Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 22, 2019


Minotaur Books: The Bitterroots by CJ Box

From My Shelf

Zonderkidz: One Big Heart: A Celebration of Being More Alike Than Different by Linsey Davis, illustrated by Lucy Fleming

Flatiron Books: Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

The Legacy of Edith Wharton

As a newcomer to the U.S. several decades ago, I made my first foray into American literature with Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country (Vintage, $12), and soon I was devouring everything this fine lady had written. This week, as we celebrate what would have been Wharton's 156th birthday, it's an opportune time to highlight some of her most impactful work.

Wharton's true genius lay in her keen social commentary and comically ironic observations that still resonate with readers more than a century later. In her Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, The Age of Innocence (Modern Library, $11), she explores the dilemma of a morally superior New York lawyer engaged to a dull, pretty girl who finds himself passionately in love with his fiancé's scandal-prone cousin, a divorced countess.

To Wharton, every society was its own ecosystem, with flaws and petty grievances and nostalgia for the past. Old New York (Scribner, $17) is a collection of novellas, each based in a different decade from 1840 to 1870, in which she boldly addresses subjects that polite society refused to contemplate, like infidelity and illegitimacy.

In addition to her writing, Wharton was known for her tasteful interior decorating; she paved the way for a more exuberant approach by rejecting the overly fussy and frumpy Victorian-era design of the time. The Decoration of Houses (Norton, $25) features her fresh new ideas for every part of the house--including rooms that most of us don't have to worry about anymore such as ballrooms, galleries and saloons.

Wharton renounced the confining, passive female role prescribed by her wealthy New York family and instead chose a creative, dynamic life on the frontlines of social change. As the author herself pointed out: "Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope." --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer


Charlesbridge Publishing: First Day Jitters (Mrs. Hartwells Classroom Adventures #1) by Julie Danneberg, Judy Love


Book Candy

Movies and Shows with Roots in Classic Literature

"Can you guess which classic piece of literature these modern movies and shows are based on?" asked Buzzfeed.

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"Enter the world of mythological maps," Atlas Obscura invited.

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Merriam-Webster's Liar, Liar Quiz is designed to "test your knowledge of words for lies, liars, and those being lied to. In other words, everyone."

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"If you can correctly pronounce every word in this 1920s poem, you're among the English-speaking elite," Mental Floss noted.

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"Japan and China, bound by books," NHK reported.


Grove Atlantic: Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell


Great Reads

Rediscover: Mary Oliver

photo: Mariana Cook

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet "whose work, with its plain language and minute attention to the natural world, drew a wide following while dividing critics," died on January 17, the New York Times reported. She was 83. Oliver, a "phenomenon: a poet whose work sold strongly," published more than 20 books, including the Pulitzer-winning American Primitive National Book Award winner New and Selected Poems.

"For her abiding communion with nature," Oliver was often compared to Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, the Times noted. "For her quiet, measured observations, and for her fiercely private personal mien (she gave many readings but few interviews, saying she wanted her work to speak for itself), she was likened to Emily Dickinson." She "often described her vocation as the observation of life."

Oliver's poetry collections include The River Styx, Ohio; House of Light; The Leaf and the Cloud; Evidence; Blue Horses and Felicity. Among her prose titles are Rules for the Dance, A Poetry Handbook and Long Life: Essays and Other Writings. Among her beloved lines was the conclusion of "The Summer Day": "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?"

From Oliver's poem "When Death Comes":

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.


Flatiron Books: Thirteen: The Serial Killer Isn't on Trial. He's on the Jury (Eddie Flynn #3) by Steve Cavanagh


The Writer's Life

Tim Johnston: Building Stories

photo: Christine Beane

Tim Johnston is the author of the story collection Irish Girl, which won the O. Henry Prize and other awards, and the novels Descent and Never So Green. His new novel is The Current (Algonquin, 27.95), about two teenage girls whose car crashes into an icy Minnesota river; only one survives. The circumstances surrounding the crash are murky, and the incident might be related to another death in the river a decade earlier. Johnston, who lives in Iowa, discusses writing and how nature inspires his stories.

In your books, nature is almost a living character--the Rockies in Descent and the river in The Current. Other than nature being a formidable opponent, why do you like incorporating it into your stories?

In Descent, it was actually the Rockies that inspired the story. I was working as a carpenter up there when I began to write about the Courtland family, and it's the Rockies that draw them so far from home. But when their daughter does not return from a run up the mountain, their awe turns to something else entirely as they wait--and wait--to see if she will ever come down again. What begins as setting becomes essential to plot and theme--and to the title itself.

Likewise, when I began The Current, I didn't know how essential the river would become to the story, other than as the locale of the drowning of two young women, 10 years apart. But as I got deeper into the lives of the survivors of those two tragedies, the river became a bridge across time--or through time; it freezes and thaws and flows and freezes again, but it never stops reminding them of what connects them, and what they've lost. They are all in the same current.

You place readers in the environment with incisive details. How much research do you do on the places you write about?

Living in the Rocky Mountains was my research for Descent, and I used the names of local landmarks and streets--only to be told later, by readers familiar with the area, how wrong I'd gotten it all. So when I began The Current, I knew that the small town in which the novel is set, including the river, would be entirely fictional. Of course, as an Iowan, it's not a great stretch to imagine a small town in Minnesota in the dead of winter. I just pushed it all north for a colder, stranger sense of place and people.

Your novels have a recurring theme of lost or missing children. What draws you to explore that particular kind of grief?

In just this last year in Iowa, two college women--one on a golf course and the other out for a run in her hometown--met a terrible fate. The TV shows us the happy smiling photos of the young women, and the living tortured faces of their parents. It is truly horrible and I cannot understand it, not really; no one who hasn't gone through it can. And maybe that's what draws me to it as a writer--how familiar the story becomes to us over time, yet how singular and excruciating it must be for those who go through it. I wonder, too, if having no children of my own allows me to explore a kind of terror and grief I might not be able to if I had to imagine my own child as the victim.

When you were a kid, you wrote comic books. Would you return to that?

Comic books are a gateway drug to becoming a reader, which is the gateway drug to becoming a writer. But for me, as a kid, it was all about the artwork. I spent much of my childhood hunched over drawing pads, and I got pretty darn good. I entered college as an art major but by the end of my first year, I'd switched to English because I wanted to read books. From there I found my way into creative writing, and suddenly that part of my life--that kid hunched over drawing pads--was over. Although I think I'm still pretty much that same kid, it's just a different kind of hunching.

You've worked as a carpenter while writing. Are there similarities between the two crafts?

Well, there's turning raw materials into something lasting and beautiful. There's having good sharp tools and knowing how to use them. But none of that happens without years of learning the craft, of actually banging away in the woodshop. Of honing whatever gifts or drive you have under the influence of greater craftsmen than you. You need time to develop your eye for detail, and you must have the patience to attend to every one of those details as if nothing is more important. In carpentry, this will drive your employer crazy, if he is your father and he's paying you by the hour. As a writer, there is--or should be--as Yoda might say, no rush, only patience.

David Sedaris gave you a big bump in visibility when he promoted your story collection, Irish Girl, on his tour. Now that you're an established author, whose book(s) would you like to mention here?

Pilot by PD Mallamo. He is the most exciting and original writer I've read in years, and this is his first book. (Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword.) --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd


Charlesbridge Publishing: Sumokitty by David Biedrzycki


Book Review

Fiction

Last Night in Nuuk

by Niviaq Korneliussen, trans. by Anna Halager


Five young Greenlanders sail the treacherous seas of love and nightlife in Niviaq Korneliussen's marvelous debut, Last Night in Nuuk. Fia can't figure out why she loathes her attentive boyfriend until she meets the most beautiful woman she's ever seen. Inuk struggles to reconcile his sister's sexuality with the strictures of Greenlandic identity. Meanwhile, the tension between Ivik and her girlfriend, Sara, is becoming too much for them to bear, and Arnaq's loose lips threaten to sink them all.

With breathless scenes that overlap and double back, adding insight and nuance to each character's circumstance, Last Night in Nuuk reads like the dreamy recollections from a rowdy weekend clubbing. Stream-of-consciousness anxiety in Fia's section gives way to aching correspondence and confessional diary entries in Inuk's, and static-charged text messaging in the others'. Hope and infatuation cloud over with self-doubt and regret. But mistakes and betrayal soon disentangle into fresh new perspective on who each is and what they want.

Korneliussen's lean, heterogeneous prose captures the confusion, tenacity, rage and blessing of queer lives in flux. "I'm terribly homesick but don't know what sort of home I'm longing for." Amid the ambivalence of fear and desire, however, there is an unwavering compassion that blooms over the course of that spring. By the summer's end, nothing will be the same for Fia, Inuk, Arnaq, Ivik and Sara, but in Korneliussen's capable hands, the reader may find their courses gently turned toward home. This novel is an utter delight. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Slim and enchanting, Last Night in Nuuk explores the vibrant love lives of five young Greenlanders.

Black Cat/Grove, $16, paperback, 288p., 9780802128775

Watching You

by Lisa Jewell


"Dear diary, I think I'm in love with my English teacher."

With that opener, Lisa Jewell signals that Watching You will be unsettling, and when the prologue follows with a dead body in a pool of blood, this feeling is confirmed. The identity of the body is not revealed right away, as Jewell goes back three months to introduce all the characters in this twisty psychological drama.

Joey is a young newlywed who has just moved with her husband, Alfie, into her brother's house in Melville Heights, a ritzy section in Bristol, England. Jack insists both he and his wife, Rebecca, love having Joey and Alfie there. Joey isn't so sure, since Rebecca seems to avoid her.

Joey develops an instant case of lust for a neighbor, Tom, headmaster at the local school. He's married and has a teenage son, Freddie, who sits in the upstairs bedroom window and photographs his neighbors and people in the street.

At Tom's school is a student named Jenna who suspects she's crossed paths with him somewhere else, years before he came to run her school. But where? And does her best friend, Bess, have a crush on him?

Watching You can be applied to all these people, who are all obsessed with someone. Jewell excels in creating complex characters, building tension and keeping readers in the dark yet riveted until the "Aha!" moments. Some situations don't end well, but this thriller unfolds and concludes in a very satisfying way. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Neighbors in a posh Bristol, England, neighborhood are fixated on one another for different reasons, one being murderous intent.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781501190070

Mouthful of Birds

by Samanta Schweblin


This collection of short stories from award-winning Argentine author Samanta Schweblin burrows into the mind and sets up camp, like an itch that can't quite be reached. In the deeply strange "Preserves," a frightened and overwhelmed expectant mother undergoes a mysterious treatment to reverse her pregnancy and spits her unborn child--"the size of an almond"--into a preservation jar for safekeeping, until the time is right. In "My Brother Walter," a depressed man appears to be in a parasitic relationship with his relentlessly happy and successful family. And in the title story, "Mouthful of Birds," a father's unconditional love for his child is tested by her monstrous appetites.

These stories operate with the absurd logic of particularly dark fairy tales. They are bizarre, disturbing and electrifying. There is some variation in quality; "Butterflies" is a bit obvious, "The Digger" is far less so. But, as a whole, the collection is unquestionably brilliant. Most striking are the stories about families, exploring the prismatic ways that parents make sacrifices for their children and damage them. It should be said, however, that this collection is not for everyone. These stories are unsettling and demanding, requiring readers have an open mind and an expansive imagination. Schweblin's writing is strategically vague, challenging the reader to engage on a deeper level. Like a literary Rorschach test, it presents an image but does not dictate its meaning. Reading this book is work, but if you're up for it, Mouthful of Birds is not to be missed. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: A darkly brilliant Argentine author delivers a psychedelic collection of short stories.

Riverhead, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9780399184628

Looker

by Laura Sims


Tense, twisted and briskly paced, poet Laura Sims's debut novel, Looker, is the progressively disturbing story of one woman's grief-fueled spiral downward to an irredeemable rock bottom. The unnamed narrator's marriage and her finances have recently collapsed under the strain of years of unsuccessful fertility treatments. She lives alone with her ex-husband's cat, and she spends most of her time smoking on the stoop outside her New York City apartment building.

Soon her heartbreak curdles into resentment and self-loathing, a poison that warps her judgment and slowly narrows her vision to one obsessive, laser-focused point. That point is her neighbor, a beautiful, very famous actress with a handsome husband, three adorable children and a gorgeous home into which the narrator has a direct view.

To the narrator, the actress appears blessed and untouchable, her life almost grotesque in its apparent perfection. The narrator, whose life is becoming disastrously unstable, develops a frantic and obsessive desire to make an impression on the actress. Her obsession, already a bit hostile, takes a destructive turn, and by the novel's last pages, the narrator's desires for connection and friendship have warped into delusional fantasies of trespass, violation and, eventually, something even darker.

Somewhat surprisingly, the most disturbing thing about Looker is the creeping sense of complicity that Sims engenders in the reader. She compels us to ask: Have we been deranged, predatory voyeurs into the actress's life--or into the narrator's? --Hannah Calkins, a writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

Discover: There's nothing innocent about "looking" in Looker, the insidiously unsettling story of a woman obsessed with her celebrity neighbor.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 192p., 9781501199110

Fast Friends

by Jill Mansell


Jill Mansell (Open House, The Unexpected Consequences of Love) has been a reader favorite in England for decades, and in that time she has built a strong American audience as well. Now her 1991 novel Fast Friends is being published in the U.S. for the first time. Camilla Stewart, Loulou Marks and Roz Vallander initially met at school. Fast-forward nearly 20 years, however, and Loulou owns an extremely trendy wine bar, Roz is a popular TV presenter and poor Camilla is a frumpy mum.

After a chance encounter with Roz at Harrods department store, Camilla spontaneously decides to invite her old friends for a dinner party. She is thrilled to show off her famous friends--until she discovers that not only has her husband, Jack, been having an affair, but he's been having an affair with Roz.

Loulou consoles a shell-shocked Camilla, encouraging her to live a little. And to her surprise, Camilla discovers that life can be fun, when not under the thumb of a selfish husband.

Aptly capturing the complicated nuances of long-term friendships among women, Fast Friends explores the lives of all three characters: Camilla's transformation, the loneliness Roz hides beneath her posh, pristine exterior and Loulou's dissatisfaction with the thorny state of her love life. Throw in some paparazzi, a rock star and a championship golfer, and the friends' personal problems are suddenly even more involved. Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella or Marian Keyes, Fast Friends is engaging and entertaining. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: After discovering her husband's affair, a woman sets out to remake herself, with the help (and hindrance) of two lifelong friends.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99, paperback, 496p., 9781492632368

In Dog We Trust

by Beth Kendrick


Beth Kendrick (Once Upon a Wine, Cure for the Common Breakup) returns to Black Dog Bay, a fictional seaside town in Delaware that's become a refuge to the broken-hearted and romantically challenged over four previous novels. This installment features 27-year-old Jocelyn Hilliard, who runs a linen and laundry service for area condos and rental units with her mother and wise-cracking best friend, Bree. Jocelyn has her life upended when she rescues a dog from a busy street and, as a result, is offered a job caring for and walking a pack of Labrador retrievers--pedigreed, pampered, future world champion show dogs--who are owned by rich curmudgeon Peter Allardyce.

When the elderly Mr. Allardyce dies several months later, his will surprisingly appoints Jocelyn as the guardian and trustee for the beloved Labs. He also names her as financial fiduciary of the trust and benefactor of his lavish beach house mansion. The news leaves those in Allardyce's circle up in arms--including highfalutin show-dog trainer Lois and Liam, Allardyce's estranged son. Both feel they are more deserving and far better trustee candidates than Jocelyn. Thus begins a tangled legal battle that tests Jocelyn's patience and her judgments of people, while also forging her strength and resolve on the road to finding true love.

Kendrick's breezy style and quick wit enliven more serious themes centered on family, love, work, class differences and the universal human need for love and forgiveness. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A part-time dog walker's life is dramatically changed when she's named trustee and legal guardian for a pack of pampered Labrador retrievers.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 336p., 9780399584251

Mystery & Thriller

Golden State

by Ben H. Winters


Ben H. Winters (Underground Airlines and The Last Policeman) sets Golden State in an alternate or possibly future society where the state of California has become a separate nation known as the Golden State. The rest of the former United States has undergone an unknown disaster, seemingly related to the spread of misinformation and the erosion of objective truth. In response, the Golden State has instituted constant surveillance and rigid adherence to collectively understood facts referred to as Objectively So.

Protagonist Laszlo Ratesic is a veteran Speculator, a type of law enforcement officer committed to prosecuting lies and untruths in all their forms. His emotional life belies his professional success; he struggles with feelings he still holds for his ex-wife, and he lives in the shadow of his brother, a genius Speculator killed in the line of duty. When Ratesic is assigned a young, talented partner, he finds himself shaken out of his lonely routine and on the trail of a suspicious death that leads to a larger conspiracy.

In many ways, Golden State is a reflection on contemporary preoccupations about fake news and alternative facts. However, its downsides are readily apparent. Any form of fiction or untruth, no matter how minor, is proscribed, including the utterances of the mentally ill.

Winters is an expert at combining social commentary with gripping mystery plots, and the novel never slows down enough to be accused of didacticism. Even as Ratesic's faith in his society erodes, it remains a provocative and compelling alternative to the uncertainty that can seem to undergird modern life. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Golden State sets its satisfying mystery plot in a speculative version of California where falsehoods are considered the greatest threat to public safety.

Mulholland Books, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9780316505413

The Collector

by Fiona Cummins


The Collector by Fiona Cummins contains the perfect blend of ingredients to make it a creepy, compelling thriller. Creepy is the operative word here. Cummins brings together a disparate group of people, their paths crisscrossing in unexpected and often shocking ways.

Etta Fitzroy is a young detective with a secret and a reputation for doing things her own way. She finds herself in the thick of a reopened case: a convicted serial killer named Brian Howley, known as "the bone collector," has escaped. Racing against the clock, Fitzroy must rescue a young girl before she becomes Howley's next victim.

Determined to outwit her and continue his macabre pastime of collecting unusual skeletons, Howley leads Fitzroy on a dangerous chase that could cost her everything. The action takes place on the Essex coast in southeast England, where long stretches of windy beaches, isolated farms and bad weather provide the perfect backdrop for his evil plans.

The Collector is a sequel to Cummins's debut, Rattle, but it can easily be enjoyed as a standalone thriller. Cummins is meticulous in setting the scene so that readers who are new to her work will have no trouble picking up where Rattle left off. The Collector packs a powerful punch. In the spirit of the best types of spine-chillers, this one will stay with you long after you go to bed. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A fast-moving psychological thriller by a British author with a penchant for complicated psychopaths.

Pinnacle, $9.99, mass market paperbound, 432p., 9780786042609

No Sunscreen for the Dead

by Tim Dorsey


Tim Dorsey's (The Pope of Palm Beach) popular character Serge Storms is back in the wickedly funny No Sunscreen for the Dead. This time, genial psychopath Serge and his perpetually stoned sidekick, Coleman, are in Florida looking for senior citizens "only observed in the wild on a single tiny piece of land"--or, to be precise, in a certain infamous retirement village in central Florida.

Serge and Coleman become honorary members of this retirement community and feel protective of their new friends. When Serge hears that shady businessmen prey on vulnerable retirees, he immediately takes action. First he tries politeness: "I'm asking for a good-faith refund. Believe me, this is as polite as it gets." When that doesn't work, salesmen selling unnecessary appliances and caretakers who are less than caring all meet inglorious (and outrageously gruesome) ends.

Multiple story lines collide with Serge's avenging mission. A retired navy veteran becomes reacquainted with his counterculture friend from the '60s, revealing a spy vs. spy story with far-reaching repercussions. A data analyst runs for his life after discovering suspicious data requests from a mysterious client. Government privacy violations, counter-espionage work and Serge's altruistic revenge killings ultimately converge, neatly and uproariously tying up all seemingly coincidental mysteries--satisfying everyone involved. As Coleman observes, "Nobody's ever thanked God for us before." Those who enjoy Carl Hiaasen will find this book an entertaining introduction to Serge Storm's adventures, and long-time fans will welcome the 22nd addition to the series. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Serge Storms and his partner Coleman visit one of the largest retirement communities in the country, where they become enmeshed in a variety of murders and mysteries.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062795885

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Kingdom of Copper

by S.A. Chakraborty


S.A. Chakraborty returns to her Middle Eastern fantasy world in a sprawling epic sequel rife with secrets and political tension. Five years have passed since the events of The City of Brass. Nahri of the ruling family in the magical city of Daevabad practices as a healer, but she has lost everything she loved. She still longs for the human world and her home city of Cairo. Her arranged marriage has united her family with the usurpers who stole their throne, but the union has brought them no joy. Her brother-in-law and former friend Prince Alizayd fled into exile and probable death after betraying her and slaying the man she loved, the djinn warrior Dara. But when Alizayd returns to Daevabad, not only alive but happy with his new life in a desert settlement, a swirl of political factions surface and come into conflict.

Chakraborty is master of her world, unafraid to play with cultural and class conflicts. Intricately plotted, The Kingdom of Copper follows a younger generation struggling against the machinations of their elders to improve the lives of their people. Nahri and Alizayd have matured into leaders willing to take risks, such as founding a hospital that will treat patients across racial divides, but they face insidious resistance.

Readers new to Chakraborty's work should begin with The City of Brass or, at a minimum, study the included glossary and maps. Political maneuvers, attempted assassinations and violent skirmishes build to a cliffhanger ending that leaves little room for a happily ever after in the next installment, though with Chakraborty's magic touch, anything is possible. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this riveting sequel set five years after The City of Brass, Nahri and Alizayd are caught in a collision course of political forces.

Harper Voyager, $26.99, hardcover, 640p., 9780062678133

Children's & Young Adult

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins

by Michelle Meadows, illus. by Ebony Glenn


In steady, simple verse, Michelle Meadows (Super Bugs) tells the story of Janet Collins, "the first African American prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera House." Opening with a beaming, young Janet, the text introduces the reader to the dancer: "This is the girl/ who danced in the breeze." Her family supported her desire to dance and her mother made costumes to pay for lessons. But "this is the time,/ way back in the day,/ when dance schools turned/ black students away." Janet persevered. She found private trainers and, when she was told she could not dance professionally, she danced anyway, learning from trailblazers like Carmelita Maracci, Lester Horton and Katherine Dunham. By the time she was hired by the Metropolitan, she was already a "versatile, award-winning performer."

Writing in verse is no easy task, and Meadows's text almost never stumbles, keeping metronomic time with Ebony Glenn's illustrations of soaring, spinning Janet. Glenn's (Mommy's Khimar) digital art is full of movement, the dancers sketched in long, sinuous lines, the earth-toned shades of their clothing blending out into the background as they move. Where the other dancers wear whites and pinks, Janet's clothing pops in bold reds and yellows and elegant black, always keeping her, her struggle and her talent the focal point. And when the verse does not make the full story clear (such as when "the dancer/ who found her way in... learned she would/ have to lighten her skin"), an author's note gives detail, rounding out Janet's incredible story. (Janet "could only join the Ballet Russe on the condition that she paint her skin white." She refused.) An enchanting biography. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This picture book biography in verse tells young readers about Janet Collins, the Metropolitan Opera House's first African American prima ballerina.

Holt, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781250127730

The Me I Meant to Be

by Sophie Jordan


Best friends Willa and Flor are strong believers in girl code: "Never date a friend's ex or a guy your friend is really into." But when 17-year-old Willa finds herself in a "freak collision of lips and hormones" with her crush--who happens to be Flor's ex--it makes her wonder: Isn't it okay to break the rules sometimes?

With narration from both Willa's and Flor's perspectives, readers are privy to all the steamy make-out sessions, raging parties and reputation-damaging rumors in The Me I Meant to Be. Willa, Flor and their friend Jenna create the "Official Guide to Girl Code," a manual to "make girls think twice before they betray their friends." This superficial guidebook sniffs out traitors but also paves the way for larger discussions about sexuality, slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

At first glance The Me I Meant to Be looks like it could be a fluffy romance filled with typical drama, but upon closer inspection it's much richer than that. Sophie Jordan (Reign of Shadows) turns a story about high school love, friendship and betrayal into something deep and meaningful. She makes profound statements about empowering women ("Slut-shaming and tearing another girl down hurts all of us") and being true to oneself ("Real life begins when we're free to be ourselves"). A satisfying read for both diehard and casual romance fans. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: In this fast-paced contemporary romance, best friends tackle high school drama while trying to discover their own girl power.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781328977069

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