these conflicting desires while recounting the action of practices and games with the sharp eye of a sportswriter. Packed with smart social commentary, sobering facts and the fierce joy of the game, Never Ran, Never Will is a complicated yet hopeful story of football and community. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Journalist Albert Samaha's account of youth football in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood is equal parts sobering facts and fierce joy.

PublicAffairs, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9781610398688

Poetry

The Carrying: Poems

by Ada Limón


Ada Limón is one of the country's finest poets. Her previous collection, Bright Dead Things, was a National Book Award finalist. The Carrying won't disappoint fans. The 62 poems in this stellar new collection, divided into three sections, offer candid, lyrical observations on love, loneliness, life, death and all the mysteries in between. Central to the collection is the poet's attempt to conceive a child. This subject lends itself to some uncomfortable, even painful, moments. "I want him to notice what he said, how a woman might feel agony,/ emptiness," the poet writes in "Mastering," when a male friend unwittingly highlights his own child over the poet's failed attempts. But these travails also lead to resilience and greater love of her husband, her art, her dog, her garden--as she says in "Maybe I'll Be Another Kind of Mother," "everything coming back to life."
 
Of course, Limón could never be satisfied with one subject. Her poems are like trees, branching three-dimensionally in myriad directions. She performs a near-miraculous feat in balancing razor-sharp imagery with deep ambivalence. Hope, though, is a pervasive theme. Several of the poems hail from the beginning of the Trump era and offer a kind of protest. Fear, hurt and anger show in "Killing Methods" and "A New National Anthem." But in the same breath the poet, true to her compass, shows how compassion and vulnerability may be the best defenses against tyranny.
 
It is this undying insistence on the goodness of the world that stays with the reader. The Carrying beautifully conveys the power of poetry in an age that needs it most. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Celebrated poet Ada Limón continues to awe and inspire in this deeply conceived collection about hope, loss and love.

Milkweed Editions, $22, hardcover, 120p., 9781571315120

Children's & Young Adult

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson


"[T]he school wanted to try something new: Could they put [six] kids together in a room with one teacher and make something amazing?" For Ms. Laverne's fifth/sixth grade Brooklyn, N.Y., class, the answer is a resounding yes. Deemed "special kids," Haley, Holly, Ashton, Amari, Tiago and Estaban "learned differently." To enhance their regular schedule, the six are ushered every Friday afternoon into a former art room, cleverly renamed the "A-R-T-T room--A Room To Talk," and encouraged "to talk about the things kids talk about when no grown-ups are around."
 
The children are initially unsure how to interact, but compassionate concern quickly unites them when Estaban's father goes missing: Ms. Laverne's empathic lesson, "I want each of you to say to the other: I will harbor you," is already well-ingrained. Safe in ARTT, the children share such things as U.S.-born Estaban's worries for his parents, immigrants from the Dominican Republic; Amari's restricted freedoms as an African American youth; Ashton's discomfort with white privilege and his struggles with bullying; Tiago's clashes with racism despite being Puerto Rican and therefore American; Holly's challenges of everything she considers "unfair." Haley, the book's narrator, records the group's stories until she's finally ready to share her own difficult experiences.
 
In her first middle-grade novel since her 2014 National Book Award winner, Brown Girl Dreaming, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jacqueline Woodson deftly alchemizes a sixth-grade classroom into an affecting metaphor for racial, political and socioeconomic challenges--enhanced by the transformative power of storytelling: "what matter[ed] most is that we were heard." Bonded and buoyed by their shared "stories on top of stories," Woodson's sextet commit to meet again in 20 years; readers should start praying now to be privy to what promises to be an astonishing reunion.  --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me is a powerful love letter to effective teachers, unexpected friendship and the healing magic of hearing, recording and sharing words.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 10-up, 9780399252525

City of Ghosts

by Victoria Schwab


Cassidy Blake's life is fairly atypical: her parents are ghost hunters and the authors of several volumes of afterlife knowledge. To top it off, Cassidy's best friend is a ghost--they met when the "corporeally challenged" Jacob saved Cassidy's life. Soon after her near-death experience, Cassidy discovered that she was able to see the world of the dead through a metaphysical partition that "isn't inherently scary, or bad. It's just another kind of space," which she and Jacob call "the Veil." An avid photographer, Cassidy enjoys taking photos, and goes on photographic missions through the Veil with Jacob, because the "[n]inth rule of friendship" is "ghost-watching is a two-person sport."
 
Much to Cassidy's chagrin, her parents have landed a gig in Edinburgh as hosts for a television program showcasing the world's most haunted locations, and she must go with them. Cassidy and Jacob have had adventures together, but they are unprepared for Edinburgh's spooky surprises. There, Cassidy feels the pull of the Veil more strongly than ever before, but what's on the other side might not want to let her--or Jacob--come back. Teaming up with new friend Lara, who shares her gift, Cassidy learns more about the Veil and tries safely to navigate the phantoms and hauntings in the city of ghosts.
 
Victoria Schwab's first foray into middle-grade fiction, City of Ghosts is an eerie but not-too-frightening story with witty dialogue and plenty of adventure. Schwab's portrayal of practical Cassidy and mischievous Jacob helps ground the narrative, keeping the fantastical elements from overshadowing the characters. And Schwab's "dark and menacing" city of Edinburgh is a character unto itself, so alluring that readers will undoubtedly want to travel to Scotland and look for ghosts and ethereal creatures themselves. --Clarissa Hadge, bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.

Discover: 12-year-old Cassidy has had her share of ghostly encounters, but when her parents take her to Edinburgh, the spirits she encounters are more sinister than friendly.

Scholastic Press, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 9-12, 9781338111002

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