Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 26, 2018

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

From My Shelf

Not-So-Scary Halloween Treats

Halloween is right around the corner! Below are some titles for little ones who are eager to enjoy the spooky season but may not be quite ready for its thrills.

Monster ABC by Kyle Sullivan, illus. by Derek Sullivan (Hazy Dell Press, $13.95, 30p., ages 1-5)
"Some monsters seem spooky when seen at first glance, but who knows if they're scary if we don't give them a chance?" From "A is for Alien" to "Z is for Zombie," Monster ABC's rhyming text gives simple introductions to the monsters of the alphabet; silly illustrations make even the scariest of monsters near impossible to find frightening.

Fright School by Janet Lawler, illus. by Chiara Galletti (Albert Whitman, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5)
In Fright School, monsters "learn the art of scaring all the kids who trick-or-treat": mummies practice their moans, vampires get in and rise back out of coffins, werewolves learn how to spike their hair. But lessons are forgotten when the scariest thing of all appears at the school's door: human child trick-or-treaters.

Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters by Rachel Kolar, illus. by Roland Garrigue (Sleeping Bear Press, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-7)
Playing off classic Mother Goose rhymes, Mother Ghost is packed full of Halloween poems for "little monsters": Mary has a little ghost, it's a black cat who has the fiddle, Miss Muffet is a zombie and, in "Sing a Song of Witches," "four and twenty blackbirds" take down a witch. This picture book is a fun, funny way to get not-too-spooky for Halloween.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Philip Gabriel: Living Out the Books

Philip Gabriel is one of the major translators into English of the works of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and of works by Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburō Ōe. He's also the author of Mad Wives and Island Dreams: Shimao Toshio and Margins of Japanese Literature. He is a professor of modern Japanese literature and former head of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Gabriel's translation of Hiro Arikawa's The Travelling Cat Chronicles (Berkley) is reviewed below.

As an undergrad you majored in Chinese but some Japanese novels motivated you to read them in their original form. What about those books enticed you to learn this language?

At the time, the Chinese books we were reading were all influenced by the ongoing Cultural Revolution and thus pretty boring. I wanted to read more typical fiction, but about East Asia, and the Japanese fiction I read in translation then excited me by its variety. I read Soseki, Kawabata, Tanizaki, Mishima, Ōe, Abe, and found them all so different from each other, but also quite different from Western writers.

And what took you from reading the Japanese to translating books to English?

When I was living in Japan and working on my Japanese, I was part of a small reading circle of Japanese and U.S. academics in Nagasaki, where I lived. Just a handful of people who met regularly to read translations of modern Japanese literature and compare it with the original text, often line by line. The discussions we had were so stimulating that I started to think I could try my hand at translating.

What goes into your work process as you translate?

Blood, sweat and tears, as Churchill put it. You can read something in a foreign language and think you have it down, but try translating it and you quickly are faced with gaps in your understanding, or at least question after question of the most basic variety: Am I really getting this? Doing this work requires the help of native speakers to help you pin down nuances.

Do you ever communicate with the authors about your translations?

About half the time. It's one of the more enjoyable aspects of the work. With one book I did, after the author checked my translation and gave amazingly valuable feedback, we started a very enjoyable e-mail exchange and became pretty friendly. In my experience, Japanese authors are incredibly understanding, generous with their time and are very appreciative and supportive of the work we translators do.

You're well known for translating Haruki Murakami's books; they're obviously very different from Hiro Arikawa's novel. How does translating a work by Murakami compare to The Travelling Cat Chronicles?

I've been translating Murakami's work since an early short story in 1988, so when I begin a new book of his, it always feels, more or less, like I'm re-entering a world I'm familiar with, a voice I'm familiar with. So the biggest difference was that I had never read Arikawa before and had to feel my way through the early portions of the book, trying to figure out what voice(s) to best adopt. As an aside, I would like to point out, since it is obvious to Japanese readers but not to Western readers, that the first line of The Travelling Cat Chronicles echoes the opening lines of Natsume Soseki's famous 1905 novel I Am a Cat, also narrated by a cat.

What made you decide to take this translation project?

I was approached by a British editor about it. I read it and felt it was a book with a lot of heart. As I've grown older, I've come to appreciate straight-ahead generosity and compassion more, both in life and in books, and I felt this novel had both. It's also quite funny at times, which I appreciate.

You mentioned in an interview how you are affected by the works you're translating. How does that differ from your experience just reading a book?

I guess it's a question of time, in the sense that the translation process is so much slower than just reading. Translating it--living with it day after day for a year--makes it feel like you're living out the book and all its emotional ups and downs in super slow motion. 

What about The Travelling Cat Chronicles lingered for you as you worked on it?

The main thing is the compassion, caring and love that Satoru and Nana the cat show for each other, and how this affects those around them. Hearts are softened, even changed, through their relationship. Would that our world could see more of this. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Book Candy

Literary-Inspired Halloween Costumes

"What's the best literary-inspired Halloween costume you've ever had?" Buzzfeed asked its readers, offering some examples.


Mental Floss wondered: "How and why did silent letters emerge in English?"


CrimeReads investigated "7 mothers you meet in crime novels, from gothicly evil to disastrously giving."


"A mythological/etymological mashup" was explored by Merriam-Webster in its "words from Greek and Roman mythology quiz."


Scotland in Books is "a photographic survey of second-hand bookshops, libraries, and private collections across Scotland by photographer Celeste Noche," the BBC reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Books of Blood

The name Clive Barker may be more familiar to movie watchers than book readers. His creations have appeared, and reappeared (and reappeared again) in multiple horror franchises, particularly Hellraiser. But British author Barker, despite his mastery of multiple media, is first and foremost a writer of horror novels and short stories. In 1984, Barker's debut story collection, Books of Blood, Volume 1, earned instant notoriety. By 1985, six volumes--30 stories in all--had cemented Barker as "the future of horror," according to Stephen King.

Barker has since published more than a dozen novels. His most famous, The Hellbound Heart (1986), was adapted into the perennial Hellraiser series. Weaveworld (1987), Imajica (1991) and Galilee (1998) showcase an increasing blend of lighter fantasy into an otherwise unrelentingly dark oeuvre. For those seeking the primordial abyss from which Barker evolved, there is nothing better than Books of Blood--the first three of which are available in a single volume from Berkley ($20, 9780425165584).

In "The Midnight Meat Train," a feeble New York City office worker takes the worst subway ride of his life. In "In the Hills, the Cities," an ancient rivalry between two cities takes on monumental--and literal--proportions, and "Dread" finds a college student conducting his own unethical psychology experiments. This Halloween, snuggle up with the sort of grim and darkly amusing horror exemplified by Blood of Blood's epigraph: "Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red." --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland

by Nicolai Houm, trans. by Anna Paterson

Jane Ashland is in the Norwegian wilderness, alone, without food, in a storm. A writer from the U.S., she knows exactly how to craft her own final scene: "Now, while she is still conscious, she must lock her fingers in a dramatic pose. Oh my God, it looks as if she tried to grab at something at the moment of death!... What should she reach for, how should she make it look?" What follows is an account of how she got there--camping with a local scientist in search of musk oxen, beginning and quickly ruining a relationship with long-lost Norwegian relatives, falling in love with a fellow writer in college and the tragedy that began her disappearance. Now, Jane is medicated, drunk and suffering from seizures, and readers learn how her life began to collapse, and how she pushed it the rest of the way.

The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland is compelling, tense and well-crafted. Like brushing away snow, Nicolai Houm slowly reveals the details of Jane's life; the narrative jumps around in time so that readers don't know the full story until the very end. Through all-consuming grief, Jane maintains a wry humor and self-awareness. With an author's eye, she recognizes what she's doing but can't prevent it, and she realizes that in life, unlike novels, events happen without reason. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller

Discover: After a personal tragedy, American writer Jane Ashland finds herself stranded in the Norwegian mountains, in this slim novel about grief, family and storytelling.

Tin House, $15.95, paperback, 228p., 9781947793064

The Travelling Cat Chronicles

by Hiro Arikawa, trans. by Philip Gabriel

With wisdom, humor and compassion, in The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa tells the story of a powerful bond between a man and his cat. Satoru takes a special liking to a stray feline that shows up under his van. The creature bears a strong resemblance to Satoru's childhood pet, and one day, when he appears injured by an automobile, Satoru takes him in. After nursing the injured stray back to health, Satoru bestows the name Nana--seven in Japanese--on the white cat with tabby spots because his tail is bent like the number's Japanese character. The two bachelors grow into a comfortable living arrangement, complete with walks, mouse toys and "crunchies" to eat. But one day, Satoru sadly informs the cat he must find Nana a new home, and thus begins their journeys. The pair travels to see three friends from Satoru's past, looking for the right family to care for Nana. Along the way, Arikawa paints a portrait of courage and friendship in a stunning array of colors and patterns.

Whether cat lovers or not, readers will delight in the relationship between Satoru and Nana. Nana's cheeky thoughts add comedy to this heartwarming tale as Arikawa illustrates the difference in thinking between man and beast: "Hold on a sec. I can't let that pass. Since when did I love that awful fake mouse?" And Satoru's devotion to Nana could melt the iciest of hearts. Philip Gabriel does a stellar job of translating the beauty and emotion of The Travelling Cat Chronicles so English readers can enjoy the enchantment so much they just might purr. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The travels of a man and his cat reveal the power of friendship in an unforgiving world.

Berkley, $20, hardcover, 288p., 9780451491336


by John Wray

Godsend is John Wray's intriguing novel about a disaffected Californian teenager named Aden who travels with her friend Decker to the city of Peshawar, Pakistan. Aden shaves her head and disguises herself as a boy to study at a madrassa, an all-male religious school. She intends to memorize the Quran and lead a pious, Islamic life, as part of her jihad, or personal struggle, to fill the spiritual emptiness of her former life. Decker, on the other hand, is restless as soon as they arrive. Invited to cross the border into Afghanistan and join the local mujahideen, or Islamist guerrilla fighters, he jumps at the opportunity. Aden follows him, as much out of curiosity as fear for his well-being. She soon realizes that behind their pious facade, the mujahideen's version of Islam--violent, swollen with hypocrisy--bears no resemblance to the peaceful Islam she came to this part of the world to discover.

Godsend is powerful and poignant, all the more so because Wray (The Lost Time Accidents) does not spoon-feed readers tired clichés about Islam and terrorism or life along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Instead, he provides plenty of space for them to draw their own conclusions about Aden, Decker and the people they encounter. Aden remains emotionally isolated no matter how religious she becomes, and Wray reveals little of her inner life, possibly to reproduce that same feeling of isolation in the reader--reminiscent of Mohsin Hamid's unforgettable narrator in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Aden, however, is no fundamentalist, she is a frightened girl involuntarily caught up in a violent struggle with no peaceful end in sight. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: Godsend is an unusual coming-of-age story: its female protagonist fights in a religious war along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9780374164706

Mystery & Thriller

I Am Behind You

by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Nothing is as it first seems in John Ajvide Lindqvist's uncanny and utterly engrossing horror novel I Am Behind You. Four families at a Swedish campground wake up one morning to find that everything has disappeared except the campers in which they slept. In place of the world that once was is an endless expanse of grass in every direction and a bright blue sky above. Even that brightness is a mystery, because the sun is also missing.

Lindqvist (Let the Right One In, Little Star) has been compared by several critics with Stephen King, and here it's easy to see why. Like the American horror master, Lindqvist draws characters with fascinating interiors and believable histories. Many of the campers are unlikable people, but that makes them more realistic. The novel gains momentum when each begins to hallucinate figures that represent their deepest desires or fears. Through these visions the campers learn more about each other, including why they've made certain life decisions--and regretfully avoided making others. Relationships become strained as ugly truths surface. Humans are terrifying when they feel trapped and exposed.

I Am Behind You isn't all horror, however. Appearing throughout are amusing references to popular culture that delight as much as mystify. One character's visions, for example, include a seductive Jimmy Stewart. And on the radio, Swedish pop star Peter Himmelstrand croons his hits from the 1960s. Imaginative and complexly structured, I Am Behind You is an outstanding work of oddball, literary horror. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: The acclaimed author of Let the Right One In shows richly drawn characters the horror of their deepest desires and darkest fears.

St. Martin's Press, $28.99, hardcover, 416p., 9781250086570

The Antiquities Hunter

by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Gina "Tinkerbell" Miyoko barely hits five feet, but her fierce attitude makes up for her tiny stature and keeps her busy as a private detective in San Francisco. Her mother (who may or may not be a Russian witch) and her father (a former SFPD detective), are very protective, constantly overloading Gina with Russian obereg and Japanese mingei as charms to protect her.

Gina may need the charms most when she gets a case far outside her usual realm of cheating spouses and deadbeat dads. Her best friend, Rose, an undercover agent for the National Park Service, is worried she's being stalked, so the NPS hires Gina to be Rose's bodyguard on a mission to break up a ring of Mayan antiquities smugglers. But plans go awry, and Rose is badly injured, forcing Gina to take Rose's place. Suddenly Gina is in Mexico, with a handsome archeologist assisting her as she cozies up to some Mexican bigwigs. She'll need every bit of her brashness and wits to outsmart the bad guys, protect the antiquities and resist Dr. Cruz Veras's allure.

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (The Spirit Gate; The Last Jedi: Star Wars Legends) has created a fun mystery, starring a gutsy, likable heroine and a distinctive setting. The Antiquities Hunter deftly blends Mayan history and antiquities markets, as well as Russian and Japanese traditions, with motorcycles and dead bodies. Gina's mixed heritage and insatiable curiosity make her a wildly entertaining character, sure to appeal to fans of Stephanie Plum. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this action-packed mystery, a feisty private detective goes undercover to try to break up a ring of antiquities smugglers.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781681778570

Graphic Books

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

by Ari Folman, adaptor, illus. by David Polonsky

Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman and illustrator David Polonsky teamed up to create Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, the only graphic version of the famous diary to be authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation. The result is just as moving and powerful as the original, with illustrations that bring Anne's experiences to life.

An aspiring writer, Anne Frank captured her brief life in her famous diary, which was published posthumously by her father, honoring her wishes. Millions of people all over the world have read Anne's articulate and poignant words, describing her Jewish family's years spent hiding from the Nazis during World War II, as well as her own coming-of-age. This graphic adaptation features realistic drawings that capture the horrors of war, daily life in hiding and Anne's fantastical imaginings. Some pages tell a story in typical graphic-style frames; some are full-page drawings or compilations depicting Anne's words; others are entire diary entries reprinted verbatim from the original document.

The result is a stirring, heartbreaking and sometimes funny re-creation of Anne's experiences before the war and while in hiding. The graphic approach further accentuates the startling paradox that has made Anne's diary such a potent depiction of life during the war, juxtaposing a horrific time in history with the ordinary adolescence of a teen girl, filled with typical angst, crushes and fights with her parents. Compelling and tender, this graphic adaptation brings Anne's inspiring words to life in a new way. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: A graphic adaptation of Anne Frank's famous diary uses Anne's own words and realistic illustrations to bring the document to life in a new way.

Pantheon, $24.95, hardcover, 160p., 9781101871799

Biography & Memoir

A Dream Called Home

by Reyna Grande

In A Dream Called Home, Reyna Grande continues the story of her immigration to the U.S. from Mexico, which began in her first memoir, The Distance Between Us. Having been in the States for many years, she becomes the first person in her family to attend college and fulfills her desire to become a writer. In this memoir, she shares stories of her family--particularly of her father and her Abuelita Chinta, who lived in the small town of Iguala, Mexico, her entire life--that encapsulate the isolation and longing Grande felt for a real home. She describes how she slowly found a community of fellow Hispanics in Santa Cruz, where she attended school, as well as instructors who valued her writing. She also joined a folklórico dance troupe that helped build her sense of pride in Latina heritage.

Being an immigrant was still difficult though, and she never felt completely at home. Moreover, returning to Mexico on visits, she discovered she was no longer considered a true Mexican, either. Family and friends looked at her differently, for being one of those who made it to "the other side." Grande's narrative gives readers an excellent first-person view of the struggles many immigrants face when they move to the U.S.--the difficulty of assimilating into a culture that does not readily embrace anyone who is not white. Grande's prose is poetic and expressive, and her story is timely and relevant. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An insightful memoir by a Mexican immigrant searching for a place to call home.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781501171420


Titans of History: The Giants Who Made Our World

by Simon Sebag Montefiore

In Titans of History, renowned historian Simon Sebag Montefiore takes on a broad project for specific reasons. As a young man, he read a brief sketch of the life of Joseph Stalin, which ultimately led to his career as a historian of Russia and the Middle East. Wanting to provide a similar experience to readers now, Montefiore (along with four sub-credited authors) has created a compilation of quick biographies of the most important people in human history. This extensive volume ranges from Rameses the Great to Osama Bin Laden, and spans numerous cultures. Many are leaders and rulers, but other notables emerge as well, such as Oscar Wilde and Anne Frank.

Reading Titans of History straight through is a bit like falling down a Wikipedia wormhole, with many of these short biographies dovetailing each other through direct connections between history's great actors or the resonance of past actions on future ones. It's not clear that Montefiore expects people to read the book straight through, though. In his introduction, the historian writes that he hopes these biographies provide entry points to further reading about their subjects and time periods. But Titans of History is remarkably successful at getting in a lot of information in a short span, and is equally impressive at not ignoring many historical figures' complicated natures. Rarely is Montefiore unequivocal, instead showing these actors as products of their time, or how they combined genius with debauchery, violence and lust for power. Montefiore clearly aims to keep the book's perspective contemporary, making sure that anyone can pick up Titans of History and have an experience similar to his own as a young man. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: In Titans of History, famed historian Simon Sebag Montefiore collects biographies of the people who changed the world.

Vintage, $20, paperback, 640p., 9780525564461

Social Science

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History

by Sam Maggs

"Girl squads" may be trending, but the concept is nothing new, argues pop-culture writer Sam Maggs (Wonder Women) in the introduction to Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History. She goes on to suggest that inspiration can be drawn "from historical gals who've lifted each other up and do the same in our own lives"--an idea that sets the tone for the stories of female friendship that follow throughout the rest of the book.

The girl squads included here are divided into sections: Athletes, Activists, Warriors, Scientists and Artists. Each section is then broken down into the stories of four different sets of girlfriends whose experiences range across the world (Japan and the United States, Iran and the Dominican Republic) and across time (from roughly 400 BCE to the present day). Some of these women were in direct competition (as in the case of modern-day tennis players Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens) and others worked as a team (as in the story of the Zohra Orchestra, the first all-girl musical ensemble from Afghanistan), but each and every story demonstrates how, across history, the support of women for women has changed many lives in big and small ways.

Maggs does an impressive job of condensing long periods of history into just a few pages, providing necessary historical context for the story of each squad. Despite the immense detail included, however, Girl Squads is anything but academic; Maggs writes with a sly sense of humor and irreverence that keeps the text from ever feeling dry or dull. Instead, this collection is upbeat and positive, itself a "journey of lady solidarity" bound to educate and inspire readers of any gender. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Twenty stories of female friendship across history celebrate the power of women supporting each other in community.

Quirk Books, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781683690726

Art & Photography

Texas Made/Texas Modern: The House and the Land

by Helen Thompson, Casey Dunn

Author Helen Thompson and photographer Casey Dunn, the team that created Marfa Modern, offer another stunning display of Texas architecture and design with Texas Made/Texas Modern: The House and the Land. Multipage spreads of beautiful photographs depict 19 houses, inside and out, along with Thompson's discussion of their individual histories. A foreword by architect Lawrence W. Speck and Thompson's introduction put this project in perspective. Older and newer structures alike fit into a tradition that is particularly Texan, where modernism--as defined by glass, steel, load-bearing columns and open floor plans--intersects with what is special about the Lone Star State. Texas's climate, topography, local materials and culture all play a role in the design of these homes, which are as attuned to their natural settings as anything by Frank Lloyd Wright. A house in Wimberley highlights sliding doors at both ends which, opened, transform the house into "a big, happy breezeway." Another in Mill Spring showcases glass walls that open to the air, allowing residents to rely solely on natural ventilation "except in extreme conditions."

Sites range geographically across the state (with a focus on Austin, Dallas and the scenic hill country of central Texas), and there is a definite emphasis on interior design alongside architecture: at least half the photographs display indoor spaces, and captions are devoted to the designers of rugs, furniture and knick-knacks. Fans of architecture, design and Texas will appreciate this beautifully presented art book, and its insight into a singular modernist tradition. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A gorgeous display of modernist architecture and interior design that's particularly Texan.

Monacelli Press, $50, hardcover, 224p., 9781580935081

Children's & Young Adult

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me

by Sally J. Pla, illus. by Ken Min

Sammy has had a bad day. He got yelled at during recess, the cafeteria ran out of his favorite pizza and the bus driver missed his stop, forcing him to walk all the way home in the rain. When he finally gets there, "hungry, cold, and wet," his mama tells him to "Shhhhhhhhhh" because little brother Benji is in his box. "When Benji's in his box, it's because he's had a bad day at preschool.... I sure wish I had a box for days like this," Sammy thinks.

Sally J. Pla's straightforward, accessible text gives background in Sammy's voice: he wants to learn karate but karate classes are on the same day as Benji's clinic appointments; when Benji is overwrought, Sammy and Mama will wrap him in his big blue blanket. Sammy's not mad at Benji for getting special attention, he's only feeling bad for himself. When he spills milk, he loses it, crying "mad-sad shivery tears. No one notices," he thinks. But he's wrong--Benji is watching from his box. In moments, Benji is spreading the big blue blanket on the floor. He grabs Sammy by the hand and pulls him down onto the "fuzzy blueness" then rolls him "over and over" until Sammy is cozy and warm.

Pla's story of sibling love makes Benji's autism known without ever making it the focus; Benji is about bad days, empathy and familial relationships. This tale came from Pla's own life, in which her "autistic and non-autistic sons... had fuzzy blankets" and often asked to be "wrapped tight into burritos" with them. Ken Min's acrylic and colored pencil illustrations fit the spirit of the tale perfectly, depicting a cozy, three-person family on full-page spreads saturated with colors that get brighter with Sammy's mood. Benji is wholly heartwarming. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The charming Benji, the Bad Day, and Me is about the connection between two siblings, one neuro-typical, one on the autism spectrum.

Lee & Low, $17.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9781620143452

Sea Prayer

by Khaled Hosseini, illus. by Dan Williams

"My dear Marwan,/ in the long summers of childhood,/ when I was a boy the age you are now,/ your uncles and I/ spread our mattress on the roof/ of your grandfather's farmhouse/ outside of Homs." So begins a father's account of an idyllic childhood, followed by memories of the darker times that followed: "First came the protests./ Then the siege./ The skies spitting bombs./ Starvation./ Burials." Marwan, too, knows these dark times; after intimating that Marwan's mom is dead, his father notes, "You have learned that mothers and/ sisters and classmates can be found/ in narrow gaps between concrete,/ bricks, and exposed beams,/ little patches of sunlit skin/ shining in the dark."

In an afterword, Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, among other bestselling novels for adults, explains that Sea Prayer honors Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 after fleeing his war-torn homeland. (All proceeds from the sale of Sea Prayer will go to the UN Refugee Agency and the Khaled Hosseini Foundation.) In the shadows of Hosseini's elegant prose poem and Dan Williams's cascading, weather-swept art stands an indictment of civic complacency during such a major refugee crisis. But the kids who are among Sea Prayer's intended readership likely won't detect politics; they'll be intrigued by the scenario before them: a large group that includes Marwan and his father is walking to the beach. When the group boards a boat and sets off in search of a safe haven, young readers may see nothing but hope. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In Khaled Hosseini's prose poem, a Syrian father addresses his young son as they, along with other refugees, prepare to make their way across the ocean by boat.

Riverhead, $15, hardcover, 48p., ages 7-up, 9780525539094

A Blade So Black

by L.L. McKinney

Seventeen-year-old Alice enters Wonderland through the Looking Glass, a "midtown Atlanta dive" bar tended by "a mousy girl" who takes "more naps than she [mixes] drinks." Once in Wonderland, Alice takes on the role of Dreamwalker: she finds and destroys Nightmares (physical manifestations of bad dreams that feed off of fear and anger) before they can cross into the human world. Lately, there have been more Nightmares than usual, and Alice learns it is because the Atlanta police shot an innocent black girl. This incident is enough to make Alice hang up her daggers for good, but before she can officially quit, she must return to the "realm of dreams" one more time to save her mentor.

Rather than completely re-imagine Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, L.L. McKinney pays homage to the classic fantasy series by including familiar elements and characters, like the Tweedles who, in this urbanized version, are "tall, teenage versions of Spike from Buffy [who] sometimes pull... dumbass pranks." McKinney's debut doesn't ignore the fact that Alice is a teenager, and a black teenager at that--meaning, as episodes in Wonderland intensify, her later nights and longer times away from home anger her mom and cause rifts in her friendships. Additionally, being best friends with a white girl presents its own set of problems, like how Alice needs to remind Courtney that instead of being "a black Buffy," she could be "just Buffy." McKinney's ability deftly to balance Alice's fantastical world of fear-slaying with the modern-day life of a black teenager is admirable. A Blade So Black is a modernized version of a well-known story that retains enough of the original to be lauded by both fans of the classic and readers wholly new to Wonderland. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: This own-voices retelling of Alice in Wonderland features an Alice who struggles to find a balance between fighting monsters and being a normal teenager.

Imprint/Macmillan, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9781250153906

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