From the Shelf
Storms in the Brain
There are more than 40 types of seizures, which sometimes go overlooked until they become so severe that your life is upended. I don't know exactly when mine started but it was clear something was wrong by the time edits came in for my YA fantasy novel Roar in 2016. The world of storm magic I'd created suddenly seemed too vast to understand. I kept a list of what to revise and what I'd written because I couldn't remember. I had difficulty completing sentences, I held my thesaurus like a lifejacket, I just couldn't... think.
In October 2017, four months after Roar's release, and 20 months after I started seeking answers, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. What I thought was a panic attack was actually a nine-minute seizure in my temporal lobe--an area of the brain that deals with sensory processing, memory, language, emotional responses and more. Before I could approach the sequel to Roar, I endured nine months of failed medications, three types of seizures and months of adjusting to medications. When I came back to the series, I looked at my heroine and her storm-filled world and was surprised to see echoes of my epilepsy in her story. Neurologists have described seizures as electrical "storms in the brain"; the intrusive bursts of emotion Aurora experiences during storms were reminiscent of my temporal lobe seizures. We both grappled with feeling like our bodies had turned against us.
Sometimes I felt like I'd written Roar for future-me, for hurting-me, healing-me. Like my princess born without magic, I wondered if I could meet the expectations placed on me. Could I still write with a healing, heavily medicated mind? Slowly, with the support of loved ones, therapy and my publisher, I found a way through. As one of my characters said before I knew I needed it, "Sometimes you must make answers when there are none." --Cora Carmack (Rage, book two in the Stormheart series, is available now from Tor Teen)
In this Issue...
by Lina Rather
Nuns in a living spaceship provide aid on the outskirts of human settlement.
by Lara Maiklem
Lara Maiklem chronicles her mudlarking on the Thames foreshore and the history of the objects she finds.
In this middle-grade work, Gail Jarrow tells the story of Harvey Washington Wiley, who spent his life working to change food and drug manufacturing in the United States.
Review by Subjects:
'100 Novels That Shaped Our World'
BBC invited readers to "explore the list of 100 novels that shaped our world."
Planet Word, a museum dedicated to language, will open next May in downtown Washington, D.C., WAMU reported.
Genuine, for example. Mental Floss found "10 body parts hiding in the dictionary."
"Now you too can bake like Emily Dickinson this holiday season," Lit Hub promised.
Poet Laureate Simon Armitage "will embark on a 10-year tour of libraries across the U.K., starting in 2020," the Bookseller noted.
Rediscover: Ernest J. Gaines
Louisiana author Ernest J. Gaines, whose experiences in the segregated South inspired his novels and short stories, died November 5 at age 86. Gaines was the oldest of 12 children in a family of impoverished sharecroppers living in old slave quarters on a plantation. He was raised by his crippled aunt, who moved around the house by crawling. For five or six months each year, a visiting teacher used the plantation church as a schoolhouse. At the time, education for African American children stopped at the eighth grade. At age 15, Gaines moved in with his mother and father in California. He wrote his first novel at age 17 but burned the manuscript after it was rejected, later rewriting it as the basis for his first published novel, Catherine Carmier (1964). He earned a literature degree from San Francisco State University, a writing fellowship to Stanford University, and was a writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette between 1981-2004. In 1996, Gaines taught the French university system's first ever creative writing class at the University of Rennes.
Gaines earned widespread recognition with his fourth novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), which tracks a century of African American history through the eyes of its titular character. A Gathering of Old Men (1983) takes place in the aftermath of a Cajun farmer's murder, when a group of old sharecroppers with shotguns gather to protect the suspected murderer from being lynched. A Lesson Before Dying (1993) is partially based on the true story of Willie Francis, a black teenager who was sent to the electric chair for a murder he likely did not commit, and who survived the first electrocution attempt, though not the second. A Lesson Before Dying was selected for Oprah's Book Club in 1997. It is available from Vintage ($14, 9780375702709). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Meg Cabot and Cara McGee Discuss Black Canary: Ignite
|Meg Cabot (l.) and Cara McGee|
Black Canary: Ignite (DC Zoom, $9.99), in which 13-year-old Dinah Lance discovers her superpower, is author Meg Cabot's first graphic novel and illustrator Cara McGee's middle-grade debut.
Meg Cabot has written such titles as No Judgments and The Boy Is Back. Her books for adults, teens and tweens have sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Cabot was born in Indiana in the Chinese astrological year of the Fire Horse, a notoriously unlucky sign, but has been working hard ever since to give herself a happy ending. She lives in Key West, Fla., with her husband.
Cara McGee is a BFA graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design sequential art program. She has worked on a number of personal mini comics, as well as comics, covers and illustrations for companies like BOOM!, DC Comics, IDW and Cards Against Humanity. She lives in the woods in the middle of nowhere and travels as much as her schedule allows.
This is your first graphic novel, Meg--how did you feel about the switch?
Cabot: I heard that DC was looking for writers to launch a line for younger readers (specifically to get more heroines), and I was very interested. I went through their back catalogue to find a superheroine that I could relate to. Black Canary popped out at me right away because I loved that her only superpower was her voice. I've always been told that I'm way too loud. Even in school, I would get yelled at for being so loud. Then I found out what you actually have to do, and it was so much work. But then it was amazing because I started getting Cara's drawings and it was very much a collaborative effort. All the stuff that I didn't put into [my descriptions of] the panels! [Cara drew] all of the emotions, all of the costuming, I mean everything.... Those choices were all Cara.
On that note, one of the things I liked in particular was the punk cheerleader.
McGee: Yeah, I was really trying to make her tomboy-ish but still a cheerleader. I was actually on cheer when I was in middle school, but I was very much the shy, quiet one. Pretty much, Dinah and her friends are everybody I thought was cool in middle school, so I really had fun with that. It was like trying to emulate what I wish I could have been like in middle school.
What was the process of writing and getting illustrations like?
Cabot: I feel like I started seeing illustrations pretty quickly. And then... so much of it was the fashion. We were trying to take this character who is traditionally hyper-sexualized and turn her into a middle-schooler. And so much of that was on Cara--it was all on Cara. Because I had no idea. She's the artist.
McGee: Apparently, there were some other artists who had tried out for the book, and a lot of them were having trouble making Dinah actually look like a young adult. I was kind of surprised I was able to get it because I don't generally draw characters quite that young. But it was a fun challenge. Especially trying to figure out how to make an age-appropriate costume for a character like Black Canary.
Cabot: But still make her look like Black Canary. I know that you said that you wanted to be able to see kids dress up like her once this book comes out. I think you did such a great job. She still has the fishnets.
McGee: Yeah, she has the fishnets, the boots....
Cara, when creating the costume, how much feedback did you receive from DC?
McGee: Not much, honestly.
Cabot: Probably because I liked it. You would've gotten feedback if I hadn't liked it.
McGee: Yeah, exactly. It was interesting.
She definitely looks like a middle-schooler.
Cabot: Yeah! And that's an outfit that a middle-schooler can put together, if they can get their hands on a bomber jacket. But Cara kind of made it so they don't have to. But, also, I didn't even know what cosplay was until Cara brought it up. And then I thought, "Oh my God, she's so smart! I'm so glad she's my artist!"
McGee: It's a trend with artists lately, even on the new line of books. Pretty much starting with Spider-Gwen. Robbi [Rodriguez] designed her specifically to be a cool cosplay. My generation of comic nerds grew up with cosplay as part of our normal convention life, and we know the struggle of trying to put together a costume and how cost prohibitive it can be for a 13-year-old. If she can just go buy all this stuff at the mall, it would be super easy to be a superhero. My weakness is seeing kids in cosplay.
How were you able to make sound visual?
McGee: It's hard. I want to credit the letterer, Clayton Cowells. He did such a good job, because how do you draw something audible? It's really hard and the lettering plays such an important part. He really killed it. I think visually one of the best ways to do it is to not draw what's happening with her but draw what's happening to whatever she's yelling at--not so much the cause but the effect.
Is there anything you'd like to tell readers?
Cabot: First and foremost, we want them to enjoy it. What I always loved about comics is that they were entertaining, and they took you out of your real world and they gave you some moments to escape. Secondly, we've been saying that Dinah's a character who is discovering who she is. She's trying things out and failing at them but she keeps getting up and she keeps trying. So that's something I think is really important: it's okay to fail so long as you keep getting up and trying again. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
by Dale Peck
Though he once was best known for a ferocious reviewing style that produced a collection entitled Hatchet Jobs, Dale Peck's literary career hasn't been confined to criticism. What Burns, his first volume of short fiction, explores some of life's darker corners in eight well-crafted tales written over the past 20 years. The stories here are sturdily constructed, suggestive of the "massive wooden joist spanning the house's central axis" in the story "Summer Beam, pt. 1."
In the opener, "Not Even Camping Is Like Camping Anymore," five-year-old Davis insists that he wants to marry Blaine Gunderson, the teenage boy who's responsible for his afternoon care at the unlicensed day care facility run by Blaine's mother. What was "eerie about Davis," Blaine reflects, is that he "talked the way he did and still managed to pick up on what was happening in the part of the world that existed outside his weird little brain." Francis Kaplan Pelton, the ironic narrator of "Sky Writing," spends his inheritance from an ex-lover in a nonstop series of globe-spanning flights. The story recounts his interaction with an attractive young woman he identifies in the story's first sentence as his "latest victim." "Certain elements of this particular flight are a little too familiar, which means that it has already failed in its mission," he tells her, in the middle of their alcohol-drenched journey.
In each tale, there's some element that induces unease, and there's often an air of menace lurking over the characters. Peck nudges that quality of strangeness to the foreground, even though all of the stories are contemporary and feel firmly grounded in reality. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: Dale Peck offers eight portraits of modern life viewed through a dark lens.
by Mahir Guven , trans. by Tina Kover
Two brothers. Two narrators. Two type fonts: serif for "The Older Brother" chapters; sans serif for "The Younger Brother." Their family has shrunk as Mahir Guven's debut, Older Brother, begins: "...there's only two of us left," the older brother reveals, referring to their acerbic father and himself. The younger brother "has f**ked off to the middle of the desert," their mother is dead, her mother also dead, the father's mother in a nursing home. Once upon a time, the father was an international student from Syria who fell in love with a local French (Breton, specifically) student; they married and had two sons. Some three decades later, the father, despite his (unspecified) doctorate, is a disgruntled taxi driver, hoping to soon retire after 20-plus years navigating Paris streets. That his older son drives for Uber is nothing short of betrayal. The younger brother, once a hospital nurse and convinced "the world was calling out to [him] for help," answered by volunteering with a medical NGO to serve in their ancestral Syrian homeland--and disappeared. After three silent years, the younger brother returns, burdened more with disturbing questions than believable answers.
Awarded the 2018 Prix Goncourt for a debut novel and translated by PEN Translation Prize finalist Tina Kover, Older Brother affectingly mines Guven's own experiences of being stateless, as the French-born son of Turkish and Iraqi refugees. His dual protagonists are also perennial outsiders, their relentlessly questioned status magnified in a Paris still nervous after terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan. Despite such gravity, Guven is a sly, ingenious storyteller, infusing black humor and biting wit throughout. His epilogue proves to be a jaw-dropping sleight-of-hand. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Two Parisian brothers of a Syrian father and French mother choose diverging paths in one of the most astute international debuts of the year.
by Matt Tompkins
Discover: Bizarre events and strange inhabitants in the tiny town of Odsburg are documented by a "socio-anthropo-lingui-lore-ologist" in this surrealistic novel.
Mystery & Thriller
Murder in the Balcony
by Margaret Dumas
This outstanding second novel in the Movie Palace mystery series from Margaret Dumas can easily be read on its own, but readers will surely want to read the first, Murder at the Palace, as well. Screenwriter Nora Paige fled scandal, the paparazzi and the gossip-driven environs of Los Angeles after her famous actor husband left her for an equally famous actress. Nora headed north, where she's now the manager of the Palace, a historic San Francisco movie theater. She loves classic movies and has grown equally to adore the aging, beautiful theater and its staff, including the ghost of a 1937 usherette who only Nora can see. When a young employee's boyfriend is killed in an apparent robbery, Nora doesn't suspect his death is connected to the Palace. Nevertheless, she sets out to learn the truth about the murder to ease her employee's grieving heart.
She's shocked when her investigation leads to disturbing information about the dead man and his possible connection to a smarmy local real estate developer. Apparently, there are clandestine plans to buy out the businesses on her block and tear down the buildings, including Nora's beloved theater. Just when she's convinced that she's uncovered the villain, another person dies under suspicious circumstances. Is it possible the theater's resident ghost can eavesdrop on suspects and uncover the murderer, or will Nora be next on the list of victims?
Wonderful, warm and engaging characters inhabit this excellent mystery set in modern-day San Francisco. The plot moves along at a swift pace, an intriguing romantic element raises the stakes, and witty postings from a classic movie critic's insightful blog add to the book's charm. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: A smart screenwriter and her eclectic band of employees and friends solve a homicide in a historic San Francisco movie theater.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sisters of the Vast Black
by Lina Rather
On the sparsely settled frontier of humanity's galactic exodus, nuns from the Order of Saint Rita provide aid and perform rites where needed. Their ship, Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, is a colossal, photosynthesizing sea slug with habitable cavities. The order's Reverend Mother, vowed to silence decades ago, has long acted with some sense of independence, thanks in part to a generation-old war that severed Earth Central Governance's control over humanity's outlying systems. But old bureaucracies are stirring. A new pope rules the Vatican, one who is less willing to let the church's far-flung functionaries operate on their own. And ECG, despite its catastrophic loss in the last war, remains the most powerful human polity, and its greedy eyes have turned heavenward once more.
Lina Rather's debut, Sisters of the Vast Black, is a science-fiction novella with the wallop of a much larger work. In only 160 pages, Rather builds an intriguing human future populated by layered characters. The book also explores timely Catholic concerns, especially tensions between the Vatican and nuns in the United States, and how political posturing and religious dogmatism interfere with doing good works. Beyond these thematic successes, Sisters of the Vast Black is excellent sci-fi. Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, the sea slug ship, is gratifyingly imaginative, and its occupants hold secrets both heartwarming and shocking. Sisters of the Vast Black breathes new life into the sub-genre of space-based religious orders. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Nuns in a living spaceship provide aid on the outskirts of human settlement.
Wrapped Up in You
by Jill Shalvis
While readers will want to read the entire collection, this eighth novel in Jill Shalvis's popular Heartbreaker Bay series can be read as a stand-alone tale. Self-taught chef Ivy Snow has pulled herself up by the bootstraps after a hardscrabble childhood that has left her emotionally wary and guarded. Determined to build a settled, secure life, she operates a successful food truck in San Francisco, is saving for a down payment for a condo and has found a solid group of friends. Focused on her goals, she's caught off-guard when she meets vacationing sheriff Kel O'Donnell. Kel is recovering from job-inflicted injuries and is spending his mandatory two-week recovery time in San Francisco, helping his cousin with security at a new condo building.
Despite Ivy and Kel's reluctance to become entangled, they're irresistibly drawn together, although both know this can only be temporary, for Kel has to return to Idaho in two weeks. Neither of them expected to fall in love, and the swift escalation of their connection surprises them. Just when it seems a happy future may be possible, however, someone from Ivy's past unexpectedly surfaces and makes demands she can't ignore. Kel's cop duties compel him to give his job precedence over Ivy's loyalty to family. Can he forgive her for lying to him? Can she forgive him for not trusting her? If they can't move beyond their difficult past lives and open their hearts, there may not be a happy ending to their whirlwind romance.
The novel features an emotionally engaging plot that blends the swift evolution of a heartwarming romance with the resolution of gritty family conflicts. Tart dialogue and absolutely charming, well-developed characters will delight readers. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: Two emotionally vulnerable people find love, resolve painful family history and solve a crime in San Francisco during the Christmas season.
Biography & Memoir
Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge
by Sheila Weller
From her stage show and subsequent book Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher was known for her comic observations about the trials of being the offspring of flamboyant actress Debbie Reynolds and caddish crooner Eddie Fisher; about sealing her fate (for better or worse) and fortunes (for better) as brainy badass Princess Leia in 1977's Star Wars; and about coping with drug addiction and bipolar disorder. Given Fisher's openness about her life, any Carrie Fisher biographer would have a galactic challenge: What can she tell readers that Fisher hasn't already?
Lots, if that biographer is Sheila Weller (Girls Like Us). She cast a net far and wide to land interviews with subjects famous and not, speaking on the record and off, but Fisher defenders nearly all. In Carrie Fisher, Weller blends their recollections with what she calls Fisher's "provocative, braggingly self-deprecating (a neat trick), honest enough" accounts. The result is a robust, many-faceted portrait of a woman whose longstanding feminism (Fisher marched for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980s) elevated everything she touched and who left a powerful legacy after her sudden death at age 60 in 2016. The cause was cardiac arrest with a likely assist from the drugs named in her toxicology report--a heartbreaking exit, given her decades devoted to exorcising her personal demons.
The question while reading Carrie Fisher isn't "How did her life veer off course?" but "How did she keep it together for so long?" The answer would seem to lie in Fisher's mutual emotional support system. Going by the company described in Weller's book, it would probably be quicker to list the people who weren't Fisher's friends than the people who were. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This satisfying biography of Carrie Fisher, the late actress, writer, wit and mental-health advocate, brings to the fore two additional defining attributes: feminist and friend.
Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames
by Lara Maiklem
London's River Thames has long been a repository for lost or unwanted objects, and those who seek them out are known as "mudlarks." Writer and editor Lara Maiklem, a long-time visitor to the Thames foreshore, chronicles her adventures in her first nonfiction book, Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames. Her expeditions and the objects they yield--including hatpins, hand-blown glass bottles, buttons and the occasional precious stone--provide a rambling, idiosyncratic, fascinating guide to the city's history.
Armed with a good pair of wellies, a keen eye and endless patience, Maiklem inches her way along the foreshore, sifting through centuries' worth of silt, mud and debris, in search of lost or discarded bits and pieces that might give her a glimpse into the city's past. London's history is layered and sometimes confusing even to locals, but Maiklem's crisp, accessible writing style keeps her readers' interest. She describes her perennial love of scavenging (including the "museum" she kept in her parents' barn as a child) and the eventual outlet she found in mudlarking, along with the friends she has made. Her journeys touch on sociology, anthropology, ecology (climate change has affected both the river and the rest of London) and the complicated interactions between the built environment and the natural world.
Readers will learn much from one mudlark's generous offer of the knowledge she has picked up--a mosaic of different pieces, much like her treasures themselves. Those who live near tidal bodies of water, or even in London itself, may be inspired to do a bit of mudlarking on their own. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Lara Maiklem chronicles her mudlarking on the Thames foreshore and the history of the objects she finds.
A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith
by Timothy Egan
On the last page of A Pilgrimage to Eternity, journalist Timothy Egan (The Immortal Irishman) reflects on his thousand-mile journey. "The Via Francigena is a trail of ideas, and it helps to walk with eyes open--otherwise you miss the bread crumbs of epiphany along the way." Egan's 2017 pilgrimage along the major medieval route from Canterbury to Rome, hardly a step of which was not traveled by "martyrs, madmen or monarchs," was his quest to explore the contemporary moment in history (with its sharp decline in religious participation) and to ponder his personal faith ("to decide what I believe or admit what I don't").
As a Pulitzer Prize winner, Egan excels at detailing history: The Worst Hard Time followed Dust Bowl survivors; The Big Burn covered the politicians and firefighters of the early Forest Service. In A Pilgrimage to Eternity, Egan deftly alternates historic details of Christianity's legends, locales and research with his own experience. Between Epernay and Châlons-en-Champagne, his feet blistered and his water running low, he reflects on Augustine's quote, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." Egan inspires readers to follow his lead as he "[damps] down his skepticism" and describes sites of mysteries and miracles, including Lourdes in France and the tomb of the undecayed Saint Lucia in Italy. He spares no details in reporting beheadings, burnings at the stake and tortures in the name of religion. But turn the page and revel in reviews of local pasta, wine and cheese, spontaneous friendships with fellow pilgrims, and philosophical musings. When Egan receives his last VF passport stamp, at the Vatican, readers will feel they've trekked right along with him. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Journalist Timothy Egan's engaging memoir follows his thousand-mile journey on the medieval route marking the history of Christianity through Europe.
Nature & Environment
Rewild Yourself: Making Nature More Visible in Our Lives
by Simon Barnes
With the premise that people have stopped paying attention to the environment, former chief sportswriter for the Times of London and avid amateur naturalist Simon Barnes has written a magical and lyrical guidebook for the average layperson to use when reconnecting with the natural world around them. Rewild Yourself: Making Nature More Visible in Our Lives draws upon the inspiration of nature-heavy fantasies such as C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series to create magical allegories that encourage openness to the wonders of the natural world.
In the tradition of Thoreau's Walden, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac and the nature-based writings of E.B. White, among others, Rewild Yourself offers charming nature vignettes that reveal the hidden world of plants, insects and animals for the casual observer. Animal tracks across the snow tell "the story of the hungry fox and the hare that lived," while several chapters dive deeply into bird life (Barnes's expertise on that topic was illustrated in his 2018 book, The Meaning of Birds). Some gear recommendations--"A good pair of binoculars is like being teleported across the intervening space"--are sprinkled throughout, and little exercises that test the senses are perfect for all ages. There is also a list of further reading that informed the author's nature awareness (like The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell). Flowery and metaphorical language provide a quick and engaging read for anyone looking to rediscover and explore what nature has to offer. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: Here is an inspirational guide for anyone to step outside and use the senses to engage in the magic of the natural world.
Children's & Young Adult
The Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in Our Food and Drugs
by Gail Jarrow
Before there were regulations and oversight for food and drug manufacturing in the United States, greedy corporations often made monstrous adulterations to products they presented as fresh and safe for consumption. Tonics and potions were also peddled to unwitting consumers with promises of cures for everything as minor as headaches or as massive as cancer. The results (and products themselves) rarely matched the claims. One man, a doctor and chemist, began research into these unscrupulous practices and made it his life's work to protect American consumers. In The Poison Eaters, Sibert Medal honoree Gail Jarrow (Spooked!) engages young readers with the story of Harvey Washington Wiley and his dogged campaign for safe food and drugs; a campaign that would ultimately result in the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.
Jarrow's gripping narrative of Wiley's life draws parallels between the roadblocks he encountered with current issues readers should easily recognize. For example, companies threatened by Wiley's campaign for a pure food law blackmailed those they advertised with, prompting them to support a rejection of the food law: "the company would cancel its advertising contract if any laws--state or national--were passed that restricted the proprietary medicine business." Jarrow further entices middle-graders and young adults with gruesome details and images (such as malformed body parts) and old product ads that are sure to pique readers' interest.
Startling, informative and fascinating, The Poison Eaters will almost certainly inspire readers to look at food labels, question what goes into the products they're consuming, pay attention to news stories about drug companies and, most importantly, they will come away knowing the man behind all the protections we enjoy today. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: In this middle-grade work, Gail Jarrow tells the story of Harvey Washington Wiley, who spent his life working to change food and drug manufacturing in the United States.
The Year We Fell from Space
by Amy Sarig King
Amy Sarig King's (Me and Marvin Gardens) second middle-grade title explores especially mature subjects--infidelity, parental missteps, mental illness, genetic inheritance, violent triggers--with effective, age-appropriate awareness. On January 18, 2019, "everything changed" in the Johanson home. While 12-year-old Liberty and her nine-year-old sister, Jilly, went out for dinner and ice cream with their mother's friend, their father left. "Dad is a good guy with a bad disease" and, for now, "he needs some time to figure things out." His departure, according to Liberty, was "how it started, our fall from space." Although Liberty "couldn't remember a time when they weren't fighting," her parents' separation, now that it's really happened, provokes sorrow, anger and jarring logistical challenges.
Despite his promises of "you'll still see me all the time," 86 days pass before Liberty and Jilly share an awkward reunion with Dad. He's noticeably thinner, wearing cologne and has lipsticked dirty glasses in his kitchen sink. Meanwhile, Mom's moving on with her "divorce action station"; Jilly's turned agoraphobic except for school; and Liberty, who is something of a stargazing expert, has started talking to a meteorite she found out in the fields. Over the next 10 months, communication, compromises and readjustments will need to happen to realign the family's disjointed, frayed connections.
The Year We Fell from Space is a reminder that failed adult relationships have resonating impacts on children: "Parents are weird to think they can hide yelling from people in their own house," Liberty wisely comments. As her family implodes, King shows the many ways to ask for, find and receive help as Liberty learns to deal with and appreciate what will become her brave new world. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: When her depressed father moves out, 12-year-old Liberty Johanson--along with her mother and younger sister--must learn to chart new paths.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
by Kwame Mbalia
Still grieving the death of best friend Eddie, Tristan Strong bombs his first big boxing bout. To "get some fire in his belly" (as his Granddad says), he travels from Chicago to Alabama to work his grandparent's land for the summer.
On his first night, as he adjusts to the quiet and darkness of the farm, Tristan is attacked by an anthropomorphic doll baby made of sap. In a high-pitched voice, Gum Baby issues hilarious threats, then snatches Eddie's journal, Tristan's only physical reminder of his friend. Tristan chases her and finds her in the woods near "the weirdest tree [he'd] ever seen," with "bottles of every shape and size... stuck on the ends of the branches." During a brief, sticky altercation, Tristan accidentally punches a hole in the bottle tree--which is also a portal--and rends the sky of Alke, Gum Baby's world. Alke is ruled by gods straight out of African diasporic folklore. These gods--such as Brer Rabbit, John Henry, Nyame the sky god--are fueled by the power of story and threatened by sentient chains, slave ships and the haint Tristan's punch released. It's only by putting up his dukes and fighting on the side of Alkeans that Tristan can conquer the spirit, plug the hole and get back home.
Like the African diaspora, Kwame Mbalia's gods are portraits from mixed stories and legends brought together by common, often orally communicated, histories. The world-building is comprehensive, with unapologetically black spaces that speak to a collective ingenuity such as the breathtaking descriptions of Wakanda-esque fortifications in the mountain region, Isihlangu. Although action-filled, slow reveals of important information make the plot lag. Still, Mbalia's debut packs a powerful punch on many levels. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer
Discover: This middle-grade novel uses myth and folklore to make a mighty impact and breathes life into big and small black heroes.