Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 26, 2019

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

From My Shelf

Let's Rethink That

While cold, dark winter days are gradually lengthening into spring, the state of our minds can be another story. Seasonal affective disorder can put us in a funk and swirl into more serious forms of depression. Dr. Faith G. Harper offers insight and advice on a broad survey of depressive states in This Is Your Brain on Depression (Microcosm, $9.95), beginning bluntly, "Depression is a MOTHERF*CKER."

Although Harper isn't exactly sanctimonious about language, her fabulous expertise on mental health makes this tiny book jam-packed with empathetic encouragement. Ever feel like your attempts at getting out of depression just aren't cutting it? Well: "This is because depression, along with being a motherf*cker, lies like a politician trying to convince you that drilling for oil in a national park is a good idea."

She's also great with life advice in general. Unf*ck Your Adulting (Microcosm, $9.95) expounds on key interpersonal skills like "Don't Be a Dick," "Forgive the People Who Don't Get It," "Stop Comparing Your Insides to Other People's Outsides" and "Don't Presume Other People's Intent."

Sure, some of this stuff isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it bears repeating. The brilliant essayist Kristin Dombek dives deep into our cultural obsession with narcissism in The Selfishness of Others (FSG, $13). By focusing on the fear of narcissism, she unravels the ease with which we assign malice to the actions of others while claiming victimhood. It's a provocative book-length essay that subverts a wild social trend, and I continue to reread it for Dombek's unpretentious wisdom.

In fact, I've benefited a lot from rethinking my knee-jerk presumptions about others. It's rather refreshing. But Harper says it best: "Dude. One thing I can promise you... no one is thinking about you nearly as much as you are worried they are." What a relief!

--Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Jordanna Max Brodsky:The Complexities of Gender

photo: Ben Arons

Jordanna Max Brodsky hails from Virginia, where she made it through a science and technology high school by pretending it was a theater conservatory. She holds a degree in history and literature from Harvard University and is the author of the Olympus Bound trilogy and The Wolf in the Whale (Redhook, $15.99), which is reviewed below. Brodsky lives with her husband in Manhattan, where she is working on her next novel.

The Wolf in the Whale is a complex, epic novel. What was your process for writing something this grand in scale?

I can't even tell you how long this book took because I literally don't know. It was the first book I ever started to write, which at the time was like, "What am I doing? This is an incredibly hard book to write." But the story just grabbed hold of me, so I spent time researching and writing. And it was the first book I brought to my agent, who was interested, but said, "You know what, this is a very strange book, so do you have any other ideas?" And I told her about my idea for The Immortals (Book 1 of the Olympus Bound trilogy). She said, "Well, that one's an easier sell. Why don't you work on that one?" And so I did; I finished that trilogy and then came back to this book. At that point, I did a lot more editing, rewriting, researching, travel, all the rest of it before it was finally done. So, it's been over 10 years on and off with a big break in the middle.

Part of your process also includes very hands-on research. Why is that so important to you?

It always adds a richness that you can't quite get any other way. Certainly in terms of going up to the Nunavut Territory in northern Canada (where the book is set) and speaking with Inuit folk up there, it was the least I could do. To tell a story inspired by their culture, I felt like it was obligatory to do my best to engage as much as possible with the modern community. Even though this story is set a thousand years ago, it's definitely still their history, their past. I would have preferred to go up there and live for two years.

Plus, there's the actual experiences. I had written the Northern Lights scene in the book long before I ever went up to Nunavut--before I'd ever seen the Northern Lights in person. I'd watched a million videos, seen a million photographs. You feel like, "how different could it really be in person? Surely you can write it without going up there." And I did, I wrote it originally without having been there. Then, when I was actually standing there under the Northern Lights, the whole thing was completely different. I knew the Inuit legend that the Northern Lights are the ancestors of the dead playing kickball games in the sky. But I didn't really get it until I was standing there looking at the sky, and saw these flashes of orange and purple kind of coming toward me with these green shadows. And then, all of a sudden, that's when I saw this stripe of green slither cross the sky and it was my husband who turned to me and said, "It looks like a snake." And I thought, "oh my God, that's the world serpent." And so all those moments, all those details in that scene come from having experienced it myself.

In all of your books, gender plays a very prominent role. What were your goals with Omat, who in the ancient Inuit culture is believed to be a female possessing the soul of a male?

The challenge here was to try to present an understanding of gender and of gender roles that's extremely different from our own modern conceptions--and I think very different from modern Inuit conceptions as well. This is not a practice, as far as I know, that's still done in modern Inuit culture. But it was one that did exist pre-Christianity in certain locations and among certain communities.

I can see it even as different reviewers start to write about the book. They're struggling with how to talk about the idea of gender and should they use our modern transgender conventions, which is not my intention in this book. Omat is not what we today call transgender--it's a very different sort of thing. Although I think that's the beauty of it. There are all these different varieties of what gender means. Part of the struggle, I think, is in Inuit language there are no gender pronouns--there's no he or she. (I had to use these pronouns, otherwise I felt like the book would have been extremely confusing for modern readers. But again, they wouldn't have.)

Yet they have a society that is so gendered.

Yes. Different rules, different taboos for different genders, and yet there exist these people who are able to transcend that due to their birth.

Are there any other realms of history and mythology on your radar for the future?

I studied American history and literature in college, and that's really my first love. My next project is an American historical fiction book set during the Civil War. It will actually not have a mythological component for once. I'm taking a little bit of a step back from mythology and delving a little more into history, although issues of gender and gender relations and what it means to be a woman in different ages, that is still going to be a major theme of the book. Some of my favorite themes I just can't get away from. But when dealing with the American Civil War, I tend to believe that the reality of it is complex enough and important enough that there is no need to bring in any fantastical elements. As fun as it is to have Abraham Lincoln be a vampire hunter, I prefer to remember Southern slave owners didn't have supernatural causes to enslave Africans. There were plenty of human reasons to be evil and immoral and I don't think we should give people a pass by making them supernatural monsters. --Jen Forbus

Book Candy

Dating Advice from Literary Characters

"Literary characters give dating advice," shared by Quirk Books.


The New York Public Library offered a "brief history of the romance novel."


"American parents say their children have started speaking with British accents" because of the cartoon show Peppa Pig (which has also inspired several books), the Evening Standard reported.


"Reading Proust is like climbing a mountain -- prepare accordingly," Electric Lit advised.


French designer Sylvie Facon "uses the spines of books to create extraordinary dresses," Thinking Humanity noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Green Book

This is a stunning week for films called Green Book. One is the winner of the best picture Oscar and several other awards Sunday night. The other is The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, a documentary about the series of books published annually by Harlem postal carrier Victor H. Green between 1936 and 1966. (The Oscar-winning movie is primarily about the relationship between a celebrated black pianist and his white driver on a trip through the South, during which they use the book as a reference.) Those books, called The Negro Motorist Green Book, which the documentary calls "part travel guide and part survival guide," offered listings of hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses, many black-owned, that black travelers could use in the segregated South as well as features about car travel, new car models and more.

Directed and written by Yoruba Richen (The New Black), the documentary is airing this week on the Smithsonian Channel. It includes archival material such as home movies from black families who relied on The Negro Motorist Green Book for planning travel as well as commentary about the era from travelers. The documentary also provides a context for the series--and why it was so important in the Jim Crow era.

In recent years, About Comics published several facsimile versions of The Negro Motorist Green Book, and last month it issued The Negro Motorist Green Book Compendium ($19.99, 9781949996067), which collects the full 1938, 1947, 1954 and 1963 editions and includes a preface by Nat Gertler, founder and publisher of About Comics.

Book Review


The Object of Your Affections

by Falguni Kothari

The Object of Your Affections by Falguni Kothari tenderly and fearlessly examines dilemmas at the heart of motherhood: the loss of freedom and control, the expectations of society and the compromises demanded of all successful relationships.

Outspoken, ambitious Paris is an assistant district attorney in Manhattan with a strong aversion to motherhood. Her Scottish Indian husband, Neal, a world-famous jewelry designer, adores children. Conflicted over her maternal reluctance but eager to start a family for Neal's sake, Paris decides that surrogacy is their best option. The trouble is, who can she trust to carry their precious baby?

Shy, conservative Naira is an interior designer from a traditional Mumbai family. Friends since they attended New York University together, Naira and Paris reconnect after widowed Naira moves to New York City. As the two become closer and Neal helps Naira to get on her feet professionally, it occurs to Paris that her college friend would make a perfect surrogate. What could go wrong?

Kothari (My Last Love Story) has a fondness for intriguing love triangles that blur conventional lines. Fascinated by the complexities inherent in Paris's life-altering decision, Kothari explores the impact of surrogacy on friendship and marriage, and the additional stigma of surrogacy in traditional Indian society. On a lighter note, Neal's sexy Scottish accent and the backdrop of glittering Manhattan add cosmopolitan appeal to this compelling drama. The Object of Your Affections is a perfect read for fans of messy love stories, Indian style. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: Two friends in New York decide to go down the road of gestational surrogacy, with life-changing consequences for them both.

Graydon House/Harlequin, $16.99, paperback, 368p., 9781525823534

The Huntress

by Kate Quinn

In the aftermath of the Nuremberg trials, most people want to move on from World War II stories. But British journalist Ian Graham, who lost his brother, Sebastian, in the war, has given up writing to spend his life hunting down Nazi criminals. Ian and his business partner, Tony, join forces with Ian's estranged Russian wife, Nina Markova, in a quest to track down Seb's murderer, a woman known as die Jägerin: the HuntressKate Quinn's gripping novel follows the trio as their story intersects with that of Jordan McBride, a young aspiring photographer in Boston, and her stepmother, Anneliese, whom Jordan suspects isn't telling the whole truth about her past.

Building on her success with The Alice Network, Quinn constructs three intertwining narratives: Ian's no-nonsense investigative work (which keeps getting inconveniently hijacked by his emotions); Jordan's hunger to follow her passion for photography and to figure out what Anneliese is hiding; and Nina's journey from her half-feral childhood on the banks of an isolated lake in Siberia to her career as a decorated Soviet pilot. Nina's story, based on the real-life flying exploits of female aviators during the war, is by far the most dramatic. Fiercely independent, mistrustful of others and completely in love with her plane, Rusalka, Nina becomes an opponent worthy of the titular huntress.

While readers may guess the huntress's identity long before Ian and his team can prove it, Quinn's narrative is full of suspense. Expertly plotted, with questions of justice at its center, The Huntress is a dark, riveting account of war, revenge and deep human compassion in the face of both. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Kate Quinn's gripping novel follows a British journalist and his estranged wife on a quest to track down a Nazi murderer.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 560p., 9780062884343

The Wolf in the Whale

by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Moving from modern-day Manhattan to the icy arctic of second-century Northern Canada, Jordanna Max Brodsky tells the epic tale of an Inuit girl born with the soul of a man. Omat's destiny is decided the night her widowed mother dies while giving birth to her. The Inuit believe a baby comes into the world with the soul of an ancestor, and Omat's is her brave hunter father. That soul, combined with the spirit of a wolf, means she is destined to succeed her grandfather and lead her tribe as their angakkuit, or shaman.

However, Omat's tribe is isolated in the frozen wilderness, and their food supplies are dwindling. They are slowly starving with no help in sight. When Omat's tribe encounters another nomadic Inuit group, they celebrate, hoping their newfound friends will help things change for the better. In reality they bring deception and evil, then carry Omat away, where she ultimately encounters a band of Viking warriors and even greater consequences. All along her journey, Omat fights for her survival and the survival of her tribe, putting to the test the true strength of both her body and soul. 

Brodsky's examination of gender and gender roles in the ancient Inuit tribe is dynamic and layered, challenging readers' traditional conceptions of male and female. Likewise, the human relationship with nature is dissected through the tribe's taboos, their rituals and the way they live. Meticulously researched to bring the audience as close to her magical realm as possible, The Wolf in the Whale is suspenseful, engaging and thought-provoking. --Jen Forbus

Discover: An Inuit shaman must invoke her brave, hunter soul to save her people from the harsh realities of nature, the evil of man and the power of the gods.

Redhook, $15.99, paperback, 560p., 9780316417150

That Time I Loved You: Stories

by Carrianne Leung

The 10 stories in Carrianne Leung's collection, That Time I Loved You, all take place in the same sparkling new subdivision outside Toronto. The subdivision is composed of parallel and perpendicular streets that make neat square blocks. The houses are "almost carbon copies of each other," divided by fences on which adults leaned to discuss the suicides of 1979: Mr. Finley, a local softball coach; Mrs. Da Silva, who spoke to flowers; Janine Bevis, the woman who'd seemed so happy; Larry Lem's father, who was terrible to Larry Lem.

The suicides thread through each story, sometimes subtly and sometimes front and center, giving the collection a backdrop that reveals the messes and imperfections hidden away behind the outwardly perfect suburban façade of each perfect block. In "Fences," a childless housewife finds herself drawn to the stay-at-home dad next door. Middle school-aged June, daughter of Chinese immigrants, observes the racism and fear packed into her small neighborhood's world in "Grass," and again in "Sweets." The neighbors discover a magpie-like thief in their midst in "Treasure."

Though each story in That Time I Loved You can stand alone, they are cleverly interconnected. Secondary characters become primary ones; events alluded to in one story are fully explained in another; a child's interpretation of a strange occurrence is retold through adult eyes later on. The effect mirrors subtly yet precisely the feeling of living in a close suburban neighborhood: that of lives stacked atop one another, entirely separate and walled off and yet closely intertwined by both proximity and culture. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A collection of interconnected short stories explores the darker side of a shiny new 1970s suburban neighborhood outside Toronto.

Liveright, $24.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781631495526

Tacoma Stories

by Richard Wiley

An eclectic assortment of dive bar owners, staff and patrons constitute "sixteen characters in search of a play on St. Patrick's Day, 1968" in the opening of Richard Wiley's Tacoma Stories. Following its heyday, Pat's Tavern is coasting into oblivion in Tacoma, Wash. The 13 stories that follow the introductory installment, "Your Life Should Have Meaning on the Day You Die," examine the lives of the players as they branch into the acts of their lives between 1958 and 2012.

One woman, daughter of two famous parents, visits Tacoma because "it's comfortable, it's beautiful, and it leaves me alone," wondering if a town can replace people and "hedge against the unabated loneliness of the human heart." Although place infuses Wiley's stories, it's the longing and wounded hearts that give them full color.

The search for meaning and connection is a common thread. In "The Man Who Looks at the Floor," retired spy Jonathan can't leave his spook days behind, enlisting his wife to be a "mole" and befriend a suspicious disfigured man. When Millie takes to the stranger, Jonathan begins to understand he's been paying attention to the wrong people all along. In "The Dancing Cobra," Wiley uses an accidentally misappropriated vibrator with humorous and touching effect to explore the relationships of several teens and adults.

Winner of the PEN/​Faulkner Award for Best American Fiction (Soldiers in Hiding), Wiley shines in the short form, absorbing the reader in slices of one town and its inhabitants while rendering them universal. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The loves, losses and longings of 16 individuals sitting in a local bar on St. Patrick's Day in 1968 are explored over 13 stories spanning 50 years.

Bellevue Literary Press, $16.99, paperback, 272p., 9781942658542

Biography & Memoir

Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes)

by Boris Fishman

It starts with the bread: a dark sourdough rye called Borodinsky. Then tins of fish. Cucumbers. Meat stewed until it falls off the bone, its original shape mere suggestion. Cold vodka or a fiery shot of Metaxa.

These are some of the many flavors of Boris Fishman's life, which he shares in his vibrant Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (A Memoir with Recipes). "Some people don't leave home without umbrellas or condoms," Fishman writes, "mine, without food."

Fishman (Don't Let My Baby Do RodeoA Replacement Life) often tackles Jewish identity and displacement in his fiction. In Savage Feast, he addresses his family's emigration from Soviet Belarus in the long shadow of the Holocaust. The decision to leave is a heavy one, plagued by the risk of being denied permission and branded "refuseniks." But in 1988, when Fishman is nine, the family makes it to the United States.

In the new country, comfort comes from the familiar--flavors in particular. The family remains tightly knit, spoiling only-child Fishman with bountiful food, love and expectations even once he's an adult. It's easy to feel at home in Fishman's writing; it's warm, reflective and frequently funny. Even more than a story of hunger, this is a story of love. Love of family and companionship. Love of romance and lore. Love of garlic, fish and the feeling of finally learning to identify and satisfy the simple but crucial loves for which everyone hungers. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This rich food memoir will linger long after the book has been closed or the last of the dishes within have been served.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062867896


by Isaac Mizrahi

Reading iconic fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi's witty and disarmingly candid memoir is like sitting down with a smart, warm and opinionated friend who effortlessly captivates with tales of triumphs, failures and perseverance. Mizrahi begins his memoir as a pudgy and insecure gay boy growing up in a Syrian Jewish Orthodox family in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I've always identified more as a woman than anything," writes Mizrahi, "and if times were different I might have chosen to become a female in appearance; in a lot of ways I operated in the family like a third daughter more than an only son." After eight years at a yeshiva school, Mizrahi was accepted at a Manhattan performing arts high school and began to bloom.

At 15, he launched his own fashion line, creating clothing so outrageous that the outfits gained him and his teenaged friends entrance to the notoriously exclusive dance club Studio 54. During these years, he writes, "The gay culture in that world nourished me in some ways and fed my self-loathing in others." The workload of designing also hindered his sex life. "One traded one's sex life for a life of fashion servitude," he writes. "We were referred to as 'Fashion Nuns.' " Then, his friends and coworkers began dying from a mysterious new disease called AIDS.

There's plenty of star-studded gossip and insider information (he and Sandra Bernhard considered having a child together). But mostly I.M. is a heartfelt and inspiring memoir told with candor and style. It'll be catnip for book clubs. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Isaac Mizrahi's candid, witty and stylish memoir mixes gossip and heartfelt tales of overcoming long-held insecurities.

Flatiron Books, $28.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250074089


Women Warriors: An Unexpected History

by Pamela D. Toler

With Women Warriors, Pamela Toler (The Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War) reveals a history many readers will meet with surprise as well as fascination. It is a broad examination that spans from the second millennium BCE through the present, and across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Toler details dozens of examples, from the better-known (Matilda of Tuscany, Njinga, Begum Sahib and, of course, Joan of Arc) to the obscure (Ani Pachen, Mawiyya, Bouboulina), in two- or three-page summaries. Plentiful footnotes serve an important role, too, and have a certain wry humor. For instance, Toler repeatedly and impatiently points out the tendency to compliment women as behaving like men and to denigrate men as behaving like women (a habit consistent throughout history and common to women as well as men).

Double standards are likewise emphasized, as in the way historians and archeologists have examined evidence. For example, the grave known as the "Birka man," from 834 CE, had long been considered that of a male because of the martial burial items found with him. In 2014, a bioarcheologist determined that the bones were actually that of a female. Despite follow-up DNA testing, scholars, archeologists and historians continue to argue about the identification of the Birka woman. As Toler points out, the scholarly contortions now employed to deny her status as a warrior were never mentioned while her skeleton was assumed to be that of a male.

With such copious content, Toler has been careful to keep her book a manageable length. At just over 200 pages, Women Warriors is an easy entry into an expansive topic. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This entertaining and informative history of women warriors briskly covers huge swathes of time and place.

Beacon Press, $27.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780807064320

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing ticks all the boxes of an extraordinary work of nonfiction. This particular story of the political and nationalist conflict in Ireland (the Troubles) highlights a handful of spellbinding individuals whose actions changed the course of Irish history. Through meticulous reporting captivatingly relayed by investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing offers a thrilling history lesson told through the lens of an unsolved mystery.

Murders were part and parcel of the Troubles, with more than 3,500 killed between the late 1960s and '90s. But only 16 were "disappeared"--abducted, murdered and secretly buried. Among them was Jean McConville, a 38-year-old mother of 10 when a gang of masked intruders took her from her home in Belfast in 1972. It took 30 years to recover Jean's remains.

The hows and whys of her death are spun through decades of violence, jailbreaks, movie star romance, former-felon politicians, hunger strikes, double- and triple-agents of the IRA and British police. Most incredibly, a secret cache of IRA confessionals lies waiting in the special Treasure Room enclosure of a Boston College library. Truth is undoubtedly stranger than fiction.

Any retelling of the Troubles worth its salt is necessarily lengthy and complex. By sandwiching it between arcs on the Treasure Room, the mystery of Jean McConville and how all the secrets came unraveled, Keefe breathes new life into history. As evidenced by the nearly 100 pages of notes and secondary sources, this was no small feat. Keefe's work is both anguishing and triumphant. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A riveting retelling of the Troubles through the 30-year mystery of the abduction and presumed murder of a young Irish mother.

Doubleday, $28.95, hardcover, 464p., 9780385521314

Parenting & Family

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos

by Lucy Knisley

Life--and the love and absurdities therein--has proved fertile ground for acclaimed author-illustrator Lucy Knisley (Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride). In five published graphic novels, Knisley has turned her "pen inward to map the shifting tectonic plates" of her life and find meaning, purpose and silver linings--even with the curve balls thrown her way.

She continues in this vein in Kid Gloves, which intimately documents the thoughts and discoveries she made in conceiving and carrying a child, while also outlining the many challenges that plagued her on the rocky road to motherhood. Knisley shares her teenage experiences volunteering for Planned Parenthood. In college, she began an odyssey to find the right method of birth control, a hormone-dispensing rod implanted under the skin. Years later, the device is removed when she and John set out to conceive a child.

The graphics that accompany the travails of her hellacious morning sickness--"exorcist levels of puke" and even frightening, "insane" dreams of Donald Trump--along with her difficult labor and the harrowing complications after the baby's delivery are vivid, profound and visually imaginative. Throughout the story, Knisley adds levity by presenting illustrated factoids, myths and research about women's reproductive health. These include how Emily Brontë died from pregnancy sickness, how sexism has affected women's lives for centuries, the rise of the women's movement, and pregnancy, miscarriage and "conception misconceptions."

Knisley is a lively storyteller, and the encapsulated charm of her graphics holds equal appeal. In both arenas, her inimitable style builds suspense and ultimately oozes with hopeful optimism. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An accomplished graphic novelist takes readers on an intimate journey through her pregnancy experiences, while exploring fun facts about women's reproductive health.

First Second/Macmillan, $19.99, paperback, 256p., 9781626728080

Children's & Young Adult

Soaring Earth

by Margarita Engle

In Soaring Earth, a companion to Margarita Engle's Pura Belpré Award-winning Enchanted Air (a poetic memoir about her early childhood), Engle recounts high school, her first failed experience in college and her eventual successful return.

Margarita dreams of travel, independence and someday returning to her mother's homeland in Cuba. Her wild heart longs for adventure and new lands but, "before [she] can finish college and become independent, [she has] to start high school." Cuban-American Margarita begins her freshman year at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1966 with the Vietnam War and troubled U.S.-Cuba relations in the background. As Margarita becomes politically active throughout high school and early adulthood, her wanderlust and yearning for the summers once spent with her Abuelita in Cuba grow stronger. U.S.-Cuban struggles, farmer's rights movements, anti-war activism and support for revolutions and counterrevolutions swirl around her, making Margarita wonder where she can possibly belong in such a complicated world. 

Soaring Earth is told in beautiful, brief poems. From Berkeley's tumultuous campus to a rat-filled apartment in New York, Margarita's thirst for adventure is strong and bold, even when she sees herself as anything but daring or courageous. By holding other characters at an arm's length, never naming with more than an initial, Engle keeps her narrative intimate, as though readers are viewing pages of her diary. Introspective and inquisitive, Soaring Earth traverses adolescence and early adulthood with grace, grit and unflinching realism. --Kyla Paterno, former YA and children's book buyer

Discover: Soaring Earth is the YA poetic memoir of a Cuban-American girl coming of age in the mid-1960s.

Atheneum, $18.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 12-up, 9781534429536

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee

by Jeff Zentner

Delia, whose father left when she was young, knows that she's unlikely ever to roam far from Jackson, Tenn.--even with three jobs between the two of them, she and her mom make just enough to squeak by. Delia plans to go to community college and keep filming her cable access TV program, Midnite Matinee, with best friend Josie, who has dreamed of working in TV since she "was old enough to remember." Even though she doesn't love the terrible scary movies that Delia adores, Josie enjoys playing Rayne Ravenscroft to Delia's Delilah Darkwood on their Elvira-style show. But Josie has been offered an internship at the Food Network, which would do more for her career than performing for an audience "too high to operate Netflix." When the girls are invited to a horror convention, Delia becomes convinced that Jack Devine, the producer of a famous horror/comedy show, can be talked into producing Midnite Matinee. The girls set off on a road trip that could make or break the show--and their friendship, too.

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee is a change for Zentner, whose The Serpent King and Goodbye Days featured teens in significantly more tragic situations. Josie and Delia are quirky, sometimes veering toward Manic Pixies, but since they and their internal lives are the focus, the trope is happily subverted. Throughout, Zentner keeps the spotlight firmly planted on his two female protagonists and their experiences growing up, creating a novel as funny as it is bittersweet. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Best friends Delia and Josie figure out their post-graduation plans as they work to make their cable access horror/comedy show flourish.

Crown, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9781524720209

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