Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 4, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Board Books: Making Things that Go

Tractors, jets, space shuttles... all come from engineers. And where do engineers come from? Babies, of course!

In Lori Alexander and Allison Black's Future Engineer (Cartwheel Books, $8.99), pre-readers ages 0-3 are told to "Flip a switch. Turn a gear" then asked, "could Baby be an engineer?" Engineers ask questions, want to know how things work and search for answers--so do babies! Adults of varying races and genders complete engineer-type tasks on the left-hand pages and babies of different genders and races take part in corresponding activities on the right: building blocks, asking questions (with a sock as a hat) and drawing on paper "and other places, too."

Some vehicles baby might someday help make are shown in One More Wheel! (Macmillan, $12.99) by Colleen AF Venable and Blythe Russo. To get babies into a wheel state of mind, the cover offers three wheels for baby to spin. Inside, a crocodile and a beaver begin to one-up one another, each riding out a vehicle that has "One MORE wheel" than the last. Eventually, the book displays a unicycle (1), racecar (6) and jet (7), it ends with "ALL THE WHEELS": a final page with a pull tab that extends to show a train carrying every vehicle previously displayed (roller skates and wheeled office chair included).

What else can engineers do? Create space shuttles and even go into space themselves. In Baby Astronaut by Laura Gehl and Daniel Wiseman (Harper Festival, $8.99), the title hero "flies way up high, above the clouds and into space." Once in space, she checks on science experiments, goes on space walks and sleeps strapped to a wall. "Night night, Baby Astronaut!"

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


The Writer's Life

Abi Daré: The Power of Haunting Questions

photo: Gazmadu

Abi Daré grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and has lived in the U.K. for 18 years. She studied law at the University of Wolverhampton and has an M.Sc. in International Project Management from Glasgow Caledonian University, as well as an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University of London. Her debut novel is The Girl with the Louding Voice (Dutton, $26; reviewed below). Daré lives in Essex with her husband and two daughters.

Can you talk a bit about the origins of The Girl with the Louding Voice?

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Nigeria where many families employed maids. These were mostly young girls, many of whom were sadly ill-treated and uneducated. As a child, I had questions I could not voice--why were some of these girls not allowed to sit at the dining table, or watch TV, or go to school? Why were they cooking and cleaning and serving families at such a young age? My questions, unanswered, followed me out of Nigeria and remained buried somewhere within me as I went about my life, settled in England and had my own family.

When my daughter turned eight, I recall asking her politely to help with some house chores. She responded with a series of moans and a barrage of excuses. I recall asking her a question that became a defining moment for this book: "Do you know that there are young girls like you probably working for families like mine in Nigeria?" At my daughter's shock, and keen interest as to why a girl of eight would be working as a maid, all the questions I'd had as a child resurfaced. That night, I started my research. I discovered that young girls were still being employed as maids, still suffering abuse. I came across a newspaper article: a 13-year-old had been scalded with boiling water by the woman who employed her. It wasn't just the horrific injuries that got to me. It was also the fact that the newspaper hid her face with a block of black ink.

They were trying to protect her identity. But it felt like a deliberate act to disconnect her from the world. It seemed to say: here is a nobody. An unknown. Another statistic to report. My conscience burned. I began to wonder, who is the maid in this article? Does she have a family? What are her hopes and dreams? The Girl with the Louding Voice was born out of my desire for answers. I wanted to tell her story. Most importantly, I wanted to do so in her own voice.

Tell us about how you discovered Adunni's voice. You set the tone with that first paragraph. Her sense of humor and her intelligence shine through so that you let readers see what a natural-born teacher she is.

I'd like to say that I planned her voice--and that I had an idea of exactly how she would sound, and what she would say, but Adunni's voice came to me in a moment following a period of slight desperation. I was due to visit my supervisor to discuss my MA dissertation. And while I had decided to write a book about a housemaid who lived in rural Nigeria, I had no clue of how to form my ideas and research into a story that was worth telling. I also needed to send him 3,000 words of my work in progress as a basis for any conversation. The evening before my deadline, in a state of utter panic, I sat down in front of my laptop and wondered what she would sound like--and then, I heard it. Her voice.

The first line of the book dropped into my spirit--and that was it. The rest of the book built upon that foundation and evolved from an infusion of a number of sources: Nigerian slangs, words from my then two-year-old who was just discovering how to speak, literal translations from Yoruba into English. I also drew inspiration from the many housemaids I encountered over the years, from listening to interviews and watching Nigerian movies, from reading excellent books that had been written in non-standard English.

Adunni needed to have a sense of humor and intelligence to balance out the heavy themes the book addresses--and I'd like to think that she demanded for it to be this way. I discovered a lot about her as I wrote. She felt like a living, breathing character who was sitting in front of me, arms crossed, deep frown on her face or sometimes laughter, demanding what would happen to her and how she would react. In many ways, she was and still is, a force unto herself.

Adunni faces so many setbacks--the loss of her mother, her father taking her out of school and then "selling" her to Morufu. How did you balance her sense of hope against these terrible odds?

Very early on in writing the book, as the struggles in Adunni's life started to unfold, it was absolutely important for her to have a sense of hope--and to hold on to that hope because it is who she is, and what I hope that every young girl who has suffered setbacks in life has, or will try to have. It is what I found as a writer, and what I hope my readers will find and connect to in her story. Adunni as a character is eternally optimistic, she believes in the ultimate good of all humans and this feeds into how she manages life. She has been taught by her mother that there is a lot of good in being good, and as she navigates one setback to another, she realizes that each is a stepping-stone to bring her closer to winning.

Adunni's mother tells her, "Your schooling is your voice, child." And Adunni wants "a louding voice." This is bittersweet, since Adunni's mother loved an educated man whose family rejected her because she was uneducated. Would you say education is valued in Nigeria today?

Nelson Mandela once said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." I couldn't agree more. Many Nigerian families value education so much that attaining a bachelor's degree in university is celebrated as a minimal achievement--an essential first step for many more degrees. Many jobs require extensive education over experience, with a master's degree as a minimum criterion. As there aren't enough jobs, it proves impossible to find a good job without an education. Education is also linked to social status--many families would refuse marriage on the basis of lack of education. It isn't uncommon to find people including their education achievements in their signatures as a way of signing off on e-mails and such correspondence.

Adunni's mother makes sure Iya, their elderly neighbor in the nearby village, always gets something to eat, and Iya finds a way to repay that kindness. Morufu's second wife, Khadija, and Adunni look out for each other. Yet when Adunni gets to Lagos, the wealthy women do not look out for each other; they compete with one another. Can you talk about that? Does money change the dynamic between women?

There is an obvious class divide in this story. The women in the village who are poor mainly look out for each other, and preserving that relationship is what matters most to them. As Adunni leaves the village and moves to Lagos, she experiences the widening chasm between the rich and the poor and cannot understand how both can co-exist in the same plane. The women in Big Madam's life are materialistic as a reflection of the choices [Big Madam] makes in her friendships. She is a competitive woman, striving to make more money, to stay married and have a successful home so that she can outshine her friends--and so she finds and keeps friends that feed on such things.

Yet even the wealthy women like Big Madam are second-class citizens to men--just like the women of Adunni's village.

In many parts of the world, women are marginalized. Nigeria is no exception. There is a common misplaced belief that the woman's place is either in the kitchen or in the bedroom. As [part of] a deeply patriarchal society, where there has historically been a lack of provision of adequate education and skills acquisition programs for the woman, starting from when she is a girl through to adulthood, I find that a woman struggles to become all that she wants. She ends up being wholly dependent on her husband or father or brothers, and her choices and dreams are thus relegated. Educating the girl child has untold advantages but once this opportunity is denied, or reduced, the woman and the world around her suffers. In any society where patriarchy is the order of the day, a woman like Big Madam--with her financial power and social standing--is not enough by herself. She needs the man to validate her existence.

Will there be another book about Adunni? You leave her in a hopeful place, but there's still so much to come in her life.

I would like to think that if Adunni wants to be written about again, she would barge her way back into my head and refuse to let go until I listen to her. I would certainly love to work on her again, but she calls the shots, so I'd wait patiently to hear from her.

--Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

How Classic Books Might Smell

"What should classic books smell like?" Electric Lit wondered.


Reese Witherspoon is hiring a librarian for her book club, Southern Living reported.


Mental Floss collected "20 memorable Virginia Woolf quotes."


Russia Beyond wondered: What would Dostoyevsky say on social media?


The Globetrekker bookcase "is inspired by an original trunk from 1914 that Timothy Oulton discovered at an antiques market," Bookshelf noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Mary Higgins Clark

"Queen of Suspense" Mary Higgins Clark died on Friday at age 92. In a career that lasted 45 years, she wrote 56 books, all bestsellers. They were mostly suspense novels, some written with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark and others with crime novelist Alafair Burke in the Under Suspicion series. She also published a memoir, Kitchen Privileges, and several children's books. More than 100 million copies of her books are in print in the U.S. alone. Clark acknowledged having a formula. Speaking with CNBC, she said once, "In my case, it's always a woman, a young woman. Smart, intelligent, and something happens. She's not on the wrong side of town at 4 in the morning. She's living her life and something crosses it. And by her own intelligence, she works her way out of it."

Clark's lifelong dream was to be a published writer, and after being widowed at age 37 with five children, she wrote at her kitchen table each morning before commuting into New York City for her job. Her writing career started in 1975, when she was nearly 50 and published Where Are the Children?. Among her best-known books are A Stranger Is Watching; The Cradle Will Fall; Loves Music, Loves to Dance; Let Me Call You Sweetheart; and Daddy's Gone A Hunting. Her most recent book, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry, appeared last November (Simon & Schuster, $26.99, 9781501171703). Last month, Shelf Awareness published a Reading With... column with her.

Book Review


The Girl with the Louding Voice

by Abi Daré

With her debut novel, The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré introduces Adunni, an unforgettable 14-year-old from the Nigerian village of Ikata, and her dream of becoming a teacher. Her recently deceased mother had told her, "Your schooling is your voice, child," and Adunni wants "a louding voice." But Papa cannot pay the community rent and sells his daughter to Morufu, the taxi driver, whose two other wives have not yet borne him a son.

Adunni's kindness and empathy toward others, in the face of such injustices, return to her, but it takes time. Morufu's first wife beats Adunni, but second wife Khadija befriends her. Khadija is pregnant; if this baby is not a boy, Morufu will kick her out. Adunni accompanies Khadija, she believes, to get medical help when the baby seems to be coming early. Instead, Adunni discovers en route that they are going to the village where the true father of Khadija's baby lives--a man who purportedly sires only sons. But Khadija dies of complications and Adunni fears she will be charged with murder, so she flees to the bustling city of Lagos to work for Big Madam, a wealthy woman who has made a fortune selling fabrics to the rich.

Through Adunni's narration, Daré explores the full scope of the young woman's widening world. Readers leave Adunni knowing that she has the intellectual resources and the guts to face whatever challenges she must in order to attain her goals. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A winning young narrator pursues her dream of education and leaves her small village for the bustling city of Lagos in Nigerian-born author Abi Daré's debut novel.

Dutton, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9781524746025

Small Days and Nights

by Tishani Doshi

A woman, spiritually and emotionally adrift, uncovers family secrets and struggles to find her purpose in the perceptive and graceful novel Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi (Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods). Grace Marisola, desperate to give up an unsatisfying life in the U.S., returns to her childhood home in India after her mother's death to find that she's acquired both a secret house and an unknown older sister. This shock leads Grace, who longed for siblings as a child, to realize that "it is perfectly possible to exist in the world without being aware that someone close to you, someone of your flesh and blood, is moving about in the same air as you." This image of people simultaneously nearby and remote, close and yet unknowable, recurs throughout.

Grace's mother secretly owned a house on isolated property near the sea in Madras. This is where she hoped one day to retire with her oldest daughter, Lucia, who was born with Down syndrome and was moved to a residential facility as an infant. Her mother left no information behind, and Grace can barely process this news. Nevertheless, she believes that bringing Lucia to the Madras house, and living together as sisters and adults, will be a way for her to throw off the apathy that so far has marked her life.

Doshi is from Chennai, formerly known as Madras, and is a poet and dancer as well as novelist, garnering awards in both dance and writing. This novel, perfect for fans of Lauren Groff and Kate Atkinson, is awash in poetic language, sensory-rich scenes and fully formed characters. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: When a woman returns to India after her mother's death, she discovers a sister she never knew she had and is forced to change her perceptions about family and sacrifice.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781324005230

Just After the Wave

by Sandrine Collette, trans. by Alison Anderson

Three children awaken to silence in an empty house, finding only a note on the table and cupboards of food. Louie with his crooked leg, one-eyed Perrine and Noah, whose body refuses to grow, are the imperfect ones in French author Sandrine Collette's devastating second novel translated into English, Just After the Wave. They are the "rejects" whom their parents have left alone, with the promise to return for them.

Days before, the wall of a volcano slid into the sea. The gigantic wave it generated surged away from dry land, but floodwaters followed the tsunami and submerged the coast. Now the hillside where the family's house is perched has become an isolated island, surrounded by a new ocean and besieged by "the demented weather" of constant storms.

Each morning the waters rise higher. The parents know the only solution is to put as many children as they can on a makeshift raft, find an unflooded country and come back for the ones they're forced to abandon. They assure themselves that Louie is old enough to care for his sister and brother, that Perrine can cook basic meals and that Noah can help with chores. With their other children, they set off on an endless sea, determined to find safety and a way to rescue the ones they've left behind.

Just After the Wave is a fable for today, as well as a wrenching story of love and survival. Sandrine Collette has reached deep into past fairy tales and modern reality to create a novel that's a stunning, resonant wake-up call. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: Sandrine Collette's novel of horror, hope and heroism illuminates the issues of changing weather and immigration in the story of a wave that imperils and changes one family's world.

Europa Editions, $18, paperback, 304p., 9781609455675

The Gimmicks

by Chris McCormick

In Chris McCormick's heartrending debut novel, The Gimmicks, two Armenian cousins who grew up as close as brothers leave their homeland and the people they love to fight for a cause that has haunted their lives since birth. Ruben, clever and ruthless, and Avo, hulking and sensitive, join an underground liberation group that wants revenge for the 1915 Armenian genocide. While Ruben is sent off on increasingly violent and mysterious international missions, Avo is sent to the U.S., where he starts a career in professional wrestling and spends years trying to work his way back to Mina, the love he left behind. Years in the future, Mina goes to the U.S. There, she meets with Avo's wrestling manager, attempts to find Avo and pieces together the puzzle of what really happened to him and Ruben.

With enormous scope and heart, The Gimmicks captures the lives of three people through a series of snapshots in time. Such an accomplishment is a feat of precise plotting and patient pacing. Surprising moments of humor and tender insights into the three main characters carry the plot forward, but the ultimate payoff for this sprawling tale is in its poignant ending. Despite being spread across time and space, enduring years of betrayal, love and loss, Ruben, Avo and Mina find a spiritual conclusion, if not a physical one, that honors the hardships they've endured. Even though the protagonists have, over the course of the book, crafted personae meant to disguise and protect their true selves, by the novel's end, readers feel as though they've had a genuine glimpse into the souls of all three characters. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Wistful and complex, The Gimmicks offers an immigration epic that grapples with ghosts of the past as it follows its characters into an uncertain future.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062908568

Mystery & Thriller

The Wives

by Tarryn Fisher

Seth has three wives. "I'm Thursday," the narrator of Tarryn Fisher's tense thriller The Wives explains. Thursday sees Seth one day a week and has no contact with his other wives, Monday and Tuesday. Often feeling insecure about her role in Seth's life, especially after losing their baby, Thursday agonizes over being perfect. She wants her shared husband to favor her--wants to feel control she knows she lacks. When she finds a bill in Seth's pants with Monday's name, Thursday secretly tracks her down, curious about her husband's life without her.

After Thursday befriends her under false pretenses, Monday divulges her husband's faults--he hides her birth control, he has a temper--but assures Thursday that her bruises were accidental. Though Seth being abusive seems ludicrous, Thursday seeks answers, needing to know if she's in danger. Yet the more she learns, the more questions she has. Why does Tuesday have a dating website profile? Do the other wives even know about Thursday? And if not, what else is Seth lying about?

Thursday's nail-biting pursuit of truth is fueled by her entrapment. She wonders how she's become the type of woman who has "forgotten what [her] own happiness means." Though she wants to change, her love for Seth keeps her stagnant. The trauma of her baby's death exacerbates her emotional instability, but her savage determination keeps her laser-focused on unraveling the real Seth, even when family and friends dismiss her. A gripping ride that will keep readers guessing, The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (Love Me with Lies series) delivers heart-pounding suspense through an unreliable protagonist bent on proving her sanity. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: This exhilarating psychological thriller follows a wife's frenzied mission to uncover her polygamous husband's secrets.

Graydon House/Harlequin, $16.99, paperback, 336p., 9781525809781

Thistles and Thieves

by Molly MacRae

Out for a bike ride in the hills one morning, Janet Marsh stumbles across the body of Malcolm Murray, a highly respected local doctor. Soon afterward, a box of vintage first editions appears on the doorstep of Yon Bonnie Books, the bookshop Janet co-owns in the Scottish village of Inversgail. The books are accompanied by a note, but no name. Could the incidents be connected? In Molly MacRae's third Highland Bookshop mystery, Thistles and Thieves, Janet joins forces again with her longtime best friend Christine, Janet's daughter Tallie and Tallie's best friend Summer to solve a local mystery while still trying to make a living selling books.

MacRae (Scones and Scoundrels) brings back many familiar characters: Janet and her compatriots, Janet's nosy author neighbor Ian, knowledgeable barman Danny and local constable Norman, who alternates between gratitude for the women's help and exasperation at their amateur tactics. The cozy village setting is responsible for much of the series' appeal; like the Scottish weather, this mystery plot gets a bit murky at times. As Janet and Christine pursue their investigation and Summer hones her darts skills, two more victims (one of them the doctor's brother) are found. Readers will enjoy sifting through clues alongside the women, who bring their American pluck and tenacity to every case they encounter. With a couple of entertaining subplots (plus plenty of scones and wine), MacRae's mystery is a good companion for a dreich evening by the fireside. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Molly MacRae's third Highland Bookshop mystery finds her amateur detectives investigating the death of a local doctor.

Pegasus Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781643133218


The Arrangement

by Sylvia Day, Minerva Spencer, Kristin Vayden

Headliner Sylvia Day (Butterfly in Frost) joins forces with Minerva Spencer (Scandalous) and Kristin Vayden (The Temptation of Grace) in this steamy Regency romance anthology featuring three couples in matches of convenience who find themselves shockingly captivated by their spouses.

In Day's "Mischief and the Marquess," vivacious Lady Sophie Milton-Riley believes she and childhood friend Justin, now the aloof Marquess of Fontaine, will not suit as husband and wife. While Sophie tries to convince their match-making female relatives of that fact, Justin quickly realizes that mothers know best and sets out to sweep Sophie off her feet. In Spencer's "The Duke's Treasure," Beaumont, the Duke of Wroxton, marries potted meat heiress Josephine Loman for the funding to keep his estate afloat. Despite a rocky start, the attempted interference of Beaumont's former lover shows him how valuable his wife has become to him. Vayden introduces readers to Charles Brook, the rakish and irreverent Earl of Barrington, who is in desperate need of a reputation overhaul to complete a business arrangement in "An Inconvenient Countess." He takes penniless Diana Lambson as his last-minute spouse in hopes of gaining his peers' approval, but soon finds himself realizing he wants Diana's approval most of all.

Day provides her tried-and-true mix of deep emotion and hot sex; Spencer and Vayden illustrate why marriages of convenience remain a favorite premise among romance readers. The gratifying blend of new passion and unexpected love between their leads is exhilarating and hopeful. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Three marriages, each forged by circumstance, bring love and passion into the lives of the newlyweds in this Regency romance anthology.

Kensington, $15.95, paperback, 336p., 9781496731029

Business & Economics

A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond

by Daniel Susskind

A world without work sounds nonsensical. So much of human value--both economic and intrinsic--is, for better or worse, derived from work. But in his dense yet captivating A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond, Oxford economist Daniel Susskind lays out the reality: automation is replacing human toil. In a matter of years, society could face an unprecedented unemployment crisis.

The culprit, of course, is the technology boom. For decades, technology has loomed in the collective consciousness as the harbinger of civil destruction, and much misplaced noise has been made over individual innovations (Susskind uses the particularly apt example of Industrial Revolution-era Luddites to prove this point). But with the explosive rise of multibillion-dollar tech companies in recent decades, the reality becomes clear: the power of machines (and those who create them) is only growing. Today, computers are finally better than humans at both simple and complicated tasks, whether legal analysis or sorting boxes.

To address this confounding issue, Susskind splits A World Without Work into three parts: context for how this happened; the problem economies and societies face; and how citizens and policymakers ought to respond. Using impressive data and research, tied to a far-from-comprehensive but nevertheless convincing understanding of economic inequality, he explains how "task encroachment"--or robots taking over human tasks--will lead to unemployment. In response, Susskind proposes a number of policy initiatives around education, regulation and taxation. Finally, he moves to "meaning," examining how humans will find fulfillment without work to order their lives. He does not offer a resolute conclusion. There's too much he admits he cannot know. But his wake-up call is urgent. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: An Oxford economist breaks down the threat of unemployment posed by increasing automation and offers advice on how to face the coming storm.

Metropolitan Books, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9781250173515

Political Science

Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia

by Joshua Yaffa

Between Two Fires is one of the best attempts yet at capturing some of the many facets of life in Vladimir Putin's authoritarian shadow. In his nonfiction debut, New Yorker correspondent in Moscow Joshua Yaffa takes an effective approach comparable to Masha Gessen's The Future Is History by focusing on how a few individuals have adapted to Russia's new reality. Between Two Fires is primarily composed of a series of profiles linked by a theme: the concept of "the wily man." Yaffa writes: "For the wily man, interacting with the state is a game of half-truths and deceptions, served up as offerings to the bureaucratic machine, and told to one another as justification for squelching ambition and a sense of morality." Wiliness flourished under the Soviets and persists under Putin. Yaffa's subjects are all somewhere between saints and sinners--"most people are neither Stalin nor Solzhenitsyn"--a diverse group united by the compromises they've made.

Between Two Fires introduces readers to the head of one of the country's largest television networks, an aesthete willing to broadcast propaganda in exchange for a degree of creative control that allows him to indulge his esoteric interests. Yaffa also includes a Chechen humanitarian who has allowed herself to become a state mouthpiece in a questionably utilitarian exchange, a colorful owner of zoos in recently annexed Crimea and a rebellious Orthodox priest. Each profile is individually fascinating--these are daring, odd, contradictory people. While it is easy to second-guess their choices from afar, Yaffa portrays a Russia where wiliness might be necessary to thrive. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Discover: Between Two Fires is a fascinating depiction of the compromises people make under Russian authoritarianism.

Tim Duggan Books, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9781524760595

Parenting & Family

Normal: A Mother and Her Beautiful Son

by Magda Newman

Magda Newman shared the same hope as every expectant mother: that her son would be born "normal." But when Nathaniel was diagnosed at birth with a severe form of Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic condition affecting the development of the facial bones and tissues, she and her husband, Russel, were shattered.

Among his many challenges, Nathaniel was born without ears (the irony wasn't lost on Magda, a former concert pianist in her native Poland) and a blocked airway, requiring a permanent trach tube for him to breathe. Even with health insurance, Nathaniel's extensive medical needs and procedures (he would have 67 surgeries before turning 13) left the young couple with exorbitant bills, requiring the family to move in with relatives. Magda would also experience her own medical crisis; at 27, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Normal includes several sections written by Nathaniel, who offers his candid (and often humorous) perspective on his life. He shares his special connection with R.J. Palacio, author of the popular novel Wonder, which features a boy with Treacher Collins. Palacio wrote Normal's foreword.

With a heartfelt and candid style, Magda and Nathaniel both show how they coped with the challenges, isolation and the public's initial--oftentimes insensitive--reaction to Nathaniel's appearance. "Discomfort is a natural human response," Magda writes. "If I, his mother, experienced it when I first saw him, why shouldn't other people? My goal was to help parents and children move past that moment as quickly as possible and see Nathaniel for who he was, just like we did." As readers do exactly that, Normal becomes extraordinary. --Melissa Firman, writer and editor at

Discover: When her first child is born with a severe form of Treacher Collins syndrome, Magda Newman discovers a resiliency and strength beyond what is "normal."

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9781328593122

Children's & Young Adult

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

by Candace Fleming, illus. by Eric Rohmann

Collaborators and Orbus Pictus Award-winners Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann (Giant Squid; Strongheart) crack open the world of the honeybee by following one Apis mellifera (Apis for short) through her short lifespan. The detail and whimsy of the honeybee's biography beautifully portray her as a vital part of Earth's ecosphere, setting up the delicate insect to be appreciated by young readers for her hard work and enormous contributions.

Each page of Fleming's text brims with information, presented with a poetic tone and capped off with a cliff-hanger, egging the reader on to the next stage of life: "Soon she is ready for her next job./ Flying?" Apis must nurse the larvae, tend the queen, build the comb and handle the food. As Fleming narrates Apis's experience guarding the hive, the pace quickens and depicts a fight scene with some "robber" bees. "The two grab hold of each other's legs./ They curl their abdomens./ They roll and grapple./ Apis buzzes, bites, burrows."

Rohmann's striking, life-like oil paintings accompany Fleming's intriguing text. The meticulous detail and large-scale, bug's-eye view emphasize both the honeybee's delicacy and her great importance. Minute features like the veins in her wings and the pollen in her hair are sure to mesmerize young audiences. In contrast, an equally beautiful gatefold reminds readers how tiny she is in the world we inhabit.

This dazzling picture book includes an essay and additional facts in the back matter, culminating in a phenomenal portrait of a tiny but indispensable component of nature--truly a delightful learning experience. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The short but busy life of a honeybee is documented in this dazzling picture book.

Neal Porter Books, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-9, 9780823442850

Yes No Maybe So

by Becky Albertalli, Aisha Saeed

Yes No Maybe So is Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed's powerful response to the "bigotry and hateful rhetoric" that came after the 2016 presidential election.

Shy, awkward Jamie Goldberg, 17, is a Jewish kid who isn't "exactly great at talking to strangers." Example? He literally choked at an interview with a senator and now, instead of interning at the state capitol, is an errand boy for an assistant campaign manager for a Democratic state senatorial candidate in Georgia. Seventeen-year-old Pakistani-American Maya Rehman, who isn't "exactly the most adaptable person in the world," has also had her summer hopes dashed: she was supposed to leave for Italy with her parents after Ramadan; instead, her parents have decided to spend time apart. Once childhood friends, Jamie and Maya bump into each other at an interfaith event, where their mothers suggest they volunteer as canvassers for the upcoming local election. As they make their rounds, they encounter racist voters and anti-Semitic trolls, and their complex but sweet "slowmance" unfolds.

This Albertalli (What If It's Us?) and Saeed (Amal Unbound) collaboration grew out of their experiences campaigning for a candidate who hoped to flip his district. Their author letter shares their goal of not ignoring the "complexities of our current reality" but instead infusing it with joy and hope. They emphasize the importance of exercising the right to vote and nimbly express citizens' frustrations over ugly campaign practices, lack of variety and a corrupt system. The developing relationship between Maya and Jamie acts as a "raft in a sea of bad news." It's filled with lingering romantic moments, awkward cultural misunderstandings and so many doubts. But it's just the right amount of romance to balance the essential message about resistance Yes No Maybe So deftly delivers. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: A Jewish boy and a Muslim girl campaign for an election in this politically charged YA "slowmance" about the power of local activism.

Balzer + Bray, $19.99, hardcover, 448p., ages 14-up, 9780062937049

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