Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Flatiron Books: The Courting of Bristol Keats: [Limited Stenciled Edge Edition] by Mary E Pearson

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron

Running Press Adult: Scam Goddess: Lessons from a Life of Cons, Grifts, and Schemes by Laci Mosley

Chronicle Books: Taste in Music: Eating on Tour with Indie Musicians by Luke Pyenson and Alex Beeker

Doubleday Books: Death at the Sign of the Rook: A Jackson Brodie Book by Kate Atkinson

Groundwood Books: Who We Are in Real Life by Victoria Koops

Agate Bolden: 54 Miles by Leonard Pitts Jr.

Quotation of the Day

'People Are Not Panic Shopping--but Comfort Shopping'

"What's incredible is that in the last few weeks, since all this has happened and we've been closed to browsing and just shipping, people have been amazingly supportive and have been placing orders just all day and all night. People are not panic shopping--but comfort shopping. People know that books are obviously the number one thing you need, other than food, in any time, but certainly in a time of crisis. People need books to entertain them and to distract them and to help them understand the world around them. So we are still, in fact, quite busy....

"The only realistic outlook any small business can have right now is just understanding that things will continue to change and to just be prepared for that. Obviously we don't know how long each phase of this is going to last.... We just want to make sure that we can still be there for everyone. I definitely feel an incredible amount of support from our neighborhood, from our community, from Brooklyn, from the literary universe. We've been getting orders from across the country, and it's really a wonderful feeling."

--Emma Straub, author and co-owner of Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, N.Y., in a q&a with Fast Company

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BookExpo, Unbound and BookCon Cancelled for 2020

ReedPop has officially cancelled the 2020 editions of BookExpo, UnBound and BookCon, which were originally scheduled to be held May 27-31 at the Javits Center in New York City and were postponed until July 22-26 because of the Covid-19 crisis. "As the pandemic has continued to escalate in the United States and we see the challenges it has brought for the book industry, it is clear that 2020 is no longer a viable option for this community," the company said. The shows will next take place in spring 2021 in New York City.

"It is with heavy hearts that we announce that we will not be holding BookExpo, UnBound and BookCon in 2020," event director Jenny Martin said. "From our publishers, booksellers and sidelines exhibitors to our authors and librarians to our book loving fans, we know how many people are impacted by this decision and we continue to stand with you all to help bring the book community together and support one another. We are now looking forward and can't wait to return with a stronger show than ever in 2021."

The shows were dealt a strong blow when the Javits Center was recently converted into a temporary hospital, and the Big Five publishers and Ingram said they would not be attending the postponed events. New York City has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S.

In the meantime, the shows are creating new and different ways to connect with exhibitors, attendees and readers to celebrate books virtually. ReedPop recently produced a BookCon Read-a-Thon, which offered readers live author readings of their work and discussions, each to benefit independent bookstores through donations to the #SaveIndieBookstores campaign.

International Update: Italian Booksellers Reluctant to Reopen

Booksellers in Italy have not been in a rush to reopen despite the government's recent declaration that books are "essential goods." The Guardian reported that their "hesitancy to emerge from the lockdown could reverberate in other countries badly hit by coronavirus as governments edge towards easing restrictions. The death toll in Italy reached 21,067 on Tuesday and the infection rate, though growing by less and less each day, is yet to show a definitive sign that the contagion is overcome."

Nicoletta Maldini, a partner in Libreria Trame, Bologna, said, "I will be very happy to reopen as soon as we can do so safely. At some point we will need to restart, but until then we need to move with caution and respect."

More than 245 bookshop owners across Italy signed a petition gathered by LED, an online platform for booksellers and publishers, against being permitted to reopen their stores. In an open letter to the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, the group wrote: "As booksellers, we are happy with this sudden attention on our work... but we have no intention of exposing ourselves for the sole purpose of faking a 'cultural recovery of souls,' which you can only really have when everyone's safety is assured."

In addition to having little time to prepare safety measures, shop owners said reopening would be costly if few customers dare come in, the Guardian wrote, adding that it is also unclear whether the businesses will lose the financial assistance they're entitled to during the lockdown if they reopen.

"If you're telling people to stay at home, who do we open to?" asked Rimedia Deffenu, owner of Libreria Ghibellina in Pisa. "Deaths are still too high, it's too early to reopen."

Feltrinelli, Italy's largest bookshop chain, is "preparing safety measures before gradually reopening some stores from April 18 in the regions permitted," with a maximum of three staff in each, the Guardian noted. Giunti and Mondadori, two other major chains, have adopted a similar plan. Libraccio opened 19 of 49 stores on Tuesday.


The Australian Booksellers Association has developed a new Love Your Bookshop website to support and promote local bricks and mortar bookshops in "response to these unprecedented and challenging times we are all facing." The aim of the website is to help the reading public to continue buying from local businesses over the coming months and to make sure that booksellers are able to keep doing what they do best--supporting local communities with their reading needs.

Love Your Bookshop features a "find a bookshop" search function, a section dedicated to bookshop virtual events, and a space where the ABA can promote online literary festivals and support local authors.

"We will be sharing this website via our social media channels as well as receiving the support of publishers, authors and other industry bodies to ensure that the reading public knows where and how to find you during over the coming months," the ABA noted.


Jessica Walker, managing partner of Munro's Books, Victoria, B.C., spoke with Focus on Victoria about retail life under Covid-19 lockdown. In early March, Munro's learned that cruise ship travel was canceled, prompting Walker and the remaining full-time staff to begin preparing for a new reality. The store closed to the public on March 15.

"The first week, the numbers were scary, but more and more people are getting comfortable with online buying," she said, adding that the store switched to a warehouse model, taking orders on the phone and on the web, and reduced hours. "It's not just about getting through the next six weeks, it's getting through the summer.... We are putting lists on the website. We're trying to recreate the store experience."

Walker acknowledges that Munro's losses will be "pretty significant.... Five thousand cruise ship passengers a day are not coming this summer.... It is going to be a long-term significant impact."

In addition to applying for federal government assistance once applications are available, Walker said, "We've certainly been looking at every expense, big and small. We are very fortunate that the Munro family own the building and are willing to work with us to make sure we get through these difficult times."


In India, booksellers supplying textbooks to ICSE and CBSE schools (secondary schools) "have urged the state government to allow them to deliver the books directly to students' homes," the Telegraph reported, adding: "Some booksellers said they already offer the option of buying books online and getting them delivered at home. But all of them would need the government's permission for bulk doorstep delivery of books." At least three booksellers have written to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, seeking permission for accepting home-delivery orders.

A bookseller who supplies books to at least 20 ICSE and CBSE schools in Calcutta said, "The schools can't allow us to open counters on the campuses now." Schools were shut down March 16 after the state government announced that all educational institutions would remain closed for the coronavirus outbreak. Schools are scheduled to reopen on June 10.

Supriya Dhar, secretary of the La Martiniere schools, said online classes will begin soon and students would benefit from getting books before then: "We have no problem if the bookseller can deliver the books at the students' homes since it is not possible to distribute the books from the campus now."


The team at New Zealand bookseller Wardini Books, Havelock North, shared an Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired message on Facebook video: "#BookshopsWillBeBack."

Causeway Bay Books Opening in Taipei

Lam Wing-kee

Causeway Bay Books, the former Hong Kong bookstore that "sold books critical of Chinese leaders and fell victim to Beijing's persecution," will reopen in Taipei on April 25, CNA reported. Founder Lam Wing-kee fled to Taiwan two months after the Hong Kong government proposed a controversial extradition bill in February 2019, fearing he would be extradited to China under the bill to face charges of running an illegal business, CNA noted. The bill has since been scrapped in the wake of mass protests.

In 2015, Lam had been one of five shareholders and staff members of Causeway Bay Books who disappeared into Chinese custody. Released on bail and allowed to return to Hong Kong in June 2016 "to retrieve a hard drive listing the bookstore's customers," he "jumped bail and went public, detailing how he was blindfolded by police after crossing the border into the neighboring Chinese city of Shenzhen and spent months being interrogated," CNA wrote.

Lam said the new store will not hold any special activities on its opening day to minimize the risk of overcrowding due to the Covid-19 pandemic. "Public health and safety comes first." he explained, welcoming anyone interested to come for a visit.

Another Look at Indie Crowdfunding Campaigns

As the coronavirus crisis continues, more independent booksellers around the country are creating crowdfunding campaigns to support their stores and furloughed staff members.

On March 26, Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, Mass., launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking $75,000. As of April 14, the store has raised just under $55,000. Owner Susan Little explained that due to the ongoing pandemic, the store was running out of cash to pay rent, utilities, payroll, liabilities and more. In an update posted on April 1, Little said two local families offered to match every dollar raised after the $40,000 mark, up to the $75,000 goal. Wrote Little: "You've made us cry and filled our souls during a time where the world is a little dark and uncertain."

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the owners of Spoonbill & Sugartown, Booksellers, started a campaign on April 3 with a goal of $150,000. Proprietors Miles Bellamy and Jonas Kyle have so far raised just under $9,000 from 130 donors. In their message to community members, they said they've applied for assistance in the form of small business loans, but without community support they will likely not be able to make it. Contributions will go toward rent, insurance, utilities and eventually hiring back employees.

Vivien Jennings and Roger Doeren, co-owners of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan., started a campaign of their own three days ago. Doeren and Jennings are hoping to raise $280,000, and have brought in nearly $12,000 in just a few days. In their message to potential donors, they noted that author events are a mainstay of their business, but they doubt they'll be able to host another in-person author event until September at the earliest. At the same time, school and corporate business have been reduced to fractions of what they normally are. All funds will go toward supporting staff, reducing liabilities and other operations costs.

Joanna Parzakonis, owner of Bookbug and this is a bookstore in Kalamazoo, Mich., has launched a campaign to help support the bookstores' staff. Since closing both shops to traffic on March 15, Parzakonis explained, limited sales have not been enough to sustain the 28 non-owner employees of the bookstores. Parzakonis is looking to raise $100,000, all of which will go towards the non-owner employees.

How Bookstores Are Coping: Creativity, Support, Communication

Laura Cummings, owner of White Birch Books in North Conway, N.H., reported that both Maine and New Hampshire are under stay-at-home orders. She lives in the former but works in the latter, and under the New Hampshire order, her business is classified as non-essential. She is, however, allowed access to the store and is able to do curbside pickup, along with direct-to-home orders.

Cummings said customers have been very good about it, and she's done several personal shopping moments. Just this week, she picked out an entire box of baby shower gifts, including board books, gift wrap, a card and a stuffed animal, that will be mailed with a note saying it shouldn't be opened until a specific time and date. Cummings added: "People are being very creative and we are, too."

She has put a stop to all incoming orders, so the store's new book inventory is a bit depleted. But customers have been patient and seem happy to wait for orders to come in. Shipments have slowed down a bit, too, and while that has caused some frustration, most people are being very understanding.

All that being said, Cummings noted, sales are down dramatically. There's only so much that can be done with the store closed to browsing, and she had to lay off all of her staff when she closed the doors. Most of those staff members were part time, and she has been checking in with them regularly. Two of her teenaged staff members are doing remote schooling.

Cummings's one full-timer applied for unemployment as soon as she was laid off, but has not seen a single check in three weeks despite already being approved. Cummings hopes to hire that staff member back on a part-time basis soon, and explained that even with the storefront closed, there is too much work for a single person to handle.

Cummings said she has applied for a federal disaster grant but has heard nothing. She'll be applying for the paycheck protection program as well, and should she get any grants or loans, she plans to start hiring back her staff.


Online orders at City of Asylum

In Pittsburgh, Pa., City of Asylum Books has been closed for browsing since right around St. Patrick's Day, reported manager Lesley Rains. Shortly after the store made that decision, a stay-at-home order was issued for the entire county. Rains is able to access the store even under the order, and while she's done some curbside pickups, she's mostly been pointing customers toward online sales and is offering free shipping.

Rains said it has been "really remarkable" and "really emotional" to see how people are supporting the bookstore. Rains comes in every day and is busy all day with the volume of orders, and customers are including really nice notes mentioning their desire to support the store and make sure "it's here when this is over."

Rains said the staff is all working from home and pitching in when there's work to be done. They are becoming jacks-of-all-trades, and she noted that one of her co-workers, who is officially an assistant bookkeeper, recentyl helped her pack online orders.

She added that if there is a silver lining to this, it's how kind and supportive customers have been. Books are taking a little longer to arrive in store, but shoppers are very understanding and saying there's no rush.

On Facebook, the store posted: "Friends, we miss you! We're using this time to give our home a much-needed and thorough deep clean. Trim is being painted, floors polished, rugs and cushions washed. We can't wait to have you back. In the meantime, stay safe, stay home."


In Houston, Tex., Brazos Bookstore is currently under a stay-at-home order. General manager Ülrika Moats reported that she and the store's operations manager are able to access the store, and they've been busy processing and shipping online orders. Prior to the stay-at-home order, the store was doing curbside pickup, but since then Moats and her team have been doing only online orders. 

Moats said that so far the staff is safe and faring well. All of the booksellers are still getting paid, and those who can work from home are doing so. Every Sunday Moats and the team make time for a Zoom call so they can chat and see each other in order to stay connected. Moats added that the store's ownership board is working on a Paycheck Protection Program loan.


Becky Dayton, owner of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt., is no longer accepting any shipments until further notice. Aside from an occasional Ingram wholesale order here and there, she said, she will not be accepting backorders, frontlist or anything else, and she is no longer actively working on Fall frontlist orders through Edelweiss.

In the weeks since Vermont issued a stay-at-home order, Dayton has been unable to have any of her employees join her at the store, and she has been unable to process all of the online orders on her own. As such she is driving as much business as possible to the store's Bookshop page while selling what remains of the in-store inventory via curbside pickup and local delivery. She is limiting her days of operation to Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and she has tried to secure a PPP loan so she can pay her booksellers for a few weeks.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Dayton explained, the store was suffering significantly due to a massive, multi-year construction project going on in Middlebury. Prior to the pandemic, it was supposed to be done sometime over the summer. Now it looks like it will stretch into the early fall at least. At the same time, Middlebury College has been emptied of students for the rest of the academic year and it is unclear what will happen for the fall semester. Said Dayton: "When VBS opens its doors again, I expect what is inside to be significantly different than it has been."


"It's a family affair here at the bookshop these days," the Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock, Vt., posted on Facebook. "Long hours getting all of your orders together have moved us to bring in Apollo & Grimm for some extra paws on deck. Thank you to everyone, for your orders, for your patience, for your kind words & messages of support, and for waving through the window when you pass by on your walk. It's so good to see your faces, even if it's through the glass! We're glad we can continue to bring you comfort, escape, information, distraction, whatever you can find in the pages of a book. (Or the pieces of a puzzle, right?)"


Image of the Day: Special Delivery

Story & Song Bookstore Bistro, Fernandina Beach, Fla., shared:
"What do you do when you're feeling a bit blue? Do something for others! We made a special delivery to the ER at Baptist Hospital Nassau today... food and a bag of books. We appreciate everything our first responders are doing to see us through! Thank you, health care workers!!!"

Kidlit Coronavirus-fighting Ideas

Publishers continue to pump out excellent resources for educators, parents and children taking part in at-home learning. (More ideas can be found here, here, here and here.) Crabtree Publishing is offering free access to its complete e-library of more than 2,000 pre-k through age 9 nonfiction and fiction titles until June 30, and is following the current children's publishing trend of granting temporary copyright permission to allow educators, librarians and others to do online read-alouds. The Creative Company is doing the same--both giving access to e-books and blanket permission to use their books in virtual story and circle times--through May 31. Arbordale is offering free access to e-books through May 15, specifically dual-language and multilingual digital titles, while Lee & Low is posting recorded read-alouds and activities as resources for Spanish-speaking families. Candlewick has launched a Where's Waldo-themed portal and has also created an "event grid for potential virtual events with select, tech-savvy authors and illustrators, either during Children's Book Week (May 4-10) or at any time that works for [educators, librarians, booksellers, etc.] through at least June." Andrews McMeel Kids gathered a collection of "particularly easy-to-implement creative activities and teaching guides" that include "award-winning lesson plans created by the Peanuts team in collaboration with NASA."

Author Dana Simpson has been doing weekly videos (such as this one to celebrate International Unicorn Day) to engage with young readers. Gina Loveless has posted a series of activity videos with other authors, including Jessica Kim and Erin Entrada Kelly, on Facebook.

And Jason Reynolds, in his new role as National Ambassador for Young Peoples Literature, began on April 14 to connect directly with young people online as part of his GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story platform. In collaboration with the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council and Every Child a Reader, this includes "a monthly newsletter for parents and educators focused on relevant topics of the day and a biweekly video series intended to inspire creativity in young people, titled 'Write. Right. Rite.' " --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Personnel Changes at Random House

Hannah Rahill has been promoted to senior v-p, backlist strategy and development, for the Random House Group at Penguin Random House. She has been part of the Crown Illustrated Group for the past seven years, first as associate publisher and then publishing director for Ten Speed Press.

In a letter to staff about the change, Gina Centrello, president & publisher of Random House, had this to say about backlist: "As we often say, a book is a new discovery--regardless of when it was initially published. And, with more and more readers discovering books through various platforms, our backlist catalog is an increasing part of our sales focus. In this formalized role, Hannah will work with our publishing teams to refine backlist initiatives, further monetize our extensive catalog, and look for opportunities to drive sales for the imprints under the Random House Group umbrella, leading a shared effort to set strategic direction, goals and priorities."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: David Rohde on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: David Rohde, author of In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America's "Deep State" (Norton, $30, 9781324003540).

Good Morning America: Talia Pollock, author of Party in Your Plants: 100+ Plant-Based Recipes and Problem-Solving Strategies to Help You Eat Healthier (Avery, $25, 9780525540267).

Movies: Dune

An exclusive look at Dune, Denis Villeneuve's (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) film version of the epic 1965 sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert, was offered by Vanity Fair, which reported that "for decades, the novel itself has defied adaptation. In the '70s, the wild man experimental filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky mounted a quest to film it, but Hollywood considered the project too risky. David Lynch brought Dune to the big screen in a 1984 feature, but it was derided as an incomprehensible mess and a blight on his filmography. In 2000, a Dune miniseries on what's now the SyFy channel became a hit for the cable network, but it is now only dimly remembered."

The project was written by Villeneuve with Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts. It stars Timothée Chalamet as the young royal Paul Atreides, leading a cast that includes Zendaya, Stephen Mckinley Henderson, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling and Javier Bardem.

Warner Bros. agreed to tell the story in two films, with part one hitting theaters December 18. "I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book with one single movie. The world is too complex. It's a world that takes its power in details," said Villeneuve. "No matter what you believe, Earth is changing, and we will have to adapt. That's why I think that Dune, this book, was written in the 20th century. It was a distant portrait of the reality of the oil and the capitalism and the exploitation--the overexploitation--of Earth. Today, things are just worse. It's a coming-of-age story, but also a call for action for the youth."

Books & Authors

Awards: Stella Winner

Jess Hill has won the A$50,000 (about US$31,965) Stella Prize, which recognizes and celebrates Australian women writers' contribution to literature, for See What You Made Me Do, her four-year investigation into domestic abuse.

The judges called the winner "ground-breaking" and said that Jess Hill "has ignited a nationwide debate on the causes and solutions to a devastating problem, garnering significant media attention.

"See What You Made Me Do looks at the issue from multiple perspectives, including those of the largely male perpetrators and asks the government to rethink and reframe the measures which have so far failed Australian women. It is a sensitive read, which--whilst confronting--is compelling and hopeful."

Reading with... Sophie Dahl

photo: Matt Easton

Sophie Dahl began her working life as a teenage fashion model, but books and words were her first love. Her fiction includes the illustrated novella The Man with the Dancing Eyes (illus. by Annie Morris) and Playing with the Grown-ups. She has also written two cookbooks, Very Fond of Food: A Year in Recipes and Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights, in addition to writing and presenting two BBC shows about food. She is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveller and was a long-time contributing editor at British Vogue. Dahl lives in the English countryside with her husband, daughters, rescue dog, cat and tortoise. Her first book for children, Madame Badobedah, illustrated by Lauren O'Hara, is available now from Candlewick.

On your nightstand now:

Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem, a totally captivating social history of London, told through the objects that are washed up on the foreshore of the River Thames. It's that rare thing--history and detailed fact but told in the most lyrical, tender way. I'm also reading Ariel Leve's memoir, An Abbreviated Life, which is extraordinary but has to be read in doses as it's such painful reading.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Can I have two? If so, Ronia, The Robber's Daughter by the inimitable Astrid Lindgren and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. Both feature nuanced, sparky heroines fighting darkness, complex family dynamics and internal struggles. Give me these kinds of young women any day, please! Adversity is a part of life and good children's books illustrate this so powerfully. We adults sometimes need reminding. The wonderful children's author Katherine Rundell says in her book Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise: "Ignore those who would call it mindless escapism: it's not escapism: it is findism. Children's books are not a hiding place, they are a seeking place."

Your top five authors:

Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Philip Pullman, Astrid Lindgren, John Irving, Mary Karr. Argh. And Hilary Mantel and Nancy Mitford. Eight, useless.

Book you've faked reading:

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Never got round to it. Sorry.

Book you're an evangelist for:

There is a fantastic book on grief called The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, written by the psychotherapist Francis Weller. He writes gems like: "Grief and love are sisters, woven together from the beginning. Their kinship reminds us that there is no love that does not contain loss and no loss that is not a reminder of the love we carry for what we once held close." See also any of The School of Life Books, but particularly A Replacement for Religion. I think we're living in such crazy, kooky times that books like these can really help us hang onto our hats.  

Book you've bought for the cover:

Ooh, definitely Cherry by Nico Walker. Which outdid the cover. Such an amazing book. He's brilliant.

Book you hid from your parents:

I think my mother actually bought me Forever by Judy Blume, which seems to be the formative hide-from-your-parents book. I definitely hid it from my teachers. Probably hid Ambition by Julie Burchill, which was bursting with sex. And all of those unbelievably sinister Virginia Andrews books. Good Lord--what was that all about?! Our caretakers had no idea we were reading a hotbed of murder and incest!

Book that changed your life:

I read Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud when I was a teenager and I related to it so much. I love that it's from a child's perspective, which keeps it feeling generous and curious, and it captures the blind acceptance of childhood so magically. I'm a huge fan of all of Freud's work. Peerless Flats has the same observed detachment and is great.

Favorite line from a book:

An oldie but a goodie from L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

Five books you'll never part with:

A proof copy of Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth. I interviewed him on its release and he signed it and I was struck dumb by pure fandom, which was a problem because we were in front of an audience of a thousand.

A first edition of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, one of my favorite books of all time.

A memoir of the actress Carol Matthau with a great cover that's quite hard to get hold of now, called Among the Porcupines.

The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. It was a present from the writer Dolly Alderton and has the prettiest cover.

A first edition of My Lady Nicotine by J.M. Barrie, which my husband gave me when we were newly together, as I was still partial to a cigarette in those days.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I think The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is an incredible novel, and I did read it all over again as soon as I'd finished. I feel that way too about Andrea Levy's Small Island. I could read and read and read it and will always discover something that feels new and moving.

What is the greatest love story of a book?

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. The most elegant, haunting love story.

Book Review

YA Review: Camp

Camp by L.C. Rosen (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9780316537759, May 26, 2020)

L.C. Rosen (Jack of Hearts (and other parts)) successfully captures the fleeting feelings of first love and explores identity in his sophomore YA novel, set at a queer summer camp.

Every summer since 16-year-old Randall came out four years ago, he's attended Camp Outland, "a four-week sleepaway summer camp for LGBTQIA+ teens." Randy and his best friends George and Ashleigh always sign up for the camp musical, but this summer Randy's exchanged his purple wheely bag with cat stickers for a big military surplus bag, cut short his chin-length, wavy hair and requested everyone call him Del. This transformation is all part of "the plan" to make the camp playboy, Hudson, fall in love with him. Hudson is known for serial-dating only guys like himself--"masc" fantasies--but Del is going to be the boy who finally gets Hudson to commit. Del's friends express concern over his choices, but he brushes them off with, "Once we're in love, I'll gradually turn back into Randy."

As Del and Hudson grow closer, Hudson reveals a side of himself that Del is sure he hasn't shared with anyone, a side that includes the struggle with his parents wanting him to be something he's not. But with that comes warning signs that suggest Hudson won't be okay with Del-as-Randy, such as when Hudson pleads with him not to start wearing nail polish. Hudson's feelings make Del question the legitimacy of his new relationship, and doubt if everything he gave up for Hudson was worth it.

Whether it's a camp providing a "who-cares-if-your-wrists-are-loose freedom" or a summer show "unrestrained by gender or sexuality," Camp unashamedly celebrates queerness through Del and his friends' representations of a variety of sexual identities. Rosen explores these identities without ever making them feel like stereotypes or ignoring prejudices in the community, such as how there's always one kid who argues that "being ace and aro isn't queer." This broad inclusion feels organic and is the perfect backdrop for Del's self-discovery. Rosen uses Del's point of view and flashbacks to highlight his internal transformation: suddenly, this nonathletic theater kid is a captain for color wars and friends are asking him for relationship advice. Helping support Del's growth are camp lectures about queer history, like "pre-Stonewall gay liberation movements of the fifties and sixties" and gender-fluid cabaret singers of the '30s and '40s, which encourages Del (and readers) always to be himself, unapologetically. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Shelf Talker: A summer camp for queer teens serves as a backdrop for love, heartbreak and self-acceptance in this hilarious and thoughtful romance.

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