Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 21, 2018

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Banned Books Week

September 23-29 is Banned Books Week, depressing in its regularity and predictability since 1982. To Kill a Mockingbird? Check. The Hate U Give? Check. Beloved? Check. We're all familiar with the lists and the displays and justifiable outrage.
So what occurred to me, when I thought about this occasion, was "censorship lite." For instance, "curating"--the word du jour for bookstores. When the curating is well-tailored to the community, it usually means success for the retailer. I remember, when I worked at a large indie bookstore, how the staff curated the stock. The latest edition of Blue Book of Gun Values? Yes, we had it, carefully shelved in the stockroom, right up there next to the hunting books. Today, it might be Dinesh D'Souza stored in those dark recesses. Choosing what to stock is not easy, and the larger the store, the more reason to carry books that may make your teeth gnash. (A friend had a wonderful, small indie bookstore. When challenged about the lack of certain titles, she just said, "My store, my choices.")
Currently, #MeToo has come into play, particularly with the accusations against authors like Sherman Alexie. Some stores said they were considering removing his books. But does an author's personal life negate the value of the writing? Talk about a slippery slope... Norman Mailer stabbed one of his wives. Ezra Pound was a fascist. Some teachers have said they'll stop using The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown, $15.99). Aside from the valuable issues the book raises, that's a lost opportunity to contextualize the content and discuss dissociating art and artist.
As bookseller Rebecca Andoff of Type Books, Toronto, said recently, "Finding the ethical balance of supplying customers with what they're looking for without actively supporting writers whom you find abhorrent can be a delicate dance. Bookstores are a workplace that can never really be apolitical, which is a part of their importance." --Marilyn Dahl

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Rebecca Serle: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

photo: Ann Molen
Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who divides her time between New York and Los Angeles. She most recently co-developed the hit TV adaptation of her young adult series Famous in Love. The Dinner List (reviewed below) is her first novel for adults.
Tell us about the inspiration for The Dinner List.
I had the idea for this novel back in 2013. I wrote the first 100 pages very quickly, and then the pilot of a TV show I co-created got picked up. So I was ensconced in the world of TV for three years. The book was in a drawer. TV is an amazing medium, very collaborative. There are a lot of voices involved. Eventually, I was desperate for something that could be mine again.
Around that time, my grandmother had passed away, and I started thinking about how I'd love to have one last dinner with her, or anyone I love that I've lost. The concept went from being a cute, fun, quirky idea to something more serious.
I've asked a lot of people who would be on their list, and I've been moved by how many people have said, "My dad, who never got to meet my daughter," or "My grandmother," or "My aunt, who raised me." I mean, Nora Ephron's on my dinner list: I love her. But mostly, people really want to reconnect with people they love. I think the book is ultimately about forgiveness and the ties that bind: family and love, and letting go.
This is a love story, but not only a romantic one: all the relationships at this table are marked by deep love.
The most impactful relationship in the book, to me, was both the most challenging and the most fulfilling to write: the relationship between Sabrina, the narrator, and Jessica, her best friend. They go through so much pain and change together. There's also Sabrina's relationship with her father, from whom she was estranged, which is partly about her relationship with her past and who she thought she'd be.
How did you choose Audrey Hepburn? She's sort of a wild card.
She is! But I chose her on purpose. She's such a dichotomy: she represents a certain kind of feminine ideal, a perfect image, but there's a lot going on behind that. She's delicate, beautiful and soft-spoken, but she had a tragic personal life. She lived through World War II--she nearly starved--and then later had trouble conceiving a child and having a family life. Audrey was also a survivor, someone who continuously triumphed over her circumstances. That strength in her delicacy is something Sabrina really needs.
The book deals with the gaps between the stories we tell ourselves--or want to tell ourselves--and the messier realities of the people we love and our relationships to them.
Isn't that the truth about love? It's so hard not to re-narrate things. Once an event has passed, memory is fiction. The way two people remember something is arbitrary. Everything becomes a narrative, which means some element of it is fictional. I think women in particular can struggle with turning over what has happened in a relationship: Did I do something wrong? If I had done it this way, would everything have been different? And letting go of those stories can be both freeing and painful, depending on the circumstance.
How did you structure the book's dual narrative?
It was pretty organic; I'm not sure I would have been able to do it otherwise! The chapters about the dinner and about Sabrina's past life relate to each other thematically, or the incidents are connected. It would have been too dry if it had just been the dinner unfolding, the story of this one night. My hope is that the "past" chapters help give weight to what's happening at the dinner. They help you see why these people are gathered here and what they need to reconcile before the night is over.
It's a dream of many people: the chance to fix things, to ask the questions we never asked, to go back and find our way forward and do better this time. Can you talk about that a little?
It seems impossible to reconcile these things in one night. What are we meant to do here? What outcome are we meant to get to? At various points in the narrative, Sabrina feels like: this is why we're here. And then the reason changes. She has to go back to move forward, but not in the way she thinks. And she has to make choices. The theme I'm interested in exploring is the dialogue between fate and free will. How much of life is going to happen to us, and how much of it is our choosing? How much has been in our control?
"Life isn't like the movies we loved but something infinitely more complex." Sabrina really wants life to be like the movies, but it doesn't always work that way.
The current social media climate isn't doing us any favors here. We quickly forget that we're seeing a highlight reel of other people's lives. As someone who's made TV episodes, I can tell you: you shoot all day long to get that tight 47 minutes.
So some experiences are more complicated and more common than we think.
Yes. That is how heartbreak, particularly first heartbreak, feels: that you're the only person who has ever experienced these emotions. What you learn is that it's actually a universal experience, and people go through this and they get out of it, and they survive. Jessica has to remind Sabrina that she's just a person who's in love. It's not that there's nothing special about her story; it's that her pain is not unique.
The big question: Who's on your dinner list?
My grandfather, who passed away when I was very young. I've always felt connected to him. Nora Ephron, who I adore--I worship her work, and I'm so jealous of anyone who got to know her in real life. Joan Didion: I love her work. The beginning of The Dinner List is kind of an homage to Goodbye to All That, which is my favorite piece of writing that exists. Jon Lovett of Crooked Media, a former presidential speechwriter, who I think is hilarious and so smart. And Marianne Wiggins, who was a professor of mine in college and who I think is one of our greatest living writers.
How would you sum up the book's themes?
It's about life not turning out exactly the way you thought it would, but seeing the blessing that's in the life you're really living. Not longing for the life that you don't have, but loving the life that you do. That's important. We're constantly looking at other people's lives, and not saying: This is my life. This is where I am and how do I want to move forward from here? --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Book Candy

How to Improve Reading Retention

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"Please don't whinge about being knackered, you prat." Instead, check out 10 of Merriam-Webster's favorite British words.


"I Quit!" Signature collected "11 quotes on the luxury of giving up."


From the Orient Express to the Hogwarts Express, author Sarah Ward picked her "top 10 trains in novels" for the Guardian.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Truth Is in a Bookstore

On September 10, 1993, television viewers were first introduced to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The X-Files ran for nine seasons, two movies, then another two seasons after its initial cancellation. It held the record for longest-running American sci-fi series, among a gallery of other accolades, and became a pop-culture phenomenon. The X-Files was also an important inspiration for a constellation of modern TV shows, and serves as a stepping stone between older series like The Twilight Zone and today's prestige television.

Though David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson continue to act, their talents have been abducted by a new media--books. Since the end of The X-Files, Duchovny and Anderson have each written multiple novels. Anderson's work is a thematic match for her old TV role. Between 2014 and 2016, she co-wrote (with Jeff Rovin) a trilogy of apocolyptic sci-fi called The Earthend Saga (A Vision of Fire; A Dream of Ice; The Sound of Seas). Her most recent work turns to nonfiction with We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere (2018, Atria). Duchovny's post-X-Files writing skews toward literary fiction with Holy Cow (2015), Bucky F*cking Dent (2016) and Miss Subways (2018, Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Perhaps now Duchovny will have time to complete his as yet unfinished doctorate in English Literature from Yale University. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Silence of the Girls

by Pat Barker

The Iliad is the story of the Trojan War told by the victors, and by men. At long last, another perspective is offered, in Booker Prize-winner Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls. Briseis was queen of a city near Troy and, after it fell to the Greeks, she was given as prize of honor to Achilles. After Apollo compelled him to forfeit a concubine, Agamemnon took Briseis for his own. This indignity inspires Achilles's famous sulk, which begins the Iliad.
In the tradition of Margaret Atwood's PenelopiadThe Silence of the Girls is a much-needed retelling. Where men sing of honor and glory, women experience a different war. They are controlled by men: by their fathers and husbands, and then by their captors. Briseis is beautiful and royal; she hates her new status as concubine, but sees the far worse treatment of the "common women" who sleep under the Greeks' huts, with their dogs, and are used by any man who pleases. She is clever and gives nuanced portraits of many characters in the Greek encampment below Troy's walls. She is proud, angered by the indignities of slavery. One of the book's themes is the question of authorship: she knows that it is Achilles' story that the world will hear, but she searches for her own within narratives of men and war.
Barker's prose flows easily, like storytelling between friends. It's an absolute pleasure to read for any devoted fan of the Iliad, but equally accessible to those new to the Trojan story; indeed, The Silence of the Girls might make the perfect entry. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This vibrant retelling of the Trojan War by a woman on the side of the defeated is long overdue.

Doubleday, $27.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780385544214

Terra Incognita: Three Novellas

by Connie Willis

Nebula and Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Connie Willis (Doomsday Book, Crosstalk) explores the terrains of emotion and technology in this collection of three previously published novellas.
In 1994's "Uncharted Territory," planetary surveyors Carson and Findriddy find their years of stable partnership thrown into turmoil when starstruck biologist Evelyn joins their team. Their work mainly consists of mapping the planetary surface, but Evelyn and his favorite show, a soapy dramatization of Fin and Carson's adventures, stir up jealousy and other uncharted emotions between the two explorers.
"Remake," from 1995, imagines a bleak future for the entertainment industry in which movie studios continually update and recycle Hollywood classics with the help of computer effects. Dead actors rule the screen, the rights to use their images often contested in copyright litigation, and the "liveaction" blockbuster belongs to the past. CG editor Tom bears witness as a beautiful girl named Alis searches for a way to dance in the movies. In 2007's "D.A.," high school student Theodora struggles to understand why a prestigious and competitive space academy admitted her when she never applied and does not want to attend.
Willis's lively, funny future shines as brightly today as when originally released. In all three stories, the protagonists find their narrow concepts of life challenged and expanded by possibilities created through technology. As a collection, these smart, accessible shorts make for an entertaining initiation or reintroduction into the world of one of sci-fi's greatest treasures. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In three fiction pieces from sci-fi master Connie Willis, planetary explorers, futuristic starlets and unruly teenagers find their lives upended.

Del Rey, $17, paperback, 336p., 9781524796860


by Yasmina Reza, trans. by Linda Asher

French novelist and playwright Yasmina Reza has a knack for taking a small moment and using it to blow her characters' worlds to smithereens. In plays like Art and God of Carnage, little events are the unseen first dominos to greater chaos. In Babylon, her eighth novel, small moments abound, though it's never clear quite what that first domino is.
Elizabeth, the narrator, is middle-aged and bored with her middle-class existence. Not particularly creative, she devises a dinner party for her friends. The conversation sparks an argument between her married upstairs neighbors Jean-Lino and Lydie. Jean-Lino later wakes Elizabeth and her husband in the middle of the night, revealing that he has strangled his wife and pleading with them to help remove the body. With little hesitation, Elizabeth says yes.
That might sound like the plot to a thriller or crime novel, but Reza is barely interested with the crime itself, and more with Elizabeth's and Jean-Lino's psychological states. Elizabeth frames the story, dropping back into her past every so often with details that seem to have little bearing on her predicament of how exactly to get rid of Lydie's body. Reza deftly creates a woman who can recount her past, but barely explain it, who surmises that she is unhappy but cannot say how and where she went wrong. Jean-Lino is much the same, seemingly helpless in the face of what he's accomplished. Reza doesn't craft a clear-cut narrative of the how and the why of the characters' actions, but instead reveals the swirling mess of memory and fear that drives them forward. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: French playwright and novelist Yasmina Reza's Babylon explores the psychological chaos that follows one violent, murderous action.

Seven Stories Press, $23.95, hardcover, 208p., 9781609808327

Other People's Love Affairs

by D. Wystan Owen

Living in the small English coastal holiday town of Glass, most of the romance-hungry characters in the stories of D. Wystan Owen's Other People's Love Affairs are grown-ups with grown-up yearnings for connection. They are not hormonal teens or 20-somethings swiping Tinder and stalking bars for hookups. The pithy opening story "Lovers of a Kind," for example, tells of the sympathetic pediatric nurse Eleanor making do with her unmarried life, nurturing a local itinerant scavenger, and caring for her ailing father. As the story concludes: "Restraint and a pleasant, underwhelming contentment prevail, still, in the affairs of her life." As in Sinclair Lewis's Winesburg, Ohio, Owen's citizens of Glass share the somewhat melancholic condition of loneliness and diminished expectations. Yet, they are a plucky lot whose dreams and passions are waylaid by circumstance and tough luck.
A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and co-founder and publisher of the Bare Life Review (a periodical devoted to immigrant and refugee writing), Owen crafts delicate portraits of his characters' often complicated lives. A spurned club owner still adores his headlining jazz singer, a single mom. An alcoholic acts as stand-in father to an orphaned six-year-old boy being raised by an aunt. A widower goes to a movie theater to reminisce about his first romance in its seats. These are caretakers, shopkeepers and artists on the downside of careers, but they are neither defeated nor cantankerous. Instead, most look back with "fondness in the memory of youth's urgency, gratitude for a passion, however short-lived." Other People's Love Affairs is an impressive debut. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: D. Wystan Owen's debut story collection centers on the lonely, disconnected and resilient citizens of a small coastal town in England.

Algonquin, $15.95, paperback, 224p., 9781616207052

The Dinner List

by Rebecca Serle

It's a common thought-provoking, hypothetical challenge: list the five people, living or dead, you'd most love to have dinner with. Although Sabrina made her list years ago, she's still stunned when she shows up to her own birthday dinner in Manhattan. Instead of only her best friend, Jessica, she also finds her estranged (now deceased) father, Robert; a beloved college professor, Conrad; her sort-of fiancé, Tobias (it's complicated); and Audrey Hepburn. As the evening unfolds, Sabrina and her companions examine the difficult truths about their intertwined lives: the romance, regrets and unexpected turns.
Having previously written for a younger audience, Rebecca Serle (When You Were Mine) serves up a delicious, insightful account of friendship, family and deep love in The Dinner List, her debut for adults. She lays out her narrative along two parallel tracks: a time-stamped breakdown of the dinner party, slowly ticking down toward midnight, and a recounting of Sabrina's young adulthood and her love story with Tobias, spanning a decade. The latter story provides important background and fills in some blanks about the other characters: Sabrina's longtime connection with Jessica and their wildly differing approaches to life and love; the effect of her father's absence; Professor Conrad's influence on her life and philosophy. Hepburn, although Sabrina is named after one of her iconic roles, is the wild card at this dinner. But she's a gracious one: like the other characters, she asks incisive questions, makes the occasional wry joke and offers hard-won wisdom when it's needed.
Witty, sweet and unexpectedly moving, The Dinner List offers a menu of keen-eyed, compassionate insights about the relationships that nourish us. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An unexpected dinner party serves up delicious insights about life and love in Rebecca Serle's first novel for adults.

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250295187

Open Me

by Lisa Locascio

Eighteen-year-old Roxana planned to study abroad in Paris with her best friend, but an administrative error forces her to travel unaccompanied to Copenhagen instead, where she meets Søren, her 28-year-old tour guide. After two days of beers and sightseeing, Roxana and Søren fall for each other and she agrees to join him for the rest of the summer in a small town in Jutland, where Søren will write his Ph.D. thesis. There, Roxana experiences a new world of sex and domesticity. She passes the days by herself, tending to the apartment and to her own bodily desires, while nights are for wine, hash and each other. But Søren soon reveals his anger, self-loathing and racist views, inspiring Roxana to seek out an immigrant stranger she has seen in town.
Lisa Locascio's debut novel, Open Me, is a portrait of sensual self-discovery. Roxana isn't far removed from adolescence and Locascio writes expertly about girlhood--the changing physicality, the intimacy of friendship, the evolving family relationships and the indignities of high school. In Denmark, Roxana's mind is more one-track: "I was lost... in the world of my body," she says, and Locascio depicts each scene with intense details. Søren and Roxana's relationship is complicated--not forced, though certainly ill-advised--which makes it seem even more real. As she opens up to new feelings of closeness and desire, she also experiences the almost palpable sensation of being crushed by someone else's emotions. Through it all, Roxana is getting to know herself, internally and externally, as an adult, as a lover and as an American. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller

Discover: An erotic coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of racism and nationalism in Denmark.

Grove, $25, hardcover, 288p., 9780802128072


The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II

by Antony Beevor

By September 1944, Allied armies had broken through German-occupied France and Belgium. Their next step--penetrating the Reich itself--meant overcoming two major obstacles: the heavily fortified Siegfried Line and the Rhine River. To that end, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery devised Operation Market Garden, in which British, American and Polish troops would parachute into the Netherlands, capture a series of key bridges and await reinforcements. Montgomery assumed German resistance would be light after devastating losses in Normandy. He was wrong.
The British 1st Airborne Division was tasked with taking the road bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem. This objective, the deepest into enemy territory, was meant to be the bridgehead in a continuing offensive, but most of the 1st Airborne never made it out of Arnhem. German strength was diminished but far from destroyed--sudden reinforcements turned Arnhem into a cauldron of urban combat, while units to the south (including the 101st Airborne Division of Band of Brothers fame) were bogged down by bad planning, spotty communication and unexpectedly fierce opposition. Market Garden achieved few of its objectives at tremendous cost. Its failure left the Netherlands at the mercy of the Germans, who extracted terrible tolls in retaliation for helping Allied paratroopers.
In The Battle of Arnhem, British military historian Antony Beevor chronicles how everything that could go wrong with Market Garden did go wrong. Beevor, author of numerous acclaimed World War II histories including Stalingrad and Berlin 1945, has an uncanny ability to layer in-depth information on units, movements and commanders with riveting personal stories, such that The Battle of Arnhem offers an intricate account for military history buffs while still remaining an engaging tale for general readers. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Antony Beevor sets his skillful sights on Operation Market Garden, the 1944 airborne invasion of the Netherlands that went disastrously wrong.

Viking, $35, hardcover, 480p., 9780525429821

Political Science

Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution

by Ben Fountain

A former attorney and author of the novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBen Fountain dissects the 2016 United States presidential campaign in a series of passionate essays. Coupling historical context with current events, Fountain argues that the country is facing a deep existential crisis. He believes that only twice before in U.S. history--the Civil War and the Great Depression--has a crisis of this level occurred. And each time, "the United States has had to reinvent itself to survive as a plausibly genuine constitutional democracy." The modern gross disparities in wealth and opportunity--what Franklin Roosevelt termed "economic tyranny"--mirror the glaring inequality of the nation's earlier pivotal events. And, coincidentally, they are spaced nearly identically on the timeline of U.S. history: roughly 80 years apart.
Fountain guides his readers chronologically from January through December, from the Iowa Caucuses through the weeks following the election. He attends rallies, the NRA convention, the parties' national conventions, taking a front-row seat to the events that define that extraordinary year. Along the tumultuous journey he delves into pertinent chapters of American history such as the Southern strategy, the Vietnam War, the Occupy movement and their relationship to the state of affairs in 2016. 
His words are emotional and powerful. While Donald Trump and those who enable him are primary targets, no one escapes his criticism, including much of the American electorate. Beautiful Country Burn Again has the potential to arm the body politic with their greatest weapon--knowledge. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A novelist takes up the role of journalist covering the 2016 U.S. presidential election and finds that the country is at a monumental and dangerous turning point.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 448p., 9780062688842


Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs

by Cara Sue Achterberg

"If my mother taught me anything it's that making any kind of difference in this world always requires a sacrifice." That's how author Cara Sue Achterberg explains her ability to part with foster dogs whenever people ask, "Isn't it hard to let them go?" In her memoir detailing the chaotic first two years of her canine-fostering experience, Achterberg doesn't sugarcoat anything. It's difficult to say goodbye, and she's almost been a foster failure--someone who adopts their foster--on several occasions. But, ultimately, she wants to help as many dogs as she can, and that means letting each go in order to make room for others.
The loss of her own dog, Lucy, triggers Achterberg's desire to try fostering; she'll test dogs until she finds the right one for her family. However, what starts out as a pet search turns into a life mission. Achterberg passionately recounts her first fosters and all the follies and joys that accompany them. As she finds her footing, she ventures into fostering puppies and even a pregnant dog. Sometimes a dog isn't out her door before she's accepting a new one--or more. She wonders if her new calling is an addiction, "It felt so good to help a dog and to help a family. A happy drug. I needed another hit."
Another Good Dog is heartwarming and humorous. Achterberg fills her readers with the warmth of hope and light of inspiration, which will likely galvanize a new wave of fosters. A happy drug, indeed. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The author tells of the difficulties and joys of fostering dogs and ensuring they find loving, forever homes.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781681777931


The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind

by Justin Driver

The constitutional rights of public school students, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, are the subject of Justin Driver's The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind. The Court's decisions in the context of public education shape the everyday reality of schools across the nation. They are exceedingly relevant in that, according to Driver, one-sixth of the U.S. population can be found in a public school on a typical day.
The Supreme Court has a checkered history when it comes to protecting the rights of students within classrooms and on school grounds. The Court has often diluted and weakened constitutional protections, prompting one brave student litigant to inquire: How can schools expect children to learn about freedom of expression if they are not allowed to exercise it?
Throughout his engaging analysis of landmark constitutional case law, Driver, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Law, demonstrates great respect and admiration for the students and families brave enough to challenge existing school practices. With detailed annotations and objective reasoning, he skillfully unravels the sometimes convoluted judicial opinions to draw out their essence and social impact. Addressing key democratic themes of freedom of speech, racial and sexual equality, patriotism, liberty, safety, due process and more, The Schoolhouse Gate is an ambitious undertaking that is equally accessible to the legal community and the layperson. Readers can gain an excellent introduction to the Supreme Court's role in American society as well as insight into some of the finest legal minds in the nation's history. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A panoramic overview of Supreme Court rulings in the context of public education by a former Supreme Court clerk and eminent legal scholar.

Pantheon, $35, hardcover, 576p., 9781101871652

Children's & Young Adult

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees

by Don Brown

The Unwanted's first two images couldn't be more jarring: on the title page, a hijab-wearing woman raises her hand to her face in overwhelming distress; a turn of the page reveals a girl holding flowers, smiling back over her shoulder as she walks across a town square lush with greenery. Both are victims of war, the former made desperate by a nation in ruins, the latter still innocent, destruction about to uproot her young life.
While the factious situation in war-torn Syria is difficult even for adults to comprehend, what writer/illustrator Don Brown (America Is Under Attack) offers here is an empathic account of how everyday citizens--especially women and children--take tortuous paths toward survival. They are The Unwanted, who, without a future in their own country, must search elsewhere for home.
Using a similar format that won him awards for Drowned City, Brown presents a graphic hybrid of history and facts--explained in text boxes--with scenes of personal experiences. Beyond numbing data, Brown gives faces and voices to the refugees, as he chronicles various journeys out: "We gave the babies sleeping pills so they wouldn't cry," a fleeing mother reveals. "I tried to catch my wife and children in my arms. But one by one, they drowned," a man mourns over his survival. Brown's panels can't--won't?--contain all that the Syrians must endure, as weapons, explosions, fleeing crowds, suffering victims repeatedly break through panel outlines. Yet amid the struggles, Brown won't abandon hope: the lamenting woman and the little girl from the introduction return in the final pages, safe in a future that "is now." In urgently humanizing The Unwanted, Brown's sobering explication and tenacious advocacy prove both necessary and revelatory. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Don Brown reveals the faces and voices of The Unwanted, Syria's refugees who have survived atrocities, whose search for safety is too often met with resentment and rejection.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 14-up, 9781328810151

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

by John Hendrix

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born in Germany in 1906, was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who became a powerful voice for personal and religious opposition to Hitler's Nazism. Packed with pencil drawings and printed with a custom typeface based on the author's handwriting, The Faithful Spy carries readers straight into the complicated and ominous period between the two World Wars, when many Germans, after the humiliation of the Great War, "were hungry for a vision of triumph, conquest, and rebirth." Author/illustrator John Hendrix masterfully tells the story of Bonhoeffer, one of the first people in Europe to see Hitler's charismatic rise to leadership for what it was: a mad attempt to "grab the reins of power while the great German horse was without a rider."
Hendrix's (Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents; Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus) uncommon style weaves nonstop illustrations with blocks of facts, imagined conversations and direct quotes from a chilling era. He helps readers begin to make sense of the unfathomable: how so many in a country could not only tolerate but rabidly support a man whose operating principles relied on hatred, fear and murder. He also helps readers understand that not all in Hitler's Germany supported the regime; many--even high-ranking officers in the armed forces and officials in the Nazi party--were secretly fighting back from their positions of power.
Readers of this information-dense history/biography will bear an intellectual load but it is lightened by frequent sidebars and captioned illustrations. In the author's note, Hendrix points out how important the telling of this story is: "Despite the lessons learned from the horrors of World War II, recent history has shown humanity has not been permanently vaccinated against tyrants. We never will be." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: The illustrated story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer--pastor, spy and passionate rebel against Hitler's devastating Nazi regime--offers readers great insight into that period of history.

Amulet, $24.99, hardcover, 176p., ages 10-up, 9781419728389

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder

by Nie Jun, trans. by Edward Gauvin

A graphic novel in four parts, My Beijing includes stories about Yu'er, her Grampa and the "Everyday Wonder" of their lives in one of Beijing's hutongs, the traditional neighborhoods for which the city is known.
Yu'er desperately wants to learn how to swim (her name means Fish Child, after all) but, because of an unnamed disability that requires her to use a cane, no swim clubs will allow her membership. "People think I'm different," she says sadly to Grampa. He wheels her away in a cart attached to his bike, exclaiming, "Oh, who cares what they think!"--he has an idea. The next page shows Yu'er diving deep down underwater; the next one depicts her dangling from a tree, hooked up to a pulley system with Grampa at the other end. From the ground, Grampa gives lessons in controlling breathing and finding balance: "Just imagine you're in the water.... Do you feel like you're floating?" Yu'er loves her new "pool" and swims in the tree until suddenly she's flying up through the sky, swimming out of her neighborhood and into the city. "Go, my little Yu'er! Go!"
Each of the four stories has a wondrous turn that takes the reader from the simple, gentle mundanity of the everyday lives of Yu'er and Grampa into the slightly, but still friendly, surreal. Whether she makes a new friend who is actually her Grampa as a boy or she's mailing a letter into the past, Yu'er slips gracefully (and without knowledge) in and out of time in a way that leads to pleasant surprises rather than shockers. Nie Jun's illustrations are lush, the figures expressive and Beijing itself captivating in its detail. One hopes that this first work of Nie Jun's to be translated into English is the first of many. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Yu'er and Grampa experience everyday (and extraordinary) wonder in Nie Jun's My Beijing, a graphic novel for middle graders.

Graphic Universe, $9.99, paperback, 128p., ages 8-10, 9781541526426


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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