Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 3, 2021

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

Hello, Animals!

Animals are an evergreen topic for children's books. These perennial favorites act as child surrogates, beloved friends, comfort objects and educational tools. Here are some board books that introduce children to animals through a few different conceptual directions.

In Hello Baby Animals, Who Are You? by Loes Botman (Floris Books, $9.95), children can identify different animals and are invited to learn the special name for each kind of baby. The illustrations, in a soft, nearly pastel palette, allow each baby animal the chance to look indescribably darling on its identifying page. "I'm a wobbly foal, says the baby donkey," legs spread in an unsteady posture; "I'm a playful kid, says the baby goat," its expression a near smile as it is captured mid-leap.

Anita Bijsterbosch places animals together in shared spaces in Animals at Play (Clavis, $14.95). All of Bijsterbosch's animals are brightly illustrated with a wide-eyed sweetness that is immediately endearing. On the left-hand page, the animals are depicted--Animals in the Jungle: parrot, elephant, giraffe, snake, lion--and on the right, a lift-the-flap shows the animals having fun together in the jungle. Other locations include the ocean, the woods, the farm and the garden.

Amelia Hepworth and Cani Chen's Hello, Baby Animals! (Tiger Tales, $6.99) is designed to help the youngest of children engage with books. Since babies can see black-and-white images from birth, this title features high-contrast black-and-white art with fluorescent splashes of color on every page. Chen sketches every animal with thick black or white lines, and the pops of color show up as waves around a turtle, snowflakes around a penguin or flowers around a deer. Hepworth's simple text puts each animal in action, such as "Kitten purrs" or "Puppy plays." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Claire Keegan: Writing as an Act of Faith

photo: Frederic Stucin Pasco

Claire Keegan is an Irish writer best known for her short stories. Her first collection, Antarctica (1999), won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Her writing has appeared in Granta, the New Yorker, the Paris Review and elsewhere. Her novel Small Things Like These is available in the U.S. from Grove Press (reviewed below).

Small Things Like These is a story of a family but it intersects with the history of the Magdalene laundries. What initially drew you to write about this topic?

I'm not drawn to topics at all. I was never drawn to the topic. It's not how I write, or why I write, or how I begin. It's not a word I would ever use. I write about people and about life and how people cope and sometimes cannot cope and the decisions we make or the decisions we cannot make, and I just take the characters along through time. I depend on and have some faith in my own aesthetics with regards to prose, in that I believe if it's something I'm deeply interested in and wrap my imagination around that something will come out to meet me somewhere in the middle and that I'll have something to say.

What is the process of starting something like this for you?

Well, it's just a piece of difficulty. You're writing about something, and you don't know what it is. I didn't have Furlong at the beginning, I didn't have his past, his daughters, his wife, the shop, the river, the convent. I had nothing. So, I started with pretty much nothing. And as I say, it's just kind of an act of faith that this might turn into something that might be decent and have something to say. I just write one flat paragraph after another, slowly, until something emerges with some level of suggestion. And when I feel any suggestion in a paragraph, I know there's something there and it is something I'm able to detect. And then I just try and follow and stay with that and see where it leads me. I don't believe I have ever not wanted to be led wherever it takes me.

You don't reject the material. Whatever material, it is usually better than what you have in mind. I think prose likes to test you to see how patient you are and how serious you are and if you're serious about this. And if you're serious about it and want to do your best work--which is what I always want to do, I'm not saying it's what I always do, but it's what I always want to do--if you want to do your best work, it opens the door and says, "Well alright, let's see what you can do." I felt a door opening on Furlong and his family and a coal yard and a convent and a town in Ireland during a cold, wet winter. That isn't what I would have chosen for myself. But that's what I got.

Was there any particular theme that grounded the story for you?

If themes emerge--and I hope they do to the reader--I try to stay blind to them. I still couldn't tell you what the theme of this book is. It's not how I think about stories. I always became frozen when people asked me about themes in school because I took stories very seriously. I thought it was about a man going down the road with a goat and the goat went into the woman's house after stealing his cap and that meant he had to marry her and that was very serious to me. I still regard stories in that same way. But I suppose if you wanted me to nail down something, I'd probably say it's a story about love. About a man who was loved, even though he lost his mother when he was young. He was actually loved more than he knew. And I think it's something he wants to offer in his own life. Maybe the book is about how he does this and how he questions if he should do it at all.

Are there any books or authors that you've read recently that have blown you away?

I really liked Damon Galgut's book The Promise which just won the Booker Prize but then I have an interest in Damon's work because I've taught The Good Doctor and some of the stories and I liked In a Strange Room. I think he's a very light-handed writer, so I was delighted for him to have won the Booker this year. Usually, I read the dead. A joke amongst my students--I teach creative writing or have taught creative writing--is, "Such in such a writer is dead, Claire, you can read him now." They tease me because I'm inclined to read the Russians and Fitzgerald and Jane Austen and Joyce. I'm going to read Proust over Christmas. I'm afraid I'm the last person to ask about advice on what is new and upcoming and the state of literature as it is now in Ireland or elsewhere. I'm re-reading Dubliners at the moment and listening to all the stories again and again, just to see what he's doing there.

Small Things Like These is set around the holidays, which feels perfect but not pre-planned. Why did the holidays emerge as part of the setting for this piece?

That's what I like--I like things which work but don't seem pre-planned or plotted out in any way or devised and that's certainly how it started but it just felt like a winter book. Also, because Furlong's a coal and timber merchant it would keep him busy, it would give him some income, it would take him around to all those places. I suppose the whole season of Christmas is a time when the shield we ordinarily wear gets a bit thinner for some of us. And I think that's what happened to Furlong on Christmas Eve after he's fed his men. His shield gets a bit thinner and he's at a loose end.

There's a section in that chapter where he's making the Christmas cake and he wonders what would happen if they had time, if they had free time and if they would have better lives or if they would lose the run of themselves. It says, "Always it was the same, Furlong thought; always they carried mechanically on, without pause, to the next job at hand. What would life be like, he wondered, if they were given time to think and reflect over things? Might their lives be different or much the same--or would they just lose the run of themselves?" And I think actually when he pauses on Christmas Eve and finds himself at a loose end, he loses the run of himself. To me, it's the story of a man breaking down. To me, it's self-destruction in the guise of heroism. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Real Words: Funner, Stupider, and More(r)

Merriam-Webster looked up "funner, stupider, and other words that are in fact real."


Mental Floss shared "8 facts about On the Road."


Forbes magazine noted that Grammarly's founders became billionaires "from fixing your sloppy writing."


Author R.L. Stine tweeted: "I'm so pleased and honored to announce that I've been named Employee of the Month at my house."


Author Abir Mukherjee picked the top 10 books about Calcutta for the Guardian.


The New York Public Library shared its picks for best books of 2021.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Noah Gordon

American author Noah Gordon, "who was virtually unknown at home but whose novels about history, medicine and Jewish identity transformed him into a literary luminary abroad," died November 22 at age 95, the New York Times reported. Gordon's debut novel, The Rabbi (1965), spent 26 weeks on the Times' bestseller list. His other works include The Physician (1986), "the first book in a dynastic trilogy that began in 11th-century Persia, continued during the American Civil War with Shaman (1992) and ended with a modern woman doctor dealing with the morality of abortion in Matters of Choice (1996)," the Times noted. Although it had an initial print run of only 10,000 copies in the U.S., The Physician eventually "sold some 10 million copies, including more than six million in Germany, where, in the 1990s, six of Mr. Gordon's novels were on bestseller lists simultaneously." In 2013, The Physician was adapted into a German film, in English, starring Tom Payne, Stellan Skarsgard and Ben Kingsley. An award-winning musical based on the book is about to tour Spain.

Gordon won Spain's Silver Basque Prize for bestselling book in 1992 and 1995. His novels were also popular in Italy and Brazil. Shaman won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians as the best historical novel of 1991 and 1992. His last novel, The Winemaker, was published in 2012.

Book Review


The Teller of Secrets

by Bisi Adjapon

The Teller of Secrets by West African writer Bisi Adjapon is a historically and culturally vibrant coming-of-age drama narrated by Esi Agyekum, a spirited young woman born in Lagos shortly after Nigeria's independence from Britain in 1960. As a child, Esi and her brother were taken from their Nigerian mother and brought to the town of Kumawu in Ghana by their father.

Esi is a delightfully gregarious narrator, using sight and sound to describe her experiences vividly. The story opens with nine-year-old Esi eager to shed her restrictive cocoon and emerge with wings to claim her place in the world. Life in Ghana with her strict father, aloof stepmother and older stepsisters is difficult and lonely. Vague memories of her mother's weeping face haunt Esi, although it will take many years to solve the mystery of her mother's glaring absence from her childhood.

Scenes from Esi's all-girls boarding school show a teenager brimming with sexual energy and enjoying the special romantic unions formed between older and younger students. Esi eventually goes on to date a fellow college student, Randolph; their engagement turns out to be a fully fledged marriage ceremony. 

Adjapon's characters experience a pendulum of emotions, from immense joy to terrible sadness. Their interactions with each other and with Esi illustrate the skewed gender dynamics that plague the narrator, as she rejects cultural norms that diminish her worth. The sweeping arc of Adjapon's densely absorbing drama includes a fresh interpretation of post-colonial West African political dysfunction and military overreach from a young woman's perspective, with her physical and intellectual emancipation at its simmering center. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Discover: A university student with a strong feminist sensibility and a fearless approach to sexual freedom narrates this lively West African coming-of-age drama.

HarperVia, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780063088948

Small Things Like These

by Claire Keegan

In Small Things Like These, award-winning Irish writer Claire Keegan (Foster) paints a mesmerizing and chilling portrait of one small Irish town and the dark secret it abides. Bill Furlong is a coal merchant and family man, father of five daughters. In the weeks before the Christmas of 1985, Furlong thinks all he wants is to keep his daughters healthy and at St. Margaret's, the Catholic girls' school that will ensure their future success. But when, while delivering an order of coal to the convent one morning, Furlong finds a girl suffering within an inch of her life, he must face the secret that his familiar hometown has kept for decades.

Keegan's lucid prose creates a clear-eyed portrait of a working-class village through crisp attention to the minutia of everyday life. Yet the story maintains a steady and engrossing pace, capturing the gradual and relentless rhythms of the town. Furlong anchors the text like a steady heartbeat, oscillating between doubt and justification, sympathy and fear in the most recognizable of ways. His tender-footed heroism resides amidst a community frozen in its own fear and shame, and it is this sense of well-meaning people, all stagnated by their own guilt, that gives the book its nightmarish qualities. The uncanny contrast between the setting's tight-knit community and the inhumanity Furlong encounters at the convent creates an increasingly surreal atmosphere defined by a sense of dis-ease. Ultimately, Small Things Like These reminds readers of the base truth that is hard to face: that everyday evil, like salvation, is still possible. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Atmospheric and powerful, Small Things Like These is a bittersweet portrayal of the unspoken things that threaten faith and the ways even one person can resist them.

Grove Press, $20, hardcover, 128p., 9780802158741

Empty Wardrobes

by Maria Judite de Carvalho, trans. by Margaret Jull Costa

Originally published in 1966 and available now for the first time in English, Empty Wardrobes by Portuguese author, painter and journalist Maria Judite de Carvalho (1921-1998) is a harsh and funny domestic drama that lays bare the casual cruelties of patriarchy. Carvalho's sardonic tragedy is elegantly interpreted by British translator Margaret Jull Costa. This edition also features a new, vibrant introduction by Kate Zambreno.

When her husband, Duarte, dies, Dora Rosário and their young daughter, Lisa, are left destitute. Duarte's passivity made him professionally unambitious to the point of irresponsibility, yet Dora remains fanatically loyal to his memory even as she endures the humiliations of poverty (and the backhanded remarks of Duarte's mother, Ana, who blames Dora for Duarte's lack of accomplishment). A stroke of luck lands Dora a well-paying job at an antique store Lisa nicknames "The Museum," but after years of uneasy truce, Ana drops a bomb that shatters Dora's equilibrium for a second time: shortly before his death, Duarte had confided to his mother that he intended to leave Dora for another woman. The revelation stuns Dora, setting off a chain of events that will have ruinous consequences.

Carvalho's delicate balancing of dreamlike melancholy and caustic humor make Empty Wardrobes feel at times like a fairy tale or religious parable. Instead of being transformed into seafoam or salt, Carvalho's shamed women are reduced to functionless objects like those that populate the Museum--intriguing to contemplate but defined irrevocably by the imposed obsolescence of the time and place in which they exist. --Devon Ashby, sales & marketing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this devastating Portuguese novel from 1966, a devoted widow's self-image is shattered by the revelation that her beloved husband planned to leave her for another woman.

Two Lines Press, $14.95, paperback, 184p., 9781949641219

Mystery & Thriller

State of Terror

by Louise Penny, Hillary Rodham Clinton

Two extremely high-profile authors, Hillary Rodham Clinton (What Happened) and Louise Penny (The Madness of Crowds), have teamed up to create a propulsive thriller in State of Terror. The story begins with Ellen Adams, former head of a news media conglomerate, now the newly appointed Secretary of State.

After Adams fails on a diplomatic trip to South Korea, the media begins to turn on her, until a series of bombs in London, Paris and Frankfurt rapidly change the focus of the administration. Anahita Dahir, a Lebanese-American woman serving in the Foreign Service Office, receives a mysterious message that seems to have to do with the bombings. Other government officials are convinced that Anahita's background means she might be involved, but Adams thinks there is more to the young FSO than meets the eye.

Adams drags Anahita and her best friend and adviser, Betsy, with her on a whirlwind tour--from Germany to Iran and back to the U.S.--in a desperate attempt to find the bombers before things escalate. When Adams and her allies learn that nuclear material is missing from Pakistan, the stakes get even higher.

Clever and fast-paced, State of Terror is a superb thriller. Clinton's political expertise and Penny's flair for fiction combine to create a chilling yet, unfortunately, all too believable scenario. Clearly inspired by current events, State of Terror is both fantastic fiction and a sly political takedown, sure to appeal to fans of both Penny and Clinton. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Discover: In this fast-paced political thriller, the Secretary of State must protect the U.S. from a nuclear bomb.

St. Martin's Press/Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 512p., 9781982173678

The Shadows of Men

by Abir Mukherjee

The politics and culture of colonial India in 1923 make for an intriguing setting for The Shadows of Men, as Edgar finalist Abir Mukherjee (Smoke and Ashes) skillfully illustrates the unrest and tensions that marked Calcutta during this era.

In their fifth superb outing, Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee of the Imperial Police Force are caught up in the violence permeating Calcutta before upcoming elections, called by the British following Mahatma Gandhi's incarceration. A "nasty territorial dispute" erupts between two "native gangs," but the main problems are the tensions between Hindus and Muslims, upper and lower castes, landowners and peasants that have "bubbled to the fore," and which the British plan to exploit. To gain more information, Lord Taggart, the Calcutta commissioner of police, gives an undercover assignment to Surendranath--keep tabs on Muslim politician Farid Gulmohamed, who officials fear may further exacerbate the uprisings. Nicknamed "Surrender-not" because his British superiors refuse to learn how to pronounce his name, Surendranath accepts, despite being offended. He knows Taggart, the other British, even Sam, don't understand that "while we all might look the same to him, a Hindu following Gulmohamed into the Muslim parts of town would stick out." The surveillance goes wrong, with Surendranath suspected of murdering a Hindu religious leader, so Sam digs into his investigative skills to exonerate Surendranath.

Mukherjee's action-packed thriller delivers a vivid look at the era, tensions among the various groups, and the British system that kept India in subjugation, set against Calcutta's "eternal shroud of industrial smog." --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

Discover: Abir Mukherjee skillfully delivers an evocative look at the politics and culture of India in 1923 in this superb thriller.

Pegasus Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781643137445

The Night Will Be Long

by Santiago Gamboa, trans. by Andrea Rosenberg

The Night Will Be Long by Santiago Gamboa (Night Prayers; Necropolis) is an engrossing thriller set in modern-day Colombia haunted by the legacy of decades of armed conflict. The novel begins with a harrowing description of an ambush in rural Colombia that recalls the violent conflagrations common before the 2016 peace accord with FARC. Prosecutor Edilson Javier Jutsiñamuy, veteran reporter Julieta Lezama and her assistant Johana Triviño--a former FARC rebel--are drawn to the case not only because of the scale of the violence, but the unsettling thoroughness with which it has been covered up. What follows is a satisfying procedural as the trio's investigations gradually uncover the surprising motivations behind the violence.

The case takes an odd turn as early leads point to the involvement of evangelical Christian churches. Gamboa brings readers inside the church of one of the main suspects, the services "a cross between a rock concert, a popular mass, and a TV show." The heavily fortified church is led by a charismatic pastor who forges an unexpected connection with Julieta after sharing his personal story. Gamboa casts an unflattering light on evangelical churches, which Julieta sees as holding its undereducated believers as hostages.

However, nothing is ever black and white in The Night Will Be Long. The pastor's personal story is presented to readers as a lengthy, sympathetic tale of childhood abandonment. Other similar tales are found throughout the novel, giving deep insight into characters who in a weaker novel would be bit players serving only to move the plot along. Gamboa has crafted an effective thriller that thrives on his empathetic imagination. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: The Night Will Be Long provides an empathetic look at post-conflict Colombia through an eccentric thriller plot involving powerful evangelical churches.

Europa Editions, $18, paperback, 368p., 9781609457112


A Certain Appeal

by Vanessa King

Vanessa King's debut romance, A Certain Appeal, is as sparkly and sassy as the burlesque scene it features. King bases her hate-to-love romance on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, with obvious nods in plot beats and character names, but the setting and cast are delightfully modern and original.

A Certain Appeal is told entirely from the point of view of Elizabeth Bennett (Bennett to her friends), an executive assistant by day, burlesque "kitten" on the weekends, and interior designer in her dreams. Reserved, starchy Will Darcy accompanies an investor to the Meryton burlesque venue one night and, after some intense flirting, Bennett wants nothing more than to undo some of Darcy's buttons. That is, until she overhears him dismissing her as "tolerable" to his friend. King uses this initial attraction and repulsion to set up the classic Pride & Prejudice animosity and ensuing tension, but her creative updates of the various subplots make for a compelling retelling that stands on its own.

While the main characters are white and straight, King's well-developed diverse secondary cast is reflective of New York City's vibrant human mélange. Bennett's Black gay roommate, Jane, frequently steals the show, for example, and readers will be cheering on his relationship with Charles even as the dastardly Wickham character threatens everything the Meryton performers hold dear.

A Certain Appeal is a sexy blend of Pride & Prejudice and modern burlesque, but it's also a thoughtful, consent-driven romance with a big heart and just the right number of sequins. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Discover: Opposites attract in this Pride & Prejudice retelling set against the dazzling backdrop of the modern New York City burlesque scene.

Putnam, $16, paperback, 352p., 9780593330715

Graphic Books


by Dash Shaw

Graphic titles about Quakers aren't exactly a hot topic--or are they? This season brings two Quaker-related comics in quick succession: David Lester's Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay and this, Dash Shaw's Discipline, a haunting fictionalization of a teenage Quaker Civil War soldier. Quakers abhorred slavery (after Benjamin Lay's decades of protestations) and, as pacifists, also war. Thus, the Civil War presented extraordinary challenges to long-held beliefs.

As a boy, Charles Cox cries at any violence, including cruelty to animals. As he matures, silent Sunday meetings get harder, and public ridicule for the Quaker use of archaic "thees" and "thous" more galling. His growing frustration inspires him to leave a pre-dawn letter for his sister and enlist in the Union Army. His initial understanding that soldiers' reports of war are "half-exaggerations" proves utterly mistaken as his hasty decision is repeatedly tested. Savagery drives both sides. At home, his desertion of his community has grave consequences for his family that he never could have realized.

Comics creator/animator Shaw, who was raised a Quaker in Richmond, Va., created his text from "actual letters and diaries of Civil War-era Quakers and soldiers," his foreword says. Six years in the making, Shaw's pages of stark black-and-white line drawings often comprise sequential scenes--a family meal that turns into an ugly argument, upturned table, angry departure; his hand-lettered text in cursive script enhances the sense of urgency. In eschewing panels and speech balloons, Shaw's non-bordered presentation seems to confront the limitations circumscribed by faith, family and even humanity. His clever choice of card-faces for chapter markers also underscores an everlasting uncertainty. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Comics creator Dash Shaw examines a teen Quaker's enlistment in the Union Army during the Civil War--and the complicated repercussions and consequences of his decision.

New York Review Comics, $27.95, paperback, 304p., 9781681375694

Biography & Memoir

Paradise Found: A High School Football Team's Rise from the Ashes

by Bill Plaschke

As the working-class town of Paradise was reduced to rubble by the Northern California Camp Fire in November 2018, the 27,000 residents fled through the flames. Paradise Found: A High School Football Team's Rise from the Ashes tells the inspiring story of how 39 scrappy teenagers--"Bobcat brothers"--and their dedicated coach revitalized the spirit of Paradise in one incredible football season.

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke followed championship-winning coach Rick Prinz--set to retire in 2018, who instead pledged to do what he could "to help our town rebuild"--and the players, assistant coaches and residents who fought the odds with him. Their uniforms had been burned, their equipment melted, but their passion for Bobcat football was undaunted. "There's no place like Paradise; it's the secret nobody knows.... It's us. It's my friends. It's the football team," said one player, who, like most of his teammates, was left with no home. The "Paradise football culture," symbolized by the motto "CMF" ("Crazy Mountain Folk") needed its team. "Everyone is watching us. We're setting an example for the town," stressed a player whose family lost everything in the fire.

Plaschke builds suspense as he reports the accumulating victories for the self-described "smash-mouth" players who shouted "We Just Hit People" as their rallying cry. He also reveals the loyalty and sensitivity of the kids whose miraculous season ended just short of a championship. Coach Prinz hopes his players stay strong as Paradise slowly rebuilds, reminding them of their accomplishment, and that "we had each other." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: A high school football team's unlikely victorious season following a California wildfire is an inspiring story of tenacity and community spirit.

Morrow, $28.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780063014510

Essays & Criticism


by Aisha Sabatini Sloan

In Borealis, essayist Aisha Sabatini Sloan (Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit) unfurls a vivid patchwork of ruminations on her relationship to the town of Homer, Alaska. For the author, Homer is the nexus of a sprawl of memories and associations: the exes with whom she grew to know the place ("Alaskans were like my girlfriend, prepared for discomfort, easy to smile"), the tedium she endures there ("Because I cannot kill it, I traverse my boredom"), the acute awareness it brings to her Blackness ("We are at about bald eagle to seagull proportion to the Whites here"). Sabatini Sloan arranges her fragmented reflections as a collage, finding surprising resonances between disparate elements to produce a picture of a place that feels both expansive and personal.

Not content to rest her exploration of Homer on tropes of travel and nature writing, Sabatini Sloan expands her scope to consider an array of artists and writers. She pays special attention to the ways in which various media can augment the experience of a place: a Björk song, "symphonic and gusting," provides the score to an eagle sighting; a snippet of an Anne Carson essay recalls the moonlight in Fairbanks. Among the dizzying array of references, most illuminating are the frequent returns to photographer and painter Lorna Simpson and poet Robin Coste Lewis. As Sabatini Sloan contemplates their work, she brings shards of language, texture and color to bear on her own perceptions of the landscape and her place within it. In this way, Borealis offers an evocative meditation on subjectivity and place. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

Discover: With a collagelike blend of memoir and art criticism, Aisha Sabatini Sloan's Borealis is an evocative meditation on the town of Homer, Alaska.

Coffee House Press, $14.95, paperback, 144p., 9781566896191

Children's & Young Adult

The Words in My Hands

by Asphyxia

This original and captivating near-future novel in scrapbook form beautifully illustrates the truth that we are all more than our most notable features. Piper McBride is Deaf. She's also an artist, an Australian, a teenager exploring her sexuality and a budding activist finding ways to stand up to authority when what the authority offers is no longer enough.

For 16-year-old Piper, being Deaf has always been something to keep tamped down so that she can fit in to the "normal" world. She lipreads and wears hearing aids, even though the effort to keep up with conversations is exhausting and gives her headaches. Her mom is a scientist who researches the nutritional supplements and drugs included in the government-backed packaged food product now recommended in lieu of dangerous "wild" food. When Piper encounters a community of wild food gardeners, environmental activists and people who are Deaf and proud, she is terrified and thrilled.

Australian author Asphyxia (Grimstones series) imbues her novel with many of her own experiences and passions: Deaf culture, sustainable living, art and graffiti. The Words in My Hands is jam-packed with Piper's artwork as well as ideas about challenging the status quo. In the riveting author's note, Asphyxia offers tips on relating to Deaf people, as well as inspiring suggestions for creating art journals. Her keen and thoughtful way of incorporating Piper's Deafness into the narrative may be revelatory to hearing readers and bolstering to Deaf readers, who tend to be under-represented in literature. Brilliant! --Emilie Coulter

Discover: This scathing and gorgeous scrapbook-style novel about a Deaf teen is set in the near future, but hits mighty close to home.

Annick Press, $19.95, hardcover, 388p., ages 13-up, 9781773215280

Marshmallow & Jordan

by Alina Chau

Children's book author and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Alina Chau tells the gentle, endearing story of a paralyzed middle-school basketball player who falls in love with a new sport after she finds an elephant.

Jordan, named after basketball legend Michael Jordan, used to play on the Kahawaii Multicultural School's basketball team. After an accident paralyzes her, she becomes the team captain. On her way home from practice, Jordan notices an injured white baby elephant. She takes him home to her veterinarian mother who allows him to stay while he heals; Jordan names him Marshmallow because he is "white and fluffy." As Marshmallow becomes a part of Jordan's everyday life, he notices how much she misses playing basketball and being a part of the team. When a pool mysteriously appears in Jordan's backyard, Marshmallow helps Jordan rediscover swimming. Her renewed interest leads to her learning how to play a new sport--water polo--as a paraplegic.

Chau (Lunar New Year), who is of Chinese-Indonesian heritage, uses watercolor and digital illustrations to render the beautifully lush landscape of Jordan's Indonesian town, culture and way of life. The graphic novel is broken up into chapters through illustrative vignettes that give readers a peek at what comes next in the story. Chau propels the novel forward by strategically interchanging clean, well-spaced panels, tons of white space and double-page spreads. As Jordan works to break her notions about her own capabilities, Chau's speech bubbles push through borders and across panels. Themes of hope and friendship fill this graphic novel with empathy and joy. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children

Discover: A middle-grade paraplegic basketball star finds a new sport with the help of a white elephant named Marshmallow in this sweet graphic novel.

First Second, $22.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 8-12, 9781250300607

Gladys the Magic Chicken

by Adam Rubin, illus. by Adam Rex

The formidably funny duo of writer Adam Rubin (Dragons Love Tacos) and illustrator Adam Rex (On Account of the Gum) take readers on a wild hen chase through their version of ancient history in this knee-slapping, wing-flapping picture book romp.

In "Ancient Times," which Rubin qualifies as "three thousand years before your grandma's grandma's grandma was born," unassuming chicken Gladys lives an unassuming life until her friend the Shepherd Boy comes to believe she has granted his wish for beauty. He declares Gladys magical, making her the hottest commodity in the land. She passes through the hands of a host of archetypal characters straight out of sword-and-sandals central casting, including a whiskery Traveling Merchant, a Fearsome Pirate sporting an iron-haired bun and a pink skirt, and the Learned Princess, a Black teenaged scholar who becomes fond of the chicken. Because their wishes seem to come true in her proximity, the legend of Gladys grows even after a twist of fate brings her home.

Gladys hilariously "ploops" eggs during tense moments, dances a boogie when fed and sports a fixed, slightly anxious stare. Around the expressive characters, Rex's digitally rendered scenes include sun-dappled, soft-focus pastorals, stately palace interiors and a smoky, ferocious sea battle. Rubin's humorous narration strikes the perfect tone for reading aloud to groups of elementary schoolers. Readers are meant to laugh at the silliness of the wishes and how they are "granted," but Rubin concludes with a gentle reminder that seeing magic in the ordinary is a gift. Fittingly, Gladys gets the last word: "Ploop." --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth experience manager, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This cartoonishly zany picture book follows a sought-after chicken through Rubin and Rex's archetypal vision of ancient history.

Putnam Books for Young Readers, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9780593325605

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