Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 27, 2017

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

From My Shelf

All Killer, No Filler

Joe Hill's most recent book, Strange Weather (reviewed below), is a reminder of the strengths of short novels and novellas. Strange Weather collects four of Hill's short novels--terminology is slippery, given that no one can agree on the precise length of novellas--and they ably demonstrate the singularly gripping capabilities of the form. Genre fiction has often benefited enormously from brevity--e.g., The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Turn of the Screw, A Clockwork Orange. More recently, Tor has revived interest in novellas thanks to an outstanding string of releases including Binti, Forest of Memory and The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. (Of course, genre fiction is not the sole beneficiary of succinct storytelling--with Denis Johnson's passing we lost one of the greatest writers of short novels and novellas.)

In the afterword to Strange Weather, Joe Hill writes that "short novels are all killer, no filler. They offer the economy of the short story but the depth of characterization we associate with longer works. Little novels aren't leisurely, meandering journeys. They're drag races. You put the pedal to the floor and run your narrative right off the edge of the cliff." In other words, short novels and novellas can hit a sweet spot between short stories and long novels, offering the benefits of both. Getting lost in a world that lasts only one or two sittings often adds a sense of urgency to the work that suits genre fiction. In the case of horror fiction, Hill writes: "You want them to feel like a hand on your throat." While one might not say the same about Train Dreams or Breakfast at Tiffany's, I have a special place in my heart for books that treat every word like a precious resource. --Hank Stephenson

The Writer's Life

Rivers Solomon: A Wider Array of Possible Futures

Rivers Solomon graduated from Stanford University with a degree in comparative studies in race and ethnicity and holds an MFA in fiction writing from the Michener Center for Writers. Originally from the United States, Soloman now lives in Cambridge, England, with their family. An Unkindness of Ghosts (reviewed below) is their debut novel.

An Unkindness of Ghosts explores themes that include race, gender, mental illness, abuse and more. Why did you choose to go into outer space to address them?

Space heightened and emphasized many of the themes that were most important to me. I wanted to talk about the trauma of being a refugee, of being homelandless, of being part of a diaspora; the cosmos--a big black vacuum where pieces of matter, let alone real land, are light-years and light-years apart--allowed me to discuss how deep that trauma could be.

When you're abused, it feels like there's no escape. What better way to convey the sense of no escape than a vessel lost in space? It's life under a brutal regime or certain death. I thought a lot about slavery and the horrors people suffered, how fleeing North was not a possibility for those who lived on breeding plantations in the deep south. It was just too far. Only enslaved people in the most northern South had a chance, and escapees were truly few and far between.

I didn't want to feel like there was an easy out or some other place to aspire to go to. When you're chronically ill, when you are deeply depressed, when you're a child and the world is too big, it doesn't feel like there's ever going to be an after.

Space has this wondrous absoluteness to it that could show quite starkly the pain of being stuck.

Although the story is set far in the future, the citizens of the spaceship Matilda have divided into a ruling and a slave class along racial lines. Why do you think humanity insists on dividing itself?

I don't think dividing into hierarchy is a core tenet of humanity. Rather, European (and later U.S. American) empire has been so totalizing in its destruction of the world that it can be difficult for us to envision a life outside of it. Racism and colonialism have destroyed our imaginations, our visions of ourselves and what's possible. Powers in England, France, Spain, Portugal, et al. actively created a system that benefited them out of their individual, personal greed. The West plundered, and plundered, and still plunders--and it purposefully works to teach people from birth that this is the natural order of the world in order to maintain that system which gives them wealth.

The way it has gone isn't the way it had to be. I'll never be able to sleep at night if I believe humanity essentially has to have muzzles on it to stop subjugation and oppression. I prefer to think that history has etched the world with train tracks, and we're born on a speeding train riding along those tracks, but certainly, we can hop off.

I take so much heart in what Ursula K. Le Guin said in a speech she gave at the National Book Awards: "We live in capitalism, its power seems escapable--but then so did the divine right of kings."

The Matilda is fascinating. Tell us about the process of developing its physical design.

Matilda emerged in layers. I knew socially there was an underclass and a ruling class, and just like old steamships, it made sense to put steerage on the bottom and first class on the top. No sense reinventing the wheel and all that. The Field Decks were an early invention, and I spent a lot of time at different points sketching and imagining in order to figure out how they might logistically fit in. Sometimes, the story came out of the design of the ship, and at other times, the story necessitated a redesign of the ship. It would've been really easy to get lost in the physicality of it. Indeed, I did sometimes--sketching for hours, trying to render on paper what I could see in my mind. I can be quite a visual person, so to write certain scenes I had to know how it looked. The final version of Matilda didn't come until the very last draft. Funnily, no one on the ship really knows what it looks like in whole because they've never seen it from the outside.

You lived all over the United States before moving to the U.K. How has living in so many different places influenced your writing?

One of my favorite things about moving around a lot as a child--even on a small scale, such as moving from school to school--was how we form really tiny pockets of culture. How we move and talk is often informed by larger patterns of place and geography, but the use of certain turns of phrases, the way we style ourselves, whether or not your chili has pasta in it--in the Midwest it often does, but not so much other places, in my experience.

It showed me that there truly are infinite ways to live. It made me appreciate diversity. It made me appreciate sameness, too, the odd places where we converge. Almost everything I write has a strong sense of place. I love to write in those specific details that make a setting really breathe and feel alive, because it was often those little details I noticed.

Speaking of your influences, after finishing An Unkindness of Ghosts, readers will surely go looking for similar stories. What advice would you give them on what to read while they wait for your next story?

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is speculative fiction that tackles trauma in a wonderfully rich world, and I'm really fond of it. There's Fire on the Mountain, which is an alt-history by Terry Bisson positing a world where the revolutionary abolitionist John Brown had been successful. Jamie Berrout's speculative short story collection Portland Diary is full of quiet beauty and paints a world peopled by disabled, trans and queer people. Berrout is a really intensely thoughtful person and that comes across in the best possible way in her exquisite prose. Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers is an anthology worth checking out. For another brilliant short story collection full of magic and the speculative, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is so very excellent.

Although the ending is open, An Unkindness of Ghosts feels complete. Will we see any of our friends from it in upcoming stories?

I'm really relieved that you describe the book as feeling open but complete, because that's my goal with any story--to gesture at other possibilities, to a life and time outside the book, but for there to be an exhalation that brings an amount of closure. To write An Unkindness of Ghosts, I had to flesh out a lot of what happened before the present and think about what would come, which led to me outlining a sequel (that also has prequel elements). I can't say if it will necessarily get written, but I really hope to share more from that world whether that be in print or other media. --Jacki Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Book Candy

Bookish Halloween

Halloween: "These Harry Potter pumpkins are the cutest DIY Halloween decorations you'll see all year," Bustle promised. Mental Floss revealed "the origins of 25 monsters, ghosts and spooky things." Quirk Books imagined favorite titles as Halloween candy.  


Autumn lit: "The only thing better than Dostoevsky is Pumpkin Spice Dostoevsky," Electric Lit suggested.


Borrowing history: "expired" library books. Photographer Kerry Mansfield "collected old treasures from the stacks, too fragile to be kept in circulation, and taken them out again for a new book."


"Ever heard of Alexander Baron or Mary Elizabeth Braddon? They’re just some of the overlooked authors we need to rediscover," BBC advised.


Open wide for the Dentist Tooth Shelf, Bookshelf noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Solaris

In Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, humankind has conquered the vast distances of the cosmos but has yet to master his own mercurial mind. The planet Solaris is covered by a single, seemingly sentient ocean and orbits a binary system of one red and one blue star. For more than a century, this titanic organism has baffled scientists--the obsessive specialists called Solarists--who pursue meaningful contact with this alien life form. Psychologist Kris Kelvin is the latest of such seekers to arrive on Solaris Station. But he finds the orbital habitat in chaos, with one scientist dead by suicide, another on the verge of lunacy and a third locked in his laboratory, conversing with someone who shouldn't exist. Solaris, it seems, has finally answered humanity's call--by reaching into the scientists' minds and resurrecting lost loved ones.

Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006) was a Polish writer whose speculative fiction relied on philosophy as much as cosmology to explore the inner and outer workings of the universe. Solaris was first published in Warsaw in 1961, though the novel was not available in English until 1970 after it was first translated into French. Solaris has been turned into three films, mostly recently Steven Soderbergh's 2002 adaptation starring George Clooney. Between the stunning imagery of the Solarian Ocean and the novel's thematic depth, Solaris has earned its high perch in the pantheon of sci-fi classics. It was last published in 2002 by Mariner ($13.95, 9780156027601). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Manhattan Beach

by Jennifer Egan

In both substance and style, Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach marks an abrupt departure from her 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. She turns away from the artistic high-wire act that illuminated some of the dark corners of American popular culture and instead delivers a story about the machinations of the New York mob amid the United States' effort to defeat Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, Egan again creates a sophisticated, satisfying blend of artfully drawn characters and skillfully plotted drama.

Set principally in Brooklyn in the early 1940s, Manhattan Beach revolves around Anna Kerrigan, whose father, Eddie, a bagman for one of the principals of the "Wop Syndicate," mysteriously disappeared half a decade earlier, leaving behind his wife, Anna, and her profoundly handicapped sister. Anna works as a parts inspector at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but her ambition is to become a professional diver and repair the massive vessels she gazes at on her lunch hour. In order to overcome the undisguised sexism of that time and achieve her goal, she's forced to prove herself even more skilled than the men against whom she's competing.

One of the most impressive aspects of Manhattan Beach is the verisimilitude of Egan's storytelling. She delivers a terrifying description of a merchant ship crew's battle to survive a U-boat attack in the Indian Ocean. It is Melvillean in its vivid detail, something that's also true of her accounts of Anna's diving exploits. Jennifer Egan has applied her considerable talents to the far-from-simple task of telling an absorbing story, leaving it to readers to ponder the larger meaning of Anna's tale. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: On her quest to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance, a woman struggles for acceptance in the male-dominated world of the early 1940s.

Scribner, $28, hardcover, 448p., 9781476716732

The Relive Box and Other Stories

by T.C. Boyle

T.C. Boyle's 11th short story collection, The Relive Box and Other Stories, depicts a world trapped in self-indulgence, unable to recognize its own collapse. Boyle, a prolific novelist and short story writer, is no stranger to using speculative fiction to speak to a larger American moment. In the title story, the mere existence of a memory machine forces a man to lose himself in his past, and in "You Don't Miss Your Water," a community in a drought watches as their bodies and lives shrivel around them. Boyle's stories may depict a world that does not quite exist, but in doing so it best captures the world of today, its boundless appetites and insatiable emptiness.

Despite their unsettling concepts, Boyle's stories ring with tinny humor and compassion. His sparse, clean prose and one-off punch lines feign cool indifference while speaking to the heft that lies beneath the surface of his work. The obsessive characters he so hypnotically renders reveal a grandiosity of passion and sorrow, perhaps best when highlighting what they lack. Whether this is a man's inability to leave his memories alone, or a husband's emotionless response to having a child, Boyle reveals more in the methodical way his characters approach the world than many writers accomplish through melodrama and complicated character revelations. With its kinetic style and bold concepts, this collection reasserts Boyle as a psychological translator for the modern era. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: T.C. Boyle's measured prose and startling impressions of an uncanny present or near-future will mesmerize readers who are also fans of shows like Black Mirror.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780062673398

Mystery & Thriller

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels

by Joe Hill

Strange Weather, Joe Hill's follow-up to his horror epics The Fireman and NOS4A2, is a collection of four novellas that celebrate the breadth of Hill's twisted imagination. Each brief novel can be read in a sitting or two, but are long enough to allow for Hill's expert characterization--carefully establishing sympathetic characters grounds the strange, nightmarish scenarios and insures the readers' investment in the torments that await each character.

In "Snapshot," lonely Michael Figlione looks out for his former babysitter, an older woman struggling with something like dementia. She claims that a man has been snapping Polaroids of her when her husband isn't watching, and Michael soon learns the disturbing truth. "Loaded" is more politically charged, ruminating on America's gun culture, racial inequities in policing and mass shootings. "Aloft" offers a fantastical story about a reluctant skydiver stranded on a bizarre cloud. It possesses a strange intelligence that the protagonist must puzzle out while sorting through his unrequited feelings for a friend. The less said about the premise, the better--unspooling the mystery is half the fun. Finally, "Rain" strikes an apocalyptic chord with its story of a devastating, nail-like rain that shreds anyone and anything unlucky enough to be outside when the storm breaks over Boulder.

Hill never shirks from delivering the gory goods for genre fans, but his horror is far from cynical. Instead, Hill finds striking, unusual ways to dramatize fears of aging and illness, guns, loneliness and grief. His intentions and limitless creativity are extremely well suited to short fiction, and one hopes that another collection is forthcoming. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Strange Weather is a collection of four short novels showing off Joe Hill's impressive range as a horror storyteller.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 448p., 9780062663115

Sleep Like a Baby

by Charlaine Harris

More than a decade before she started writing her Southern Vampire Mysteries featuring Sookie Stackhouse and a supernatural world, Charlaine Harris won readers' affection when she introduced librarian and amateur sleuth Aurora Teagarden in a series of cozy mysteries. This 10th outing, Sleep Like a Baby, begins with Aurora giving birth to little Sophie, the infant she was carrying in 2016's All the Little Liars. Two months later, Aurora is in need of a nurse to help with the baby for a couple days, while she recovers from a mysterious flu and her husband, Robin Crusoe, attends an out-of-town awards ceremony for mystery writers.

During the night, Aurora is awakened by Sophie's crying and discovers that her nurse-for-hire, Victoria, is missing. When Aurora and her teenage half-brother, Phillip, begin searching for the missing RN, they discover a dead woman under a tree in their yard. The body is almost immediately identified as Tracy Beal, a stalker fan of Robin who had previously tried to kill Aurora. While struggling to regain her strength, Aurora tries to figure out who killed Tracy and what happened to Victoria. Clues and red herrings involve a purse snatching, some anonymously sent flowers, a barking dog, an active shooter, a family medical crisis and footage from a hidden nanny camera.

Sleep Like a Baby is a leisurely paced cozy graced with likable and sympathetic characters, deadpan humor and plenty of clues sprinkled throughout to delight mystery buffs. Harris spins her tale with relaxed ease and confidence. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Charlaine Harris's 10th Aurora Teagarden mystery finds the new mother and librarian searching for a missing nurse and the person who left a dead body in her yard.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250090065

Science Fiction & Fantasy

An Unkindness of Ghosts

by Rivers Solomon

Rivers Solomon is a bold new voice in speculative fiction. This startling debut delves into issues of class, race and gender on a futuristic spaceship whose society mimics the antebellum American South.

Born on the generation starship HSS Matilda, dark-skinned Aster and her fellow low-deckers labor in the Field Decks that rotate around Baby Sun, a fusion reactor that nourishes the ship's crops. The light-skinned ruling class that inhabits the upper decks controls their work, reproduction and living conditions, treating them as a subhuman species that exists to serve on their way to a storied Promised Land. Brilliant, angry Aster works as a healer, with tutelage from her upper deck friend Theo the Surgeon, and commits the odd act of sabotage on the side. Considered a freak for her eccentricities and literal mind, Aster takes solace in her friendship with delusional, suicidal Giselle. When she notices similarities between the illness of the Sovereign who rules the vessel and the condition her mother suffered before her suicide years ago, Aster undertakes a dangerous investigation that will upset everything the people of Matilda believe.

Though shaped like the past transported into the future, Solomon's narrative seethes with underpinnings of the present carried to the extreme, a police state where women have lost reproductive rights and people of color face servitude and constant brutality. Complex and prophetic, An Unkindness of Ghosts will have readers cheering Aster as she fights for her freedom. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Enslaved on a generation ship in the far future, Aster finds a link between the death of her mother and the illness of the ship's ruler.

Akashic, $15.95, paperback, 340p., 9781617755880

Graphic Books

Saigon Calling: London 1963-75

by Marcelino Truong, trans. by David Homel

Marcelino Truong's Such a Lovely Little War provided a child's perspective of the early years of the Vietnam War, culminating in the family's flight to London after the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem in 1963. Its follow-up, Saigon Calling: London 1963-75, describes Marco's coming-of-age in late 1960s England, where his siblings struggled to endure their mother's mental illness while witnessing the fall of South Vietnam.

The Truong family settles in London after leaving war-ravaged Vietnam. The chaos has affected each family member differently. Yvette's mental illness terrorizes them all, while Papa, having left behind his lucrative ambassadorial duties with the government, struggles to support his family as a French-to-English newspaper translator. Older sister Mireille becomes a hippie and participates in the peace movement. Marco continues to play war games with brother Dominique while reveling in the excitement of British mod subculture, much to their mother's intense disapproval. His personal connections to Vietnam, and to the friends and family members threatened by the escalating violence and muddled politics, are never far from his mind.

Truong contrasts monochromatic watercolors with bright imagery to depict opposing cultural pulls. The art is crisp and stylized; the text emotive and reflective. While his sympathies lie with the South, Truong is critical of American involvement, whose actions would culminate in the persecution of millions of Vietnamese citizens.

Saigon Calling is an intimate and courageous piece of storytelling. It provides insight into the suffering that Vietnamese expatriates endured, especially those of mixed race heritage, and of the painful bonds forged with their past, present and future. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Marcelino Truong's follow-up to Such a Lovely War is a gripping coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of war and British mod culture.

Arsenal Pulp Press, $26.95, paperback, 280p., 9781551526898

Biography & Memoir

Real American

by Julie Lythcott-Haims

In the vein of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and Claudia Rankine's Citizen, Julie Lythcott-Haims's Real American fuses autobiography with politics, showing how the sinister nature of racism (institutional and otherwise) scars even those who may pass as unaffected. Told in a series of short chapters that often read as prose poems, the memoir is a look at Lythcott-Haims's past that relentlessly digs into what it means to be black in America.

Author of How to Raise an Adult, a critique of modern parenting, Lythcott-Haims is the child of an African American doctor (once the Assistant Surgeon General to the United States) and a white British mother. But part of Real American is Lythcott-Haims's shedding of the term "bi-racial," and coming to understand that she identifies as black, both in response to personal struggles and the larger forces in American culture. Real American is about acceptance, but also anger, and the ongoing struggle for equality in the United States (something that eludes Lythcott-Haims, even with two Ivy League degrees and a comfortable upper-middle-class life). She depicts how the treacherousness of racism is so pervasive--it so easily permeates her interactions--that no level of success has been enough to quell her feelings of self-hatred, inherited from American culture due to the color of her skin. Real American is not an easy read, taking a combative stance toward anyone who thinks they are on firm footing regarding race, and the book is all the better for it. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Real American is a poetic memoir that dives deep into the pervasiveness of racism in the United States.

Holt, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781250137746

The Glass Eye: A Memoir

by Jeannie Vanasco

Jeannie Vanasco's The Glass Eye is an intense and unforgettable memoir, as fascinating for its artistry as for its subject matter. Jeannie was 18 when her father died. He had been her hero, her perfect person. On his deathbed, Jeannie promised him she would write about him. Although there is no sign that he heard, let alone held her to it, this promise would haunt the increasingly troubled young woman for years to come.

Her father had lost his left eye and wore a prosthetic one, which was in fact plastic, "but sometimes I call it glass. Glass implies the ability to be broken." He lost his left vocal cord, too, and her mother loses hearing in her left ear. "What will be left of me if I lose her?" Jeannie's father had a daughter before her, from an earlier marriage, who died in a car accident. That daughter was Jeanne; the daughter who promised to write this book is Jeannie, pronounced the same but with an added i. She fills her book with meditations on glass and left.

Vanasco pays compulsive attention to metaphors, and to the project of writing this memoir, which becomes a meta-exercise observing itself. She asks the professor in her memoir course, "What if it's about the promise to write the book?" Lyric, haunted, smart and tortured, this is an obsessive love letter to a dead father as well as a singular work of literature. The Glass Eye will attract memoir fans and readers concerned with mental illness and bereavement, as well as writers concerned with craft. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A devoted, tormented daughter eulogizes a beloved father in this thought-provoking and experimental memoir.

Tin House, $15.95, paperback, 270p., 9781941040775

The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts

by Charity Tillemann-Dick

Opera singers know drama--they have to, so they can pour themselves into demanding, heart-stirring roles. But Charity Tillemann-Dick didn't expect her personal drama to include two double-lung transplants in three years. Diagnosed with a rare and usually fatal pulmonary condition, she was determined to keep singing even through her grueling treatments and first lung transplant. But as her medical condition worsened, she wasn't sure she would survive. In her memoir, The Encore, Tillemann-Dick shares the story of her singing career, her illness and recovery, and the incredible love and support of her family, her doctors and the man who became her husband.

Like many memoirs of illness and recovery, Tillemann-Dick's story occasionally becomes a blur of tests and hospitals, doctors and nurses, medical setbacks and triumphs. But her clear-eyed, fresh voice--honest almost to a fault--keeps the narrative from becoming saccharine or too repetitive. Her Mormon faith runs throughout like a leitmotif from one of her beloved operas, adding depth and dimension to an already powerful story.

Fittingly for an opera or a life, The Encore contains a few glamorous "aria" moments: Tillemann-Dick's debut at Lincoln Center, her TED talk and the attention it garners. But those scenes pale in comparison, as they should, to the supporting "recitative" sections: the selfless love and devotion of her supporting cast of doctors and loved ones, and Tillemann-Dick's own resilience and determination to keep singing however she can. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Opera singer Charity Tillemann-Dick shares the story of her two double lung transplants and incredible recovery.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781501102318


The Phoenix Years: Art, Resistance, and the Making of Modern China

by Madeleine O'Dea

Modern China is much more than tanks confronting protestors in 1989's Tiananmen Square massacre or thousands of white-suited women churning out zillions of TV screens. Australian journalist Madeleine O'Dea saw plenty of the latter in her three decades covering the economic miracle of Deng Xiaoping's liberalization for the Australian Financial Review and ABC television. But it was her inquisitive and dogged access to nine outlaw Chinese artists, poets and musicians that led her into the hutongs where they "drank and discussed, read, painted and wrote poetry, and dreamt up ways to burrow in the cracks that were opening up in society." These artists are at the heart of The Phoenix Years, O'Dea's personal cultural history of China--from Mao's last bloody crackdown on the Qing Ming demonstrators in 1976 to the deportation in 2014 of famous conceptual artist Guo Jian. She was there. She became friends with the young avant-garde trying to express themselves in a state bent on restricting personal freedom.

The Phoenix Years is O'Dea's story of learning as much about herself as of the Chinese bohemians living through the intellectual excitement of the Chinese miracle. As she observes, "I found myself having to have opinions again on T.S. Eliot or Albert Camus or Nietzsche or Freud... I found myself thinking more deeply about my own culture than I had ever done before." Including sample illustrations of the artists' work, a helpful pronunciation guide to their names and a useful parallel timeline of politically and culturally significant events, The Phoenix Years is an essential background history of modern China--personal reporting that shows how economic freedom and artistic freedom must go hand in hand. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Australian journalist Madeleine O'Dea captures the intellectual excitement of the bohemians of modern China while enriching her own understanding of Chinese history.

Pegasus, $27.95, hardcover, 360p., 9781681775272

Children's & Young Adult

Draw the Line

by Kathryn Otoshi

The opening double-page spread of Kathryin Otoshi's wordless Draw the Line depicts two children on different pages, each absorbed in drawing a line. The barefoot children are dichromatic opposites: one light-skinned with dark hair, one dark-skinned with light hair; one in a black shirt and white pants, the other in a white shirt and black pants. A swathe of brilliant yellow hovers over each child.

There is a shock of purple surprise as the two accidentally bump into each other. They laugh and begin drawing together, discovering that, when their lines touch, they become one tangible object, like a rope. The happy yellow surrounds the children at play. One of the two exuberantly leaps off with their end of the line, inadvertently yanking the other and knocking them down. The fallen child sits in purple-hazed annoyance before intentionally pulling on the line to make the other child fall. The joyous yellow dissolves over the next few spreads as the two children pull and pull until they create a dark charcoal chasm between them. The now purple and black watercolor washes across the page like a storm cloud.

Their anger quickly becomes despondence and then loneliness until one of the children discovers they can draw lines across the chasm; a tiny hint of yellow washes out the black. The children smudge the chasm out and, the line now the horizon, run off together into a radiant yellow and purple sunset.

Kathryn Otoshi (One) makes fantastic use of the gutter, the children interacting with each other from their own sides, reminiscent of Chris Raschka's 1994 Caldecott Honor Yo! Yes? Otoshi's watercolor illustrations are arresting and her characters so expressive, the youngest of readers may easily fill in the textless story for themselves. --Siân Gaetano, editor children's and YA, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Two children become friends, quarrel and resolve their differences in this striking wordless book by Kathryn Otoshi.

Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781626725638

Dear Martin

by Nic Stone

Of course, high school senior Justyce knows who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was--he's one of "only eight black kids" at Braselton Preparatory Academy in Atlanta. But Justyce hasn't spent much time thinking about Dr. King and doesn't consider himself one of "THOSE black guys." When he's assaulted by a police officer for helping a drunk girl at a party, however, he realizes that the world sees him differently than he sees himself; he starts looking to Dr. King for guidance because he "can't continue to pretend nothing's wrong." Justyce writes to Martin, as he calls him, throughout the fall, puzzling over the world he's been born into and his relationship to it as a young black man. Writing to Martin gives Justyce a measure of comfort, but after an off-duty white cop shoots at him and kills his best friend, even Martin's words are powerless in the face of what's to come.

In her first novel, Nic Stone uses Justyce's irrepressible curiosity and righteous anger to guide the reader through a nuanced examination of prejudice and racial injustice. Because Justyce lives at the intersection of several identities, he is able to understand every side of each incident--even those he opposes--and Stone's realistic writing brings both his confusion and hard-won clarity to life. Stone combines different formats (like screenplay formatting for conversations) with teenage language (such as "prolly" in place of probably) to keep the story accessible, and she never shies away from deep engagement with the ramifications of racism. As a result, while the plot grows increasingly painful, it is never too heavy to bear, and contemporary teens will be delighted to speed through a book by an author who so clearly respects their voices and concerns. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director of selection, BookOps, Brooklyn Public Library and the New York Public Library

Discover: A bold, character-driven debut that centers on teens and their experience of the struggle for racial justice in the United States.

Crown, $17.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 14-up, 9781101939499

All the Crooked Saints

by Maggie Stiefvater

In 1962, in the "dark, true-dark" of the desert, 18-year-old Beatriz Soria and her cousins transmit their "pirate" radio show from the back of a box truck. Though the DJ is Diablo Diablo (Joaquin), it is Beatriz's logical mind that powers this enterprise. Daniel, "the Saint of Bicho Raro," comes along as well, but he's more concerned with miracles.

The entire Soria family can perform miracles, but Daniel is the "best saint that Bicho Raro had experienced for generations." Pilgrims flock to the ranch, where miracles come in twos. The first, performed by the Saint, will make the darkness inside a person visible. The second, "getting rid of the darkness for good," is up to the pilgrim--the Sorias cannot interfere or "a darkness would fall on the Soria as well, and a Saint's darkness" is a "terrible and powerful thing." Unable to forgive themselves, Bicho Raro's current pilgrims have not been able to perform their second miracle and move on. The pilgrims are stuck in drawn-out darkness and the Sorias are stuck with the pilgrims. Until now.

The Saint of Bicho Raro has fallen in love with Marisita, a girl whose first miracle left her in the center of a rainstorm with a butterfly-covered dress. Despite the taboo, Daniel interferes and his darkness comes. To protect his family, he takes off for the desert, demanding that no one follow.

Skimming back and forth through time, Stiefvater's (The Scorpio Races, the Raven Cycle) tale is gorgeously told, unfurling like the black roses Francisco Soria obsessively cultivates in his greenhouse. Beatriz has never wanted to be the Soria's Saint but she must push through her own fear and darkness and use her magic, her intellect and her "complicated and wiry heart" to save her beloved cousin. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: A saint, a scientist and a DJ perform miracles (and science) in the Colorado desert.

Scholastic Press, $18.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780545930802

Powered by: Xtenit