Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 26, 2018

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

From My Shelf


The scarcity of science fiction titles on David Bowie's list of 100 favorite books is notable because, from lyrics to stage personalities and film roles, it's apparent that speculative fiction inspired the musician. That influence, on Bowie as well as on several of his contemporaries, is the subject of Jason Heller's Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded (Melville House, $26.99; see our review below).
As Heller looks closer at each of the performers in his book, including Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and George Clinton, he traces connections between the artists' work and their influences. Links seem obvious between David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the song was hardly an anthem to a single film. The BBC's Quatermass series, which young Bowie watched in secret behind his parents' sofa, is where Heller points for further influence, together with Ray Bradbury's short story "Kaleidoscope," Clifford D. Simak's "You'll Never Go Home Again" and popular magazines like New Worlds and Impulse, which fed glossy doses of both human potential and doom to Bowie's postwar Britain.
Heller writes that Hendrix, like Bowie, devoured sci-fi novels, reading with a pace and hunger for imaginative worlds that seemed suited to the uncertainty of the time. He moves chronologically from the end of 1960s to the start of the 1980s, noting shifts in musical styles and trends in science fiction. As the pastoral hippie movement clashed with the space race, the counterculture with the cold war, the fears and freedoms of fantastical stories proved a rich vein for musicians. Varied as the music of David Crosby, Sun Ra and Joy Division may be, Heller shows similar speculative fiction themes throughout as they strove to make music to reflect possibilities as dually foreboding and enthralling as the world they lived in. --Kristianne Huntsberger, Shelf Awareness partnership marketing manager and co-host of Bowie Book Club

The Writer's Life

Randi Hutter Epstein: Endocrinology Illuminated

photo: Nina Subin
This month, physician and journalist Randi Hutter Epstein follows up her 2011 account of the history of childbirth, Get Me Out, with an equally interesting history of endocrinology. Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything (W.W. Norton, $26.95) spans more than 150 years of medical practice to reveal just how vital hormones are to almost every aspect of our identity.
Your book touches on so many aspects of human life--our health, our happiness, our gender and sexuality. What surprised you the most during your research?
We think of endocrinology as a field that got going at the end of the 1800s. The word "hormone" was coined in 1905. And yet it really began in 1848--not in a famous research center--but in a small village in Germany, in Dr. Arnold Berthold's backyard. Berthold did some weird experiments with his chickens: castrating them and switching testicles. He even put a testicle into the belly (the belly!) of a castrated rooster and watched the rooster become re-energized, chasing the hens. Before Berthold, there was no recognition that hormones--and the glands that spew them--could work from just anywhere in the body, that somehow these chemicals would find their targets. Berthold didn't promote his ideas, so they were hidden for another half century. Then other researchers found his ideas, did more research and voila! The field blossomed.
I loved your chapter on the American neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing. We learn, among many things, that his brain collection is housed in the basement of one of Yale's medical student dorms. How is it that a research collection by one of the most renowned doctors of the 20th century has been all but completely forgotten?
You have to remember that until a student and neurosurgeon repaired the specimens, they weren't recognized as a research collection but were simply seen more as detritus--they were old jars, many with puckered, dried-out weird bits of brains. Most folks didn't know they were the collection of a pioneering neurosurgeon. When I was a student in the medical school in the 1980s, we had no clue about the brains. This shows you that discovery takes not only the finding of a treasure but having the scientific and historical knowledge to recognize its impact. 
What is it like making the trip down those stairs to see the collection firsthand?
It's one of my favorite class trips. Yes, spooky, but in an exciting sort of way. The restored brains that are in the library--along with Cushing memorabilia and his collection of medical art--is really quite beautiful. Even my husband, who is not one for enjoying jarred brains, was fascinated. I've also taken students to the basement where there are still unrestored brains. I can appreciate that it's super-creepy and may not be everyone's idea of a fun outing, but my students (many of whom are science majors) seemed to enjoy it.  
In your chapter on gender hormones, you mention Christine Jorgensen. You call her the "Caitlyn Jenner of the 1950s." Who was she, and how does her story fit into the history of the transgender community?
Christine Jorgensen was born George Jorgensen. After a stint in the army during World War II, Jorgensen began to question the gender of birth. Transgender was not a term then. There were no support groups, no one to turn to. But Jorgensen had heard about testosterone as the male hormone and estrogen as the female one, so he convinced a pharmacist to give him estrogen and he started taking it.
Then he heard about a surgeon in Europe performing sex-changing surgery and made his way across the ocean, shortly after becoming Christine Jorgensen. I compare Jorgensen with Jenner because, while there were other people back then who felt they were born into the wrong body, most of them did not want to publicize the way they felt. Jorgensen made headlines and became proud of her newfound status. She wrote a memoir and became a nightclub singer--admitting that she had no talent but she loved performing and showing her new self.
One of the more surprising revelations in this book is that the greater scientific community still knows so little about how our hormones shape and control who we are. Why don't we know more? What obstacles are doctors and scientists up against in this area of research?
It isn't that doctors are against obstacles, at least not in the sense that anyone is preventing them from doing research. It's more that we are learning that hormones are complex and influence each other and our immune system. Also, one person's body may be more sensitive to a hormone or have more hormone receptors--so it's not just about levels but the way each body reacts with hormones. And making this even more complicated is the fact that we can't make a direct line from what we see in animals to what's going on in humans. What is the role of hormones and gender? We can't study that in animals because we're not sure dogs or cats or other lab animals have a sense of gender. We can watch mating behavior, but that's very different from gender identity. That said, I think we are in a very exciting time as scientists delve deeper in the understanding of our inner chemistry.
Where do you, as a doctor, see hormone research going in the next decade?
With new imaging techniques and genetic analysis--and interdisciplinary work--we are on the verge of many advances in endocrinology. I think the next discoveries will be in the connections between our immune system, our neurotransmitters and our hormones. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Fictional Bookshops

Pop quiz: "How well do you know your fictional bookshops?" the Guardian challenged.


"How did English end up with there/they're/their?" Mental Floss looked for an answer.


"Kill your darlings: 101 pieces of advice for writers & serial killers" were offered by Quirk Books.


"RFID machines in British libraries are producing charming found poetry," Electric Lit reported.


Bustle shared "11 journaling tips for making it a part of your everyday routine."


Atlas Obscura explained "why medieval monasteries branded their books."

Great Reads

Rediscover: A Year in Provence

In the late 1980s, advertising executive turned aspiring author Peter Mayle relocated from England to southern France, where he and his wife (plus two dogs) bought a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the Lubéron countryside. Mayle's move meant a big change from decades of globetrotting and transatlantic commuting, chasing a bucolic vision of long meals, good wine and slow schedules with plenty of time to work on a novel. But Provence itself proved the real story. Mayle's memoir of French country living, A Year in Provence (1989), brought an honest, humorous eye to a paradisaical place not without its share of problems. Surprisingly strong weather, shady truffle dealers and workers working on their own time provided their own headaches--more than offset by Provençal cooking. Each chapter covers a month in Ménerbes, the hilltop commune made famous by Mayle's writing.

Though Peter Mayle eventually relocated to Long Island to escape fans and sightseers in Provence, he moved back to France prior to his death last January. He did get around to writing several novels, including A Good Year, which was adapted by Ridley Scott into a film starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard. Mayle's final book, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now (Knopf), comes out today. A 20th-anniversary edition of A Year in Provence is available from Vintage Departures ($15.95, 9780679731146). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Number One Chinese Restaurant

by Lillian Li

Debut novelist Lillian Li pulls open the kitchen doors of a Chinese American family's restaurant, revealing the devoted if dysfunctional relationships of its owners and staff.
Jimmy Han aspires to own a higher-class establishment than the Beijing Duck House, a classic Chinese restaurant founded by his now-deceased father in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Before his new restaurant, the Beijing Glory, can be "as polished as the silver chopsticks he'd already bulk-ordered," though, Jimmy needs a cash infusion.
Hoping for help finding investors, he turns to longtime family "friend" and fixer Uncle Pang, who would prefer to burn down the Duck House for an insurance payout. Unwilling to go so far, Jimmy unwisely snubs Pang and decides to sell his parents' mansion instead. However, his tough mother, Feng Fei, still lives there and won't let it go without a fight. As the Glory's opening nears, the uproar in the lives of the Duck House family builds to a fever pitch sure to break more than a few dishes.
Li's portrayal of life in the restaurant business feels like an insider account of the challenging industry, with plenty of detail about the physical and mental rigor it demands. Though lightened with comedic moments, the quiet tragedy of familial resentment lies at the heart of the story. A smart combination of Chinese American life, service industry travails and the ups and downs of belonging to a family, Number One Chinese Restaurant will make great discussion fare for book clubs. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: This insightful debut follows the ups and downs in the lives of the owners and staff of a Chinese restaurant.

Holt, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9781250141293

The Glitch

by Elisabeth Cohen

Shelley Stone has it all: a career as the CEO of Conch, a cutting-edge wearable tech company; a handsome husband; two intelligent children; a household staff in a decadent home in Silicon Valley; a toned, tanned body. She power naps while standing in lines to maximize her time, routinely wakes at 2 a.m. for business calls and schedules meetings with her children for optimal bonding time. But from the opening pages of Elisabeth Cohen's debut novel, The Glitch, it is clear that this model is becoming unsustainable.
The temporary disappearance of Shelley's four-year-old daughter from a family vacation kicks off a series of strange and stranger events that pull down the carefully constructed life that Shelley has built. She meets a young woman with the same name and scar as herself, who seems to know everything about Shelley's childhood memories. Conch comes under threat. Her husband considers moving to Brazil with their children. As the world around her crumbles and Shelley, for the first time in her life, begins to question herself, The Glitch starts to feel like a fever dream, throwing Shelley a series of increasingly bizarre challenges that may or may not be real. Though some of the plot twists in Cohen's debut are confusing at best, it's easy enough to ignore these faults as Shelley's search for something--the truth? Her purpose? What it means to have it all?--builds to a startling crescendo. With wit, humor and heart, The Glitch reflects on the role of technology in our lives, the very essence of reality and what it means to be a woman (wife, mother and leader) in a male-dominated world. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A clever and humorous debut explores the role of technology in our lives and the price one female CEO must pay to "have it all."

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780385542784

Dreams of Falling

by Karen White

In Karen White's novel Dreams of Falling, three young women in the 1950s put their promise of eternal friendship to the test. Ceecee, Margaret and Bitty grew up together in Georgetown, S.C., but after two handsome men enter their lives, the rivalries and jealousies that have underlined their bond rise to the surface.
Meanwhile, in present-day South Carolina, Margaret's granddaughter Larkin returns home to look after her mother, Ivy, who's been hospitalized after falling through the floor of her dilapidated childhood home. Ever since Margaret's death years ago, CeeCee has looked after Larkin and Ivy, and does so again as Larkin is forced to face her hometown romantic history. Behind CeeCee's back, however, Larkin begins to suspect that her mother's presence in the house that day wasn't coincidental, but instead had to do with the mystery of what happened to Ceecee, Margaret and Bitty's friendship so long ago.
Atmospheric and rich, White's writing is an indulgent pleasure to read. She is certainly no stranger to crafting fast-paced, emotionally charged women's fiction. Having penned more than 30 novels (like The Night the Lights Went Out), she has mastered the compulsively readable rhythm that makes for compelling storytelling. She's also an expert at interweaving time periods, perspectives and genres. Offering a blend of women's fiction, romance, mystery and a touch of historical fiction, Dreams of Falling dips in and out of time, subplots and characters' consciousness with grace and fluidity. It showcases White's skill at building a cast of emotionally rich characters, as she juggles the fears and desires of five strong-willed women, all at the brink of revelation and disaster. Her keen emotional insights and warm authorial voice invite the reader into her stories the way one might welcome home a long-lost daughter. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Fans of Liane Moriarty and Dorothea Benton Frank will love this novel about bittersweet homecomings and the complex power of female friendships.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 416p., 9780451488411

Mystery & Thriller

The Outsider

by Stephen King

A young boy is brutally sexually assaulted and murdered in a small Oklahoma town, with an abundance of evidence pointing to one suspect. Terry Maitland is the Little League baseball coach, an English teacher and the apparent killer, given that his fingerprints and DNA are all over the crime scene. But a live feed from a local TV station shows he was miles away from the murder when it took place, and he claims to be innocent. So, how can one man be in two places at once?
The Outsider is an oddly structured Stephen King novel, starting out like his forays into crime fiction before taking a hard turn into being closer to classics like It and Salem's Lot. Ralph Anderson, the cop who arrests Maitland for the crime (in front of nearly the entire town at a baseball game), is faced with the contradictory evidence; even as the local district attorney wants to go to trial, Anderson tries to understand the inexplicable.
The Outsider is in many ways classic King, but it takes a bit of time for that to be revealed. Once the supernatural rears its head (which it does, in a terrifying fashion), fans will nestle into the author's trademark flair. It doesn't do much to change up what King does best (why fix what's not broken?), but he does seem interested in kicking at the edges of his box a bit and seeing how much he can warp the plot of a "Stephen King book." --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The Outsider is another terrifying addition to the Stephen King oeuvre that changes things up just slightly.

Scribner, $30, hardcover, 576p., 9781501180989

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi (The Causal Angel) rewrites 20th-century history in a wildly inventive sci-fi/fantasy hybrid filled with action and espionage.
Rajaniemi's 1938 looks familiar at first glance. Great Britain's Secret Intelligence Service tries to get the drop on the Soviet Union's NKVD as Europe lurches toward war. However, in this timeline, the British Empire has discovered and colonized the afterlife with a sprawling city called Summerland. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is governed by a manmade god called the Presence, and aetheric energy--souls--powers the weapons of war.
Rachel White of SIS's Counter-Subversion Unit has spent 20 years fighting tooth and claw for her career. When a Russian defector trusts her with the name Peter Bloom, a dead British agent turned Soviet mole, Rachel's superior blows off the information as a ploy to make the SIS look foolish.
Certain that her source told the truth, Rachel sees no option other than to pursue the mole on her own. Meanwhile, Peter Bloom himself cultivates sources among the Spanish Republic's forces, gathering intelligence on an ambitious new player who goes by the name Stalin. Rachel and Peter's game of cat and mouse tests them both, but pales in comparison to the devastating truth about the afterlife that awaits their discovery.
With boundless imagination, Rajaniemi invents a mortal realm with a steampunk flair and an afterlife in which every brick of a city is built from souls. Sci-fi and fantasy readers will love exploring Summerland, and its capable, determined female lead steals the show. This standalone begs for a sequel continuing Rachel's adventures and deepening the lore of Rajaniemi's afterlife. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In an alternate timeline where Great Britain discovered and colonized the afterlife, a British SIS agent must prove one of her deceased comrades is working for the Soviet Union.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250178923

Biography & Memoir

Bruce Lee: A Life

by Matthew Polly

Matthew Polly's Bruce Lee: A Life is the definitive and authoritative biography fans of the Little Dragon have been waiting to read for more than four decades. This mammoth, 650-page book about the martial arts film superstar who died at age 32 is packed with new information and, like its subject, moves with lightning speed and grace.
The quick-tempered but philosophical Chinese American actor is a fascinating study in contrasts. As Polly (American Shaolin and Tapped Out) writes, Lee's "internal dichotomy and conflict between his punkish personality and monkish insights would define his adult life." As a juvenile, Lee made 19 films in China. But when he moved to the U.S., he found Hollywood difficult to navigate. While waiting for his big break, Lee taught martial arts, wrote a book and founded the martial arts form Jeet Kune Do. Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow rescued him from supporting roles, offering him leading roles in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, and a chance to star in, direct and write The Way of the Dragon. The international success of these three films led to Lee starring in the first-ever Hong Kong-American co-production, Enter the Dragon. Before that film's premiere in 1973, Lee died from a cerebral edema (brought on by heat stroke, Polly persuasively argues). Chow's stage-managed cover-up (obscuring that Lee died at his mistress's apartment) fueled decades of conspiracy rumors.
Polly's meticulously researched and superbly written biography is a delight. (Even his 100 pages of footnotes are pithy and revelatory.) Bruce Lee: A Life is a spectacularly entertaining and candid biography that separates the myth and the man. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Matthew Polly's definitive biography of Bruce Lee is enormous in size, scope and entertainment value.

Simon & Schuster, $35, hardcover, 656p., 9781501187629

Social Science

Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

Once upon a time (for millennia, actually), survival was the primary focus of the human race. But the ensuing drive toward progress changed that. While the 20th century was dominated by innovation, the 21st has been conquered by comedy and our insatiable need to find humor in every aspect of life. Is this a sign of how far we've evolved? "Everything is funny now," writes Ken Jennings. "Shouldn't we be happier?"
Jennings (Because I Said So!) explores the history of comedy, from the (almost) humorless Dark Ages to today, where funniness is ubiquitous (and embraced by millennials as the chief form of self-expression). Formulaic jokes have given way to absurd humor and sitcoms today can have six jokes per minute; previous generations could hardly have kept up. We expect everything to be funny--advertising, news, politicians, even airline safety videos--and to be funny all the time. Social media has leveled the playing field so everyone's a comedian, and jokes can go viral (or be panned) within minutes. When we're barraged by hundreds of jokes a day, Jennings argues, they "start to feel less and less like a treat."
Planet Funny is as humorous as you would expect (Jennings, who holds the longest winning streak on Jeopardy! is a funny guy), but also thoughtful. Discussions of edgy comedy in an increasingly socially conscious culture and humor's contribution to the coarsening of our discourse are important to consider. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: Planet Funny examines the pervasiveness of comedy in the 21st century, and the perils that come when everything is a joke.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781501100581

Essays & Criticism

Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded

by Jason Heller

The antiwar movement, social equality and psychedelic drugs all influenced 1970s music and culture, but with the first walk on the moon and space exploration in full force, science fiction came to dominate it. Jason Heller's (Taft 2012) fun and authoritative new book makes a compelling case for how science fiction defined a decade in music.
The works of science fiction giants (Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End and 2001: A Space Odyssey; Anthony Burgess's dystopic A Clockwork Orange) inspired a generation of musicians, whose lush rhythms represented the enthusiasm and novelty of space travel while also expressing the dissonance of an increasingly technological world. Science fiction especially emboldened a young David Bowie, who intellectualized its themes lyrically in "Space Oddity" at the beginning of the 1970s and musically with the decade-ending "Ashes-to-Ashes." Science fiction themes would lead to the evolution of progressive rock (with forefather Jimi Hendrix leading the charge) and touch upon jazz and the psychedelic funk and soul of George Clinton and P-Funk. As the 1970s came to a close and "sci-fi became surface rather than substance," skepticism of technology and its indulgences would pave the way for the more minimalist style of punk and New Wave.
Heller's enthusiastic coverage of the decade is exhaustive and engrossing, showing how technological advances enriched rock in its polyphonic boldness and complexity. Readers not already familiar 1970s science fiction-influenced music will be inspired to explore and discover its lost melodies, especially those of David Bowie. "He wasn't from here," gushes Heller. "He wasn't of Earth." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: An in-depth history shows how science fiction stories inspired a generation of rock and funk musicians, including a young David Bowie.

Melville House, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781612196978


Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything

by Randi Hutter Epstein

When asked to explain the rambunctious behavior of teens and pre-teens, adults often roll their eyes and say: "hormones." However, it was not until neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing explored the pituitary gland and founded the science of endocrinology in the early 1900s that medicine began to understand the role of human gland secretions and coined the word hormone (from the Greek hormao, meaning to arouse). This and other fascinating details of the history of endocrinology can be found in Randi Hutter Epstein's funny, informative and accessible Aroused (after her similarly entertaining discussion of the nuts and bolts of childbirth in Get Me Out).
With medical and journalism degrees and as Writer-in-Residence at Yale Medical School, Epstein brings a savvy background to a book rich in clever digressions as well as scientific know-how and historical fact. She began her research thinking "hormones were boobs and periods and sex," but quickly realized that they really "control growth, metabolism, behavior, sleep, lactation, stress, mood swings, sleep-wake cycles, the immune system, mating, fighting, fleeing, puberty, parenting and sex"--most everything that makes us human.
What Mary Roach did for the alimentary canal in Gulp and Hope Jahren did for botany in Lab Girl, Epstein does in spades for our glandular network: the pancreas, adrenals, thyroid, ovaries, testes and pituitary. As she summarizes: "They aim to get us back to normal when things are out of whack. And they can be the cause of commotion, too." Maybe the adults are right about flaky teen behavior after all: hormones. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A history of endocrinology as entertaining as it is informative, Aroused adroitly covers the basic science, clinical application and dubious commercialization of hormones.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780393239607

A Feast of Science: Intriguing Morsels from the Science of Everyday Life

by Dr. Joe Schwarcz

Belief is powerful--consider the placebo effect, the persistence of myths, the preponderance of "alternative facts." In a time with a veritable glut of information and when "any twit can twitter," popular science writer and radio personality Dr. Joe Schwarcz offers an antidote to ignorance with A Feast of Science: Intriguing Morsels from the Science of Everyday Life.
Schwarcz (Is That a Fact?) is an expert in a field fraught with sensationalized stories, with cherry-picked facts that grab headlines but lack (or misrepresent) substance. Does Nutella cause cancer? No. But misleading stories to that effect have run wild, and the myth persists. Schwarcz's morsels in A Feast of Science, like the absence of a Nutella-cancer link, are judiciously cited and swiftly delivered. Most come in brief essays that span no more than a few pages, even if their subjects span centuries: one on carbon dioxide draws connections between the Temple of Apollo and Apollo 13.
Schwarcz's love of learning and his enthusiasm for science are contagious. He includes anecdotes and references for every taste, from somewhat lowbrow--see the story of when Mark Twain dirtied his white suit in a visit with Nicola Tesla, or learn the risks of storing condoms near photocopy machines--to poignant, when he notes that upon learning of his wife's cancer, he, just like almost anyone else, immediately began Googling it.
"Wander about, picking up whatever you may deem to be a tasty morsel," he advises. And, for the record, you can do so while enjoying a spoonful of Nutella. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Author, radio personality and insuppressible science communicator "Dr. Joe" offers a smorgasbord of fun facts and reflections.

ECW Press, $17.95, paperback, 336p., 9781770411920

Children's & Young Adult

The Ruinous Sweep

by Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim Wynne-Jones's (The Emperor of Any Place) latest work is a delirious, wild expedition that places the reader inside the perspective of a narrator whose every thought, memory and experience is unreliable.
17-year-old Donovan Turner (Dono to most, Turn to girlfriend Beatrice) is in the passenger seat of a car. On the backseat, there is "something under wraps, something still breathing but smelling as if it had stopped." "Too tired to keep his guard up," broken phrases and random words seep from Dono "in a slow drip": "Are you." He doesn't know where he is and he thinks he "did something bad" this evening, but he's "not sure what."
Concurrently, Beatrice sits by Dono's bedside in an intensive care unit. Neither his mother nor father can be reached--his mother is camping and his father is probably drunk--so Bee is the only loved one at his side. Donovan is "only barely alive" and Bee is trying desperately to make sense of the words he keeps muttering. "Are... you... See... Oh..."
Back and forth the work goes, traveling between Dono's alternate, purgatorial world and Bee's tangible, real one as a murder mystery--with Dono as the prime suspect--surfaces. This lightning-fast, dreamy and dark work is a contemporary Dante's The Inferno with nods to Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant (Wynne-Jones quotes both works at the beginning of the novel). Dono travels through a bleak, confusing (under)world, desperate to piece together the events that brought him to this place; Beatrice does detective work, collecting the scattered clues and constructing a timeline to prove Dono's innocence. The Ruinous Sweep is a feverish journey designed to make both the solution to and the mystery itself elusive. Unsettling and powerful, Wynne-Jones's work is intellectually and emotionally demanding and leads to a surprisingly strong catharsis. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A teen tries to solve a murder mystery while her boyfriend hovers near death, traveling through the underworld to piece together the same puzzle.

Candlewick, $18.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 14-up, 9780763697457

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

by Helaine Becker, illus. by Dow Phumiruk

Thanks to the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson became a household name. This engaging picture book biography, Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, will undoubtedly spread her fame to a younger audience.
Katherine was an exceptionally intelligent black girl, born in 1918. But her intelligence couldn't save her from racism and segregation: even after she skipped three grades, her family had to move to another West Virginia town to find a high school for black students. After graduating from college at 18, she became a math teacher because it was impossible for her to become a research mathematician. More than 15 years later, she heard about opportunities for women--black women included--to become "computers" for the agency that would become NASA. This involved "calculating long series of numbers" very accurately, a task "that men thought [was] boring and unimportant." But Katherine "knew that without her contributions, a spaceship couldn't reach its destination, nor safely return to Earth." Becker (Lines, Bars, and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs) relates exciting stories of Katherine's career: John Glenn trusting her exacting work in his Project Mercury triple orbit around Earth; Katherine joining the team that sent Apollo 11 to the moon; how she "saved" Apollo 13 when its flight path had to be changed.
Becker interviewed Johnson and used other sources to create a rounded picture of the woman who cared deeply for mathematics and used her knowledge to guide the U.S.'s space program. Neither Becker nor Phumiruk shy away from the realities of racism, depicting examples such as the jarring "Colored Computers" sign designating a room with only brown-skinned women. Dow Phumiruk's Photoshop-scanned watercolor and texture art is clean and attractive, with plenty of mathematical formulae, intertwining Katherine's major interest with Becker's fascinating text. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: How Katherine Johnson overcame racism to make critical contributions to the U.S. space program.

Holt, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 7-10, 9781250137524

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