Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, April 22, 2020

William Morrow & Company: Polostan: Volume One of Bomb Light by Neal Stephenson

Shadow Mountain: The Legend of the Last Library by Frank L Cole

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Elements of Marie Curie: How the Glow of Radium Lit a Path for Women in Science by Dava Sobel

Ace Books: Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Millicent Quibb School of Etiquette for Young Ladies of Mad Science by Kate McKinnon

Annick Press: Bog Myrtle by Sid Sharp

Minotaur Books: Betrayal at Blackthorn Park: A Mystery (Evelyne Redfern #2) by Julia Kelly

Quotation of the Day

'The Adaptations Are Just Beginning'

"I'm taking long walks, cooking more, reading a lot. Admiring the creative and generous things that are happening in the world. Imagining and reimagining that first luxurious day back in the world--first we'll go here, then here. So much feels fraught and urgent right now, that I'm also spending a lot of time reminding myself: This is going to be a long process, and the adaptations are just beginning. I'm trying (and often failing) to pace myself emotionally, to be gentle, and to accept that we're at the start of a period of profound change. Books do help in all of that."

--Emma Snyder, owner of the Ivy Bookshop, speaking with Baltimore Fishbowl on how she is coping with, and adapting to, life and work during the Covid-19 crisis

Running Press Kids: Your Magical Life: A Young Witch's Guide to Becoming Happy, Confident, and Powerful by Amanda Lovelace


Causeway Bay Books Owner Attacked in Taiwan

Lam Wing-kee

Lam Wing-kee, one of the five Hong Kong publishers and booksellers kidnapped by China in 2015, was attacked yesterday by a man who threw red paint at him, days before he was to open a bookstore in Taiwan, Reuters (via the New York Times) reported.

"I was attacked with red paint in the cafe," Lam told Reuters. "Some people don't want me to open the bookshop in Taiwan." He described the attack as a threat by supporters of Beijing.

Last week, Lam said he plans to open Causeway Bay Books, named after the original store in Hong Kong, this coming Saturday, April 25, in Taipei.

Lam moved to Taiwan last year, when a law that would have allowed people to be sent to China for trial came close to passage in Hong Kong. Mass protests led to the withdrawal of the law. But in recent days, Hong Kong authorities have arrested many pro-democracy activists.

The five owners and staff members of publisher Mighty Current and its bookstore, Causeway Bay Books, were kidnapped and detained in 2015 by China, which was unhappy that they published and sold books critical of the Chinese leadership. In 2016, Lam was released on bail and allowed to return to Hong Kong to retrieve a hard drive listing the bookstore's customers, but he went public, telling about being blindfolded by police and being interrogated for months.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: William by Mason Coile

BAM's 'Talk to a Bookseller' Service; Comicbook United Fund; Knopf Doubleday's Virtual Book Club

Books-A-Million has launched a service called "Talk to a Bookseller" to help customers curate their reading lists. Using a designated phone number, customers can "speak to a bookseller and discuss authors, book club recommendations, bestselling new releases and much more," the company said, adding that BAM "has category specific experts waiting to offer suggestions and have conversations about what they love using this new program."

BAM CMO Scott Kappler said: "We miss our customers, and our new 'Talk to a Bookseller' service is meant to keep that person-to-person connection intact while many of our stores are closed. The communities we serve have come to rely on our in-store category experts, and this new service is just a small way for us to stay accessible to our guests and discuss what's important to them--books."

"Talk to a Bookseller" concierge service is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. CST. When customers call 1-866-544-1468, a recorded phone prompt will connect them with a corresponding book category expert. BAM booksellers and industry experts will be answering incoming phone calls.


Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, DC and the Book Industry Charitable Foundation have teamed up to create the Comicbook United Fund, which will provide financial assistance to comic shops and their employees. 

The Comicbook United Fund has grown out of the Forge Fund, which Oni-Lion Forge established last year with a donation to Binc of $100,000. Now, DC has added another $250,000 to the fund, and Binc has created a dedicated link to the new combined fund.

To raise money for the Comicbook United Fund, a coalition of artists, authors, comic creators and other supporters have started more than 600 auctions on Twitter. Jim Lee, chief creative officer and publisher of DC, is auctioning 60 original sketches in 60 days on eBay, with 95% of sales going to Binc.

"We are grateful and humbled to work with industry leaders Oni-Lion Forge and DC," said Binc executive director Pam French. "Bince is honored to help carry out their philanthropic vision. The outpouring of support and innovative ideas we've seen from across the industry has been inspiring and gives us great hope for the future."


Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group is launching a monthly virtual book club called How Have I Not Read This? The club's inaugural selection is Albert Camus's The Plague, which will be discussed in a Zoom event featuring Emily St. John Mandel, Laura Marris and Alice Kaplan on Tuesday, May 5, at 7 p.m. Eastern. (Virtual doors open at 6:40; register on Eventbrite.)

Each event will be hosted in partnership with booksellers and librarians. The first event partner is City Lights in San Francisco. Participants can order The Plague from City Lights online.

For the book club, with help from its authors and editors, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group will select "a timely and topical book from our publishing library and ask bibliophiles everywhere to read along with us and join in the conversation." The monthly selection will be promoted with posts on all of the group's social media channels--including Knopf, Doubleday, Pantheon, and Vintage Anchor--as well as our partner booksellers' channels, and will offer club assets for participants at the Reading Group Center.

International Update: Bookshops Open in Rome, Mapping Canadian Indies

Bookshops in Rome and throughout Lazio were permitted to reopen April 20, a week later than booksellers in most other Italian regions, following an order by the Lazio Region, Wanted in Rome reported.

In a statement, Anglo American Book said: "When we reopen, for now, we kindly ask that you come by with specific titles in mind, as access to the store will be limited and browsing is momentarily not allowed. You can also call us during the week or email us, to have books available in store set aside for you before picking them up, for questions and/or orders. Your health is important to us! We kindly ask, when visiting our store, that you wear gloves and masks, and to respect social distancing, which is 1 to 2 meters."

The Almost Corner Bookshop in Trastevere, is also asking customers to bear in mind social distancing measures when visiting, with only one customer allowed in the shop at any one time.

At Otherwise Bookshop, customers "must wear masks and will be admitted one at a time. Gloves will be provided. The shop says it will continue its home deliveries--a service it began during lockdown."


Canadian publisher Don Gorman of Rocky Mountain Books "is drawing attention to the hundreds of independent booksellers embracing online sales during the Covid-19" by creating a Google Map of independent booksellers operating online and offering delivery or curbside pickup, CBC reported. The map now includes more than 250 bookstores.

"A lot of independent booksellers and publishers have realized that they need to have a stronger online presence," said Gorman, who noted that thank-you notes and requests to be added to the list have flooded his inbox over the past few weeks. He added that the response illustrates a need for a national association of bookstore owners in Canada. The Canadian Booksellers Association operated for decades before being absorbed into the Retail Council of Canada in 2012.

A former bookseller, Gorman said he expects the pandemic will fundamentally change the way small bookstores operate, even after it ends: "This has really proven that the economy is moving online and we have to have connections through social media, and we have to have online presence if we actually want to survive these sorts of things."


While Czech shops smaller than 200 square meters (about 2,150 square feet) are scheduled to open April 27, followed by shops smaller than 1,000 square meters (about 10,760 square feet) on May 11, "social distancing and staying-at-home will continue to be a regular part of life in the Czech Republic for the foreseeable future--meaning the need for good reading material will remain at an all-time high," reported in offering a guide to buying online and supporting local book businesses and e-shops in the Prague region.


With schools having closed early and students under lockdown in Zimbabwe, Dingani Bookshop and Stationery in Bulawayo "has come up with an online academic channel meant to assist secondary and high school learners by educating them from their homes," Chronicle Zimbabwe reported. Umthombo Wolwazi TV is set to launch May 6 and "will feature educational programming which will see learners covering the entire secondary and high school education curriculum with time."

Bookshop proprietor Witness Dingani said as a trial run, they will start with "A" level Heritage Studies. "We'll be launching the online TV channel in the coming weeks and the pre-recorded programs will be broadcast live on our website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube pages. We came up with this initiative to keep the learners on track by educating them from the comfort of their homes."


In the Indian city of Kochi, the lockdown "has upset bookworms who have the habit of going to libraries to pick up books. However, the cyclers in Thiruvananthapuram are coming together to aid these bibliophiles--by dropping their favorite books home," the New Indian Express reported.

The Books by Bicycle initiative was launched by handing over a book to city Mayor K. Sreekumar. About 11 volunteers from the Indus Cycling Embassy are working to deliver books on bicycles. Titles from the leading publishing houses, including DC, Mathrubhumi, Chintha, Poorna, Cost Ford, Maithri and Modern, are available through the service.

How Bookstores Are Coping: Dedicated Staff, 'Book-packing Assembly Lines'

Linda McLoughlin Figel, owner of pages: a bookstore in Manhattan Beach, Calif., reported that her store is closed to the public, but she and her team do have access to the shop and are filling online and phone orders as well as providing curbside pickup and free local deliveries. 

Figel and her general manager, Kristin Rasmussen, have not had to lay off anyone, and their booksellers are primarily working from home, with no more than two staff members allowed in the store at a time. She said she and Rasmussen have been "blown away by the dedication and support" they've received from their staff, and noted that in their spare time booksellers are doing things like recording book review videos. Figel added: "We miss each other as much as we miss interacting with our incredibly loyal and supportive customers."

When asked about the PPP and other relief programs, Figel said they've been difficult for her to access and in many cases now appear to be dried up. She has, however, been able to work with the store's landlord to achieve short-term rent relief in the form of deferred rent. The silver lining, she continued, is that she and her landlord took the opportunity to renew the store's lease now, which otherwise would have expired in 2021.

On the subject of virtual author events, Figel said she and her staff haven't run any yet, but later this month will start with several virtual book launches.


Books by the Bay owner Cheryl Popp with store manager Jeff Battis.

In the six months since opening Sausalito Books by the Bay in Sausalito, Calif., store owner Cheryl Popp has experienced disruptions caused by massive wildfires last October and now the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Popp reported that following the fires, business was off to a robust start, until she had to close her doors to the public.

She and store manager Jeff Battis are keeping afloat by taking orders over the phone and via e-mail, delivering to local doorsteps, offering curbside pickup and shipping for free anywhere in the U.S. Most of her staff, she continued, have opted to shelter-in-place, while a few have essentially volunteered to work alone in the bookshop for a few hours each day processing orders, with salaries deferred until a later date.

She said the store is "doing a lively business" in jigsaw puzzles and other gift items, and her Community Supported Bookstore membership program has also helped. The Books by the Bay team has had to pivot to doing more virtual, online communications, and Popp is now sending out a bi-weekly electronic newsletter.

Popp added that while she's always been fond of handselling books, she is now a "full-time personal shopper and delivery service," and on any given day she "feels like FedEx." And though that wasn't exactly what she signed up for, she said she's "still dedicated to keeping a locally owned and operated independent bookstore alive and well here in Sausalito."


Curbside pickup orders at Writer's Block.

At Writer's Block bookstore, Las Vegas, Nev., "boxes and book-packing assembly lines have replaced the scene of customers leisurely browsing through shelves stacked with carefully curated literary works," the Nevada Independent reported. Co-owner Drew Cohen said the store shifted to only online orders after "a few awkward days" of watching customers wander through "touching everything in sight." Since then, the store has gone from receiving one or two website orders a week to 20-40 orders per day.

"I'm glad that people are using the online service, but it's been a total transformation of how we do business and kind of a baptism by fire where we've had to develop systems for order fulfillment overnight," Cohen said. "Before, we would just get one order here or there and could take our time packing it and bringing it into the post office."

Writer's Block has suspended the young writer's workshops and book club meetings it regularly hosts, and Cohen is unsure whether he will move that programming online: "Each of our transactions takes so much longer to process.... I have less time now than I did before we opened, so I've been too exhausted to even think about or do some of that programming."

Although the bookshop can continue to fill orders and the landlord is working with the store on rent payments, Cohen said he is nervous about the long term health of the business: "We are still paying our employees while we're closed right now, and it is eating through our savings. We went into this in a sort of healthy position, and this crisis has removed a lot of that buffer. And then of course, we still don't know how long it's going to last for....

"I'm grateful that we have these web orders because it's allowed me to not have to think about too far into the future when I'm just packing up a book and creating the postage for it. And when I'm not on the clock, I am trying not to consume too much media that is about the virus."


"Imagine that Avid is at one end of a rainbow and your books, safely nestled in your mailbox or on your front stoop, are the pot of gold at the end," Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga., posted on Facebook. "We love doodling on your packages--it's important to engage in creative pursuits each day, and that includes busting out some markers and drawing for you. It puts a smile on the booksellers' faces (and the postal workers'!), and from the myriad #avidsnailmail posts you've been sharing on social media, we know they make you happy, too. Thanks for hanging in there with us. We truly believe books will help us stay both more centered and more connected in these trying times."

Obituary Note: Donna Kauffman

Romance writer Donna Kauffman, author of more than 70 novels, which have been translated and published in 26 countries, died April 9. She was 60. "It is with incredibly heavy hearts that we must share the news of a loss in our Kensington family," Kensington Publishing said. "Donna was a beloved member of our family, and we are sending thoughts, prayers, and love to her friends and family at this time. We encourage you to read more about Donna, and visit the donation link for ProLiteracy her friends have created in her name."

A native of Washington, D.C., Kauffman ultimately called the Blue Ridge Mountains home, where she drew inspiration for her novels--including the setting of her final work, Under a Firefly Moon, which was released January 28, USA Today reported. Her romance novel series include Blue Hollow Falls, the Brides and Bachelors of Blueberry Cove, Cupcake Club, and Glass Slipper, Inc.

Alicia Condon, Kauffman's book editor, said: "Donna had a special gift for telling tender, uplifting stories while offering a uniquely insightful glimpse at the human condition. She made a world where every character was important and where love always wins the day."

Author Sonali Dev, who had worked with Kauffman on a recent book box set, observed: "Her last message to us was one of hope about how much better she was feeling. I was not prepared for this at all. She was the most upbeat, relentless, tireless cheerleader of our little group, with nothing but words of wisdom, support, and sometimes plain blind faith in us no matter how defeated we felt by this business and our private lives."

In a statement, author Nora Roberts said, "My friend Donna had a laugh that rolled right up out of her belly, the sort you'd recognize as hers from across the room. She was warm and funny, independent and hard-working. Knowing she's no longer in the world is a hard, sharp loss."


Image of the Day: Lots of Love for Main Street Books

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance shared this, well, heartwarming photo on Facebook: "From Adah Fitzgerald, owner of Main Street Books -- Davidson, NC, 'If there's anything that feels better than sorting and displaying hundreds and hundreds of β€οΈπŸ§‘πŸ’›πŸ’šπŸ’™πŸ’œthat the kind and caring readers in our little town and beyond cut and delivered through our mail slot ... this was a contemplative practice for so many of you, but certainly for me. Hands doing work, head focused on a mundane task, hearts beaming their love on this collaborative project that will hopefully bring a teeny moment of joy to hundreds more people. Thank you, thank you, thank you.' "

Kidlit Coronavirus-fighting Ideas

We have been sharing the interesting, exciting, surprising and oh-so-helpful ways people in the kidlit community have been making online resources available to educators, parents and children during the Covid-19 epidemic. You can find previous round-ups here, here, here, here and here.

Last week, Penguin Classroom announced "Mondays with Michelle Obama," a special collaboration between Penguin Young Readers, Random House Childrens Books, PBS KIDS and former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama. "Mondays with Michelle Obama" will support the recently announced "Read Together, Be Together" Penguin Random House literacy initiative and PBS KIDS' "Read-Along" effort. This past Monday, April 20, kicked off the four-week series of videos featuring Obama reading aloud beloved children's books: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illus. by Axel Scheffler; There's a Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, illus. by Greg Abbot; Miss Maple's Seeds by Eliza Wheeler; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. "Mondays with Michelle Obama" will be livestreamed simultaneously on the PBS KIDS' Facebook page and YouTube channel, as well as on Penguin Random House's Facebook page, and will remain available for viewing on all of the platforms.

Penguin Classroom has posted activity starter videos from Crash McCreery, Lauren Wolk and Veera Hiranandani, as well as writing tips for tweens, and PRH Audio is offering free downloads of Great Expectations, Grimms' Fairy Tales and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz through April 30 on its Volumes app, available on iOS and Android. Other audio entertainment and learning can be found from the Folger Shakespeare Library: seven complete audio performances of Shakespeare's plays are available for free streaming through July 1.

The teams behind YALLFest and YALLWest have scheduled a virtual book festival, YALLSTAYHOME, for this weekend, April 25-26. With giveaways, contests, signed book deliveries, special events and panels with more than 70 authors, YALLSTAYHOME aims to keep young readers "connected and inspired despite our social distance."

The Smithsonian Institution and Smithsonian Enterprises have worked with their partners to provide traditionally paid content for free. Free resources focused on pre-K-12 education, including "tailored lesson plans tied to national learning standards and added support for educators and parents," can be found in the Smithsonian's Learning Lab on the Distance Learning page. The Smithsonian Science Education Center has also made all of its free content available in one place, and its "Smithsonian Science Stories" are freely available on Carolina Biological's learning from home hub. DK and Smithsonian are also supporting readers with free educational content for Smithsonian Maker Lab OutdoorsExplorersTimelines of Everything and The Space Race Activity Pack. And Silver Dolphin Books is offering downloadable pages for children ages 8-12 from two activity books, Smithsonian Extreme Animals Activity Book and Smithsonian Super Science Activity Book.

Lastly, National Library Week began on Sunday, April 19. Several libraries have digital activities and events planned to celebrate the week and individuals can check out their local libraries' webpages to see if there is anything scheduled. Readers can also celebrate the week with any of these digital libraries: the Digital Public Library of America, the Nautical Archaeology Digital Library, the Central Intelligence Agency's Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Getty Publications Virtual Library, the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine and, of course, the New York Public Library's online collection. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Mark O'Connell on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Mark O'Connell, author of Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back (Doubleday, $27.95, 9780385543002).

Movies: Nullaboo Hullabaloo

Jay Ahn, an executive producer on the 2014 animated comedy The Nut Job, has secured film rights to children's book Nullaboo Hullabaloo by Fleur Ferris (Puffin). Deadline reported that the project is a collaboration among the U.S., South Korea and Australia, with Ahn producing alongside Tristan Barr and David Gim of Continuance Pictures as well as Ferris.

"It's a fun, magical, action-adventure story that shows what could happen if fairies were discovered, but it is also so much more," said Ferris. "This story shows how dangerous one ill-intended person can be to the masses if they are in a position of influence."

Ahn commented: "There couldn't be a more timely piece for the world with the current state of affairs. Not only from creative and production but from distribution and marketing perspectives, I want to bring it up to a different dimension."

Barr noted that as "productions of our live-action have slowed with Covid, we are excited to be taking a different direction in the safe hands of Jay Ahn."

Books & Authors

Awards: Women's Fiction; Wolff Translators

The shortlist for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction was revealed yesterday during a special online event hosted by chair of the judges Martha Lane Fox. The winner, who receives £30,000 (about $38,705) and a limited edition bronze figurine, will be named September 9. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Hamnet by Maggie O' Farrell
Weather by Jenny Offill

"We are all living in challenging, sad and complex times so incredible stories provide hope, a moment of escape and a point of connection now more than ever. Choosing the shortlist was tough--we went slowly and carefully and passions ran high--just as you would want in such a process. But we are all so proud of these books--all readers will find solace if they pick one up."


The Goethe-Institut has announced a shortlist for the 2020 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize, which is funded by the German government and honors "an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the U.S." The winning translator, who will be named May 1, receives $10,000. This year's finalists are:

Joel Agee for his translation of Agathe, or the Forgotten Sister by Robert Musil (New York Review Books)
Philip Boehm for two of his translations--Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon (Scribner) and Christine Wunnicke's The Fox and Dr. Shimamura (New Directions)
David Dollenmayer for his translation of Martin Walser's A Man in Love (Arcade)
Elizabeth Janik for her translation of Marie-Janine Calic's The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe (Harvard University Press)

Reading with... Phuc Tran

photo: Jeff Roberts Imaging

Phuc Tran has been a high school Latin teacher for more than 20 years; at the same time, he has become a highly sought-after tattooer. Tran graduated from Bard College in 1995 with a BA in Classics and received the Callanan Classics Prize. He taught Latin, Greek and Sanskrit in New York City at the Collegiate School and was an instructor at Brooklyn College's Summer Latin Institute. Most recently, he taught Latin, Greek and German at the Waynflete School in Portland, Maine. His 2012 TEDx talk "Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive" was featured on NPR's Ted Radio Hour. Tran's memoir Sigh, Gone was just published by Flatiron Books.

On your nightstand now:

Like, metaphorically or literally? Because I don't actually have a nightstand, I'll assume metaphorically since my books just lie in a pile on the floor. The next books on the docket are The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (because holy smokes, I was blown away by Nothing to See Here); Writers and Lovers by Lily King; Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (this is my book club's book); and Minor Feelings by Cathy Hong Park. I read Minor Feelings in two days, but I feel like I'm going to have to read it again because it's so intense and there's a lot to unpack.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series because I was such a fantasy nerd as a kid. I think I read the whole series three times--and if you say that's a Tolkien rip-off, we're gonna have to arm wrestle.

Your top five authors:

Oof! Are we talking dead? Alive? Of all time? Okay, I guess in no particular order: Charles Dickens, Nicholson Baker, Oscar Wilde, Michael Chabon, Ann Patchett. I know, it's a weird list, and I'm sure it would change weekly, if not hourly. Stay with me, though. I'm thinking about being on a deserted island and being able to read only five writers for the rest of my hot, gritty life on that island as I went coconuts. Dickens because his sentences and characters are so wild and not tropical; Baker because he's so modern and astute (and two novels are just rocks-off smutty); Wilde because, well, because he's Wilde; Chabon because of Kavalier and Clay; and Patchett because her writing is so heady and hearty at the same time but without the head-scratching syntax of Dickens.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses by James Joyce. Ugh. I've tried reading Ulysses so many times, and I keep losing steam (of consciousness).

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I love this book so much--luminous, heartfelt, simultaneously vast and minute, magical and real, hyperbolic and understated.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland. Okay, I bought this for the cover and also because the title is a Smiths song, and I thought, "Anyone with the balls to name a novel after a Smiths song is an audacious writer." It's so dark and weird and disturbing.

Book you hid from your parents:

The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander. So... uh... my friend in sixth grade found this paperback in his parents' basement, and our lunch table passed this book around and, uh... well... uh... I read it cover to cover. And I may have re-read a lot of it. Yeah.

Book that changed your life:

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. This book shifted how I see my own and other people's suffering.

Favorite line from a book:

"Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars." --Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Five books you'll never part with:

Carmina by Catullus
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson
Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

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

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Book Review

YA Review: Parachutes

Parachutes by Kelly Yang (Katherine Tegen Books, $18.99 hardcover, 496p., ages 14-up, 9780062941084, May 26, 2020)

In this noteworthy, immensely enjoyable novel, Kelly Yang (Front Desk) tackles some of the systemic inequalities that foster racism, misogyny and sexual assault. She convincingly brings to light ways in which victims are often judged more harshly than their aggressors, but also provides a template for change.

As an 11th grader in Shanghai, Claire insists she will support herself rather than rely on a husband. "I have a brain, remember," she snaps at her mom, but her rich family insists that she find a worthy husband: "A Fortune 500 CEO perhaps. Or a second-generation scion." To ensure she gets into a good college, Claire's Chinese tutor provides answers to homework assignments and essay tests, which makes her feel "as though [she's] not capable of producing [her] own thoughts." When Claire writes her own paper, however, she scores such low grades that her concerned parents send her to finish high school in America. Just like that, she's a "parachute," a kid from China who goes to the U.S. without her parents.

Dani is a scholarship student at American Prep, the same school Claire now attends. Dani's a powerhouse on the debate team and a favorite of her coach, Mr. Connelly. Dani's entire college admissions strategy hinges on qualifying for an upcoming debate that all the top coaches, including one from dream school Yale, will be attending. Dani works hard outside of school, too--like her single mom, Dani's employed as a maid and the pair still barely make ends meet. Out of desperation, Dani's mom decides to rent out their spare bedroom to Claire, "a nice girl from China."

The two girls immediately clash: to Dani, Claire seems horribly spoiled, while Claire can't understand Dani's apparent hostility. As Claire navigates her new school, she begins dating Jay, a boy who fits her family's high standards, but she is taken aback by the 129 girls on his phone and the ways he describes other young women: "bubble butt," "button nose," "dimple cheeks." When Jay goes too far, Claire must decide whether to stay quiet as her parents would expect or to speak up. As Claire deals with this trauma, Mr. Connelly comes on to Dani. How she reacts could affect her entire future, and her idolization of him makes his betrayal all the more devastating.

Yang dives with aplomb into issues of opulence and poverty, power and impotence. While it is also a story of friendship amid culture clash, Yang clearly portrays how, though progress is being made, girls and women everywhere deserve more. Main characters Claire and Dani are strong and compelling enough to take on the powers that be, and the supporting cast is fully realized. Whether it's unwanted attention from trusted teachers or lovers going too far, Yang's characters realize they will need to shift the culture to respect women as the strong, intelligent, independent beings they are. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Shelf Talker: American high schooler Dani and Chinese "parachute" Claire face similar problems regarding men, aggression and authority.

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