Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 29, 2019

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

Poetry Connections

"I am reading around trying to find my emotional present," Yanyi writes in The Year of Blue Water (Yale, $20), selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets by Carl Phillips. To me it resonates as an evergreen line, perfect for the eve of Poetry Month. When am I not doing this? How else would I understand myself, if not by taking this snippet and the next to compare against the narrative of my own experience?

For the poet, the present is riddled with trapdoors into anxiety, despair, alienation--a psychological terrain that guarantees bewilderment--but which he renders in sleek, crisp prose poems. "When I was a woman, I didn't feel the same as them, or they to me," Yanyi explains, and the line reminds me of how poignantly Vivek Shraya says, "When I was a man, I too was obsessed with being a good man," in her book-length essay, I'm Afraid of Men (Penguin, $16).

While their trajectories diverge, both writers confront past dissonances that have culminated in a desire for change in the present moment. And in the spirit of "reading around," these urgent lyrics intersect for me with the distressed character Inuk's journal entry in Niviaq Korneliussen's fluid, unpredictable novel, Last Night in Nuuk (Black Cat/Grove, $16): "Don't give up when you can't find your way.... You'll find your home when you find yourself: go in."

All three put necessary language to the fiery yearning to shed what has not worked, or perhaps has simply lost its use, in favor of something better.

Spring is here, as spring will be again and again. One emotional moment passes to become the next, and I'm certain there will be something good to read around there, too. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Erin E. Stead: A Little Earnest

Philip and Erin Stead
(photo: Nicole Haley)

Erin E. Stead is a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator (A Sick Day for Amos McGee). She spoke with Shelf Awareness about her illustrative process, some of her favorite collaborations with her husband, author Philip Stead, and the importance of picture books. Their most recent book, Music for Mister Moon (Holiday House; reviewed below) is available now.

How many times have you collaborated with Philip? Are any of them a secret favorite or feel particularly special to you?

This book is our fifth collaboration, technically, although there are, gratefully, more in the works. This is a difficult question to answer, really. Amos McGee changed our life so much that it's the obvious winner. But it's as if that book is on its own plane. The very presence of that book in our life has exposed us to so much, teaches us to be better people and continues to surprise us with its reach.

So, Amos aside, the rest of the books all have their own space on the "special" shelf. For me, though, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine felt like our magnum opus. We threw our life into that book. No decision was made lightly and we were so supported by our editor and publisher that we could really run with the project (and turn in something about four times longer than they expected). My memories of that book are somewhat bittersweet, but I'm glad we were given the opportunity to make it.

Colliding directly with that book is actually Music for Mister Moon. I found out I was pregnant three-quarters of the way through the making of Oleomargarine and started Mister Moon about halfway through my pregnancy. Then, I threw out everything I had done right before the baby was born. Most of the book was finished with an infant strapped to my chest, so Moon will always be special to me.

What is it like when the two of you are just starting on an idea? When do you bring it to outsiders?

I don't want to speak for Philip as to how the manuscript came into being, although he does know that I have always wanted to play the cello. I actually don't know how to play any instrument, and Philip comes from a family of musicians so I'm a real black sheep. Normally, Phil gives me a warning that he's working on something and I've learned to do my best to leave him alone during the beginning phases of writing. Then he'll pass the manuscript onto me and I read it, with a pencil in hand to make line edits (saying that makes me cringe a little, as we are not just professional partners but married ones and perhaps I should be more loving upon my first pass...). There tends to be some passing back and forth for a bit between us before the manuscript goes off to our editor or agent. After that, I live with the writing for a while, trying to figure out how I'd like the book to feel before I start breaking the manuscript down to page turns and pacing.

You two have a baby now. Did that affect the writing and/or illustrating of the book?

We do! She's the best.

We had to push the book back a bit because I had to take some time to figure out how to care for an infant (I'll let you know when I get that nailed). This book came into being before the baby was born, so the only way she really affected this one is that I had to make it while she was bouncing around. I don't expect our stories to change much with her appearance. I think Phil and I make books for the kids we were because that's the only way we know how to make them honestly. I will say, though, that her presence has solidified how much I believe in books for children and how seriously I take the making of them.

You created a website explaining your process for this book. On it you say that, because the book "resides in Harriet's dreams," you "wanted the art to be very atmospheric." So you printed all of the colors at the same time hoping to create "a seamless effect." Did this work?

Oh, brother, I'm probably the worst person to answer this question. I hope so. But I hope all the art in all my books is seamless, too.

Printing the entire interior at once probably did fuel easier transitions from page to page. The book happens at night, but I also wanted it to feel as if there were smoke machines in it. Since I work traditionally (no digital alterations, everything you see in the book is the finished art on paper, warts and all, 99% of the time), I'm always up against what I am actually capable of making with my hands. That includes what skills I have and the skills I lack.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?

Thanks for getting this far in the interview! One day I'll update that photo of us that's attached to this article. You should probably know, we look older. This interview might sound a little earnest. I ask you to grade me on a curve--I live in Michigan, it's March and I haven't seen the sun in four months.

Also, I believe in books and reading to kids more than ever, and even though there is a lot of science to back me up, I still often feel like those studies miss out on the human component of sharing a book with a kid. Thanks, Shelf Awareness readers, for supporting that, too.
--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Brief Histories of Classic Typefaces

"Who was Garamond, anyway? The history behind 5 classic typefaces," presented by Fast Company.


"Should there be an apostrophe in 'Farmers Market?' " asked Merriam-Webster?


Author Hannah Beckerman picked her "top 10 toxic families in fiction" for the Guardian.


Mental Floss profiled Eliza Leslie, "the most influential cookbook writer of the 19th century."


Yale News showcased "painted Renaissance volumes on view at Yale's Beinecke Library."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Slaughterhouse-Five

This Sunday, March 31, marks the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Part autobiographical, part science fiction-infused satire, Slaughterhouse-Five was Vonnegut's first bestseller and remains a rightly revered literary cornerstone. After the real-life Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he was used as forced labor in Dresden, Germany. He survived the Allied firebombing of that city in the deep cellar of an empty slaughterhouse called Schlachthof Fünf. After the attack, Vonnegut was put to work clearing rubble and retrieving bodies from bombed buildings.

He struggled for many years to work his experiences into a novel. Finally, by developing the sci-fi twist of becoming "unstuck in time," Vonnegut was able to piece together what many consider a parable of PTSD. Billy Pilgrim's captivity in a Tralfamadorian human zoo, interspersed with withering critiques of war and dark humor, remain as delightful and thought-proving as they were 50 years ago. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


White Elephant

by Julie Langsdorf

Willard Park is a perfect little suburb in Maryland--just ask Allison Miller, a photographer and Willard Park resident working on a book titled Willard Park: An American Dream. Residents keep their mugs at the town café to avoid using paper cups, have a snowman-building contest after the first snowfall, and hand out healthy alternatives to candy for Halloween. The sleepy little town is "a mixture of colors and nationalities, religions and sexual orientations"; it's quaint and quiet and community-oriented. Until Nick and Kaye Cox move in.

Nick is a builder who lives next door to the Millers. His idea of utopia is big, expensive and showy. He drives a gold SUV, lives in a faux stone castle and throws big, loud parties. Allison tries to like the Cox home, but she just can't; in her eyes, it's gaudy. In addition to his own home, Nick is building another large mansion in Willard Park. Allison's husband, Ted, christened it the White Elephant due to its large size, color and the fact that it's been on the market for months.

The Millers begrudgingly tolerate the Cox family eyesore and the constant barrage of noise until Nick cuts down their red maple, a tree they planted the day their daughter Jillian was born. With the demise of Jillian's tree, Ted throws down the proverbial gauntlet. This means war.

Julie Langsdorf's debut novel slams two conflicting ideas of the American Dream smack into each other with both wit and wisdom. The dialogue is sharp and a mystery subplot adds a dash of suspense. Entertainment at its best, White Elephant earns a shiny, gold star. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A quiet suburb turns into a war zone when a developer and his family move in with big ideas that don't sit well with the rest of the community.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062857750

The River

by Peter Heller

Peter Heller's experience as an outdoorsman and adventure journalist is on stunning display in The River, a sure-handed combination of  brutal wilderness writing and the masterful character insight he demonstrated in 2017's Celine. Jack and Wynn are like brothers, bonded over their love of mountains and books. On break from Dartmouth, they decide to paddle and portage a string of lakes in Manitoba, Canada. The serenity of canoeing, fishing and paperbacks over a campfire transforms into urgency when they spot a raging wildfire headed their way.

Safety is an increased-paddling-pace away--until a man they'd previously heard arguing with a woman shows up at their camp. Bloodied, rattled and armed, he claims his wife is missing. Jack and Wynn make a time-eating trip upstream to look for her and end up doubting the man's story and fearing further for their well-being. On the run from a killer fire, inclement weather, waning provisions and a man whose motives they mistrust, Jack and Wynn will need every iota of their wilderness savvy to survive.

Heller's writing is as appealing as ever. His knowledge of nature and the elements takes a leading role that is technical but not overwhelming. Despite the stirring turn from sheer joy to menace, particularly through the looming fire's impact on flora and fauna, the prose is never rushed or frantic. Character is still the heart of The River, as core differences in the men's responses to the dangers and ideas about how to proceed amplify the tension and tragedy. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Two young outdoorsmen battle the elements, their beliefs and a potentially nefarious fellow river-goer as they try to outrace a wildfire in remote Canada.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780525521877


by Candice Carty-Williams

Twenty-five-year-old Queenie Jenkins is in a downward spiral. Tom, her boyfriend of three years, has asked for a "clean break" (which she heard as "take a break"). She's straddling the world of her Jamaican British family and her job on a mostly white newspaper staff. In Candice Carty-Williams's debut novel, Queenie, the eponymous heroine's trials are heartbreaking but hilarious, thanks to her self-deprecating first-person narration.

The first in her family to graduate from college, Queenie knows she overcame the odds: her long-suffering mother, an abusive stepfather, grandparents who are there for her but culturally distant. She hopes to write Black Lives Matter pieces for her paper. But Tom's rejection ignites all her self-doubts. She agrees to a series of OkCupid dates and a brief office affair, encounters described in titillating and often humorous detail. Wooed as "chocolate girl," she wonders if her life has become "men in droves calling me confectionary." Her health deteriorates and she has panic attacks. Group texts with her three loyal best friends (known as "The Corgis," because "the Queen loves her Corgis and they all support her") are loving and funny, and these women keep her afloat, though, she says, "there's too much wrong with me." Eventually she sees a therapist, who helps to right her course.

At one point in Queenie's chaos, Grandma accuses her, "Lie you ah' tell," in her delightful patois. Surely the young woman errs, but as normally reserved Grandad concludes, "You're full of fight, Queenie. Full of fight." Even when she's making the most dubious choices, Queenie inspires hope and affection. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: When British Jamaican Queenie Jenkins hits a rough patch, friends and family help her overcome her self-destructive behavior and rebuild her self-esteem in this often humorous novel.

Scout Press/Gallery, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781501196010

The Night Swimmers

by Peter Rock

Anyone who has ever gone night swimming knows that the experience can evoke anticipatory feelings of mystery and sensuality. Peter Rock (The Shelter Cycle) brings those same qualities to The Night Swimmers, his autobiographical novel set on Wisconsin's eastern Door Peninsula, a narrow wedge of land separating the southern Green Bay from Lake Michigan.

During the summer of 1994, Rock's unnamed first-person narrator is a somewhat emotionally adrift 26-year-old writer staying with his parents at their cabin. Among their neighbors is Mrs. Abel, a widow in her 40s. The two meet regularly for nocturnal swims that span several miles and last for hours. One night, as the two are resting in a shallow part of the lake, Mrs. Abel suddenly disappears.

Twenty years later, the narrator--now a married father with two young daughters--remains haunted by that night. To better understand Mrs. Abel's disappearance, he revisits that time in his life by reconnecting with an old girlfriend, studying the work of real-life artists Charles Burchfield and Ted Serios, and immersing himself in a sensory deprivation tank.

It's all a bit otherworldly and somewhat strange, but Rock, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, seems comfortable taking this unconventional approach to his fiction. With provocative and elegiac prose, Rock pulls his reader into the depths of this story. What one finds under the surface is conducive to the autobiographical novel form and reflective of the nature of the narrator's swims: just as he once swam silently side by side with Mrs. Abel, we're all moving in parallel with the shadowy silhouette of the person we once were during pivotal stages of our lives. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: A young man and his widowed neighbor swim together at night in this autobiographical novel spanning two decades.

Soho Press, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9781641290005

Mystery & Thriller

The Last Woman in the Forest

by Diane Les Becquets

In The Last Woman in the Forest, author Diane Les Becquet (Breaking Wild) loosely combines her own experiences with abduction, assault, terminal brain cancer and the outdoors with the true story of the serial killer who murdered at least six women in the Connecticut River Valley in the 1980s. It is an intensely personal novel of a woman's obsession with whether or not her lover was the man responsible for the Stillwell murders.

Some chapters focus on Marian Engström's past--falling in love with the work of training rescue dogs to help track endangered animals for wildlife data collection studies while also falling in love with her mentor, Tate Mathias. Meanwhile, in the present, she grieves over Tate's death yet faces a growing suspicion that she didn't really know him at all. Interspersed are a criminal profiler's victim portraits of what might have happened to the murdered women, and his process helps Marian uncover the truth of who Tate was.

As the plot and pacing bend the timeline, the narrative provides an intriguing meditation on memory, intuition and the game of willful denial people play with themselves regarding the all-consuming and powerful nature of love. When the past and the present finally collide, Marian must make a choice: to believe in her memories or trust her instincts. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.

Discover: In this chilling, nature-based thriller, a young woman questions her memory of her deceased lover and his true character while trying to uncover a serial killer.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780399587047

Before She Knew Him

by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson (The Kind Worth Killing) is known for his twisty psychological thrillers, and Before She Knew Him fits right in, with plenty of suspense and surprises.

Hen and Lloyd have just moved into a new house in an attractive neighborhood of a Boston suburb. They immediately bond with their next-door neighbors, Mira and Matthew, the only other childless couple on the street. Their first dinner together, at Mira and Matthew's house, goes well until Hen notices something in Matthew's home office that shocks her--a fencing trophy that was missing from the home of a young man who was murdered two years ago. Hen recognizes the trophy because she had been obsessed with the killing at the time--a byproduct of her mental illness--and she can't hide her distress at the implications of that trophy sitting in her neighbor's home.

The tension in this story comes not from wondering if Matthew is a murderer--the reader knows that he is by the second chapter--but from the fact that he knows that she knows. Hen's history makes her an unreliable witness according to the police, even Lloyd doesn't seem convinced and Matthew appears to be a gentle history teacher. That leaves Hen and Matthew as the only two people who know the truth, and he certainly doesn't want anyone else to find out. This intense and sinister thriller builds to a shocking conclusion as the bizarre relationship between a woman and her killer neighbor plays out. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: When a woman with a history of mental illness suspects her neighbor is a murderer, no one believes her, but he knows that she knows.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062838155

Hunting Game

by Helene Tursten, trans. by Paul Norlen

Helene Tursten, Swedish author of the popular Inspector Irene Huss series (An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good; Who Watcheth), has turned to a new detective in Hunting Game. Embla Nyström is 28, and has been plagued by anxiety for years, but manages to suppress most of her fears while on the job. She works as a detective inspector for a mobile unit in Gothenburg, Sweden, and her team is sent all over the country to help solve crimes.

In Hunting Game, Embla is off-duty, happily participating in the annual moose hunt for which she has joined her uncle and his friends since she was a teenager. Unfortunately, a series of strange events begins to happen: a viper is found in the outhouse of the hunting cabin, a wounded fox is found in a steel trap and two of the moose hunt's participants go missing. One of them turns up with a broken neck soon thereafter. Embla, torn between searching as a cop and as a friend, finds the ensuing investigation difficult.

Although Embla Nyström may not be quite as engaging as Irene Huss, readers will be eager for her to see through the subterfuge and catch the killer. Her neuroses are explained by traumatic events she endured as a teenager, and Hunting Game sets up the beginning of what is sure to be an enjoyable series. As always, Tursten aptly captures the quotidian details that make her characters memorable, giving glimpses into hunting culture and the coldness of a Swedish winter. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: A Swedish moose-hunting party is torn asunder when two members go missing and one is found dead.

Soho Crime, $26.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781616956509

Biography & Memoir

First: Sandra Day O'Connor

by Evan Thomas

Sandra Day O'Connor's appointment as the first woman Supreme Court Justice of the United States carried almost unimaginable significance. First by Evan Thomas (Being Nixon) may become the definitive biography of this remarkable trailblazer. As her confirmation hearings were televised to millions, her supporters offered cringe-worthy, if well-meant, endorsements: "She is an achieving woman without an edge. She is good looking without being alienatingly beautiful and bright without being alarmingly intellectual." O'Connor's extensive preparation and reasonable answers in her hearings succeeded. The Senate unanimously confirmed her in 1981.

Her challenges in the "Marble Palace" were often minor (there was no ladies' room near the conference room, for example) but often more consequential. She "felt isolated" realizing that the Justices rarely spoke to each other outside conference. Yet her determination to succeed and her ability to build alliances finally earned her the respect she deserved, both inside and outside the Court.

First analyzes the national changes the Court grappled with during O'Connor's tenure. They were finding ways of "finessing societal problems that defied sweeping solutions." First also does an excellent job demonstrating her influence as an educator and advocate after her retirement from the Court in 2006. "She wanted young Americans to learn that there were three branches of government... and why their freedom depends on the system's working."

O'Connor and her family spoke with Evans during his research, adding personal touches to his exhaustive investigation. Readers who appreciate a thoughtful analysis of historical figures will find this vivid biography engrossing. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: First is a comprehensive and intensely personal biography of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court.

Random House, $32, hardcover, 496p., 9780399589287

Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience

by Anuradha Bhagwati

Has there ever been a less likely Marine Corps officer than Anuradha Bhagwati? The bisexual daughter of Indian American economics professors, Bhagwati attended Yale, where her alienation--from her parents, from her peers--peaked. Following a half-hearted stint at graduate school, she joined the Marine Corps--the most physically brutal of the service branches, notes Bhagwati in Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience.

Officer training forced the "Bambi-loving socialist-leaning peacenik" to learn how to handle a gun, but harder to manage was the Marine Corps' tradition of sexism and tolerance for sexual harassment and worse: "Men's words about women, the filth that was said to keep us from realizing our potential, became the mantras I believed about myself."

The second half of Unbecoming recounts Bhagwati's rocky transition back to civilian life, starting in 2004. Although she was never deployed, she exhibits signs of post-traumatic stress disorder: anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts. Through the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), she hurls herself into activism, perhaps most successfully on behalf of overturning the ban on women in combat. Naturally, Bhagwati becomes a lightning rod for hate, not all of it generated by men.

Unbecoming brims with the ebullient Bhagwati's fierce humanism, seething humor and change-maker righteousness. The reader will be pleased to learn that after Bhagwati leaves SWAN in 2015, she finds lasting solace in teaching yoga, a practice that offers "the disciplined feel of Marine Corps training, with none of the abuse." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Anuradha Bhagwati's fiery memoir is about serving her country--both during her Marine Corps days and through her activism afterward.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781501162541

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick

by Mallory O'Meara

Film buffs, feminists and lovers of hidden history will adore Mallory O'Meara's superb investigation into the life and career of Milicent Patrick--the actress/artist who designed the gill-man Creature in the 1954 film The Creature from the Black Lagoon. She never received on-screen credit for her iconic creation, and she lost her job at Universal Pictures because Bud Westmore, the head of the special effects makeup department, wanted to claim credit instead. O'Meara's writing is fresh, impassioned and unafraid. "The thing you need to know about Bud Westmore is that he was a dick," writes O'Meara. "He was ego-driven, arrogant and hungry for power.... This was a man pulsating with insecurity."

Although Patrick was virtually erased from film history, O'Meara's extensive research creates a fascinating and full-bodied biography of this unsung film pioneer. Patrick was one of the first female artists hired by Walt Disney (working on Fantasia and Dumbo) and acted (often unbilled) in numerous films before and after her short stay at Universal. 

O'Meara intersperses her investigation with fascinating autobiographical tales of her methods and how her subject affected her own life. As a screenwriter and horror film producer, O'Meara details how the same sexist hurdles and not-so-covert misogyny that derailed Patrick's career still exist in the #MeToo era. O'Meara's investigative skills match her crackling, engaging prose. Even her footnotes are hilarious. This is a wonderful, enlightening mixture of film history, memoir and love letter to the horror movie genre. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: The woman who created the Creature from the Black Lagoon gets the engaging and superbly researched resurrection and appreciation she deserves.

Hanover Square Press, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781335937803

Children's & Young Adult

Music for Mister Moon

by Philip C. Stead, illus. by Erin E. Stead

Author-illustrator team Philip and Erin Stead (The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine) returns with a dreamy, delicate picture-book fantasy about a reclusive musician who meets an ideal listener.

Harriet "Hank" Henry, a lanky child with graphite-stroke bangs that hide her eyes, sweats at the thought of playing her cello for an audience--she prefers to transform her room into a one-person cottage and play alone. When her parents suggest she play her cello "in a big orchestra," she changes them into bespectacled penguins and she even throws her teacup at an owl who won't "go away." The cup knocks the gentle-faced, butter-yellow Mister Moon from his place in the sky, and Hank makes amends by taking him rowing on a lake; his light changes the slate water and sky to ethereal sea green. When he requests that she come with him to the silent sky to play her cello, Hank again breaks into a nervous sweat. The lonely, patient moon puts her at ease by promising to close his eyes and not cheer, and his soothing presence makes him the perfect audience for the shy performer.

Caldecott medalist Erin Stead's layers of oil ink and colored pencil weave a translucent moonlit spell around the graphite-sketched characters, including a thick-furred bear in a trapper hat and an upright, pot-bellied walrus. Introverts and dreamers ages four to nine will gravitate to Philip Stead's wistful Mister Moon, who thinks oars moving through the water and buoy bells are music compared to the quiet sky. Subtle and whimsical, Music for Mister Moon celebrates the peace that grows between trusted friends. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at main branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: A shy young cellist finds a new friend in Mister Moon when she inadvertently wings him with her teacup.

Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-9, 9780823441600

Tree of Dreams

by Laura Resau

Thirteen-year-old chocolatier Coco Hidden believes "chocolate makes everything better"--or at least it always has before. Coco isn't so sure these days: her best friend, Leo, has abandoned her for the popular kids, and El Corazón, the chocolate shop Coco and her mom run, may close if business doesn't pick up. Then, Coco wins a contest: a free trip to the Amazon; Leo, both their moms and their neighbor Gali ("any kid's dream grandfather") accompany her. Coco, who has been having dreams about a mysterious, ancient mother-tree--a ceiba tree--with a secret treasure, begins to wonder if her trip to the Amazon might be more than chance. Gali believes there could be a deeper meaning, telling her that "magic is around us all the time, but if we're not looking, we miss it." Could the ceiba tree hold the key to saving El Corazón?

Tree of Dreams by Laura Resau (The Lightning Queen) links a snowy resort town in Colorado to the Amazon rain forest through the socially minded bean-to-bar chocolate industry. Resau brings to light the dangers of deforestation and the ripple effect it causes on the surrounding community; upon their arrival in the Amazon, Coco and Leo are horrified by the rain forest devastation wrought by the oil industry. Featuring chapters from the point of view of a wise ceiba tree, Tree of Dreams is a call to action that asks readers to join the fray. "Are you listening?" the ceiba tree asks, "Do you feel our roots touching? Can you imagine our strength together? Will you join forces to help?" --Kyla Paterno, former YA and children's book buyer

Discover: On a trip to the Amazon, 13-year-old Coco searches for an ancient tree she hopes may hold the secret to saving her family's chocolate shop.

Scholastic Press, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9780545800884


by A.S. King

The Shoveler is 16 years old and has moved 17 times. His mother has "trouble with money," so she buys cheap food and steals the expensive stuff, and digs through people's garbage for credit card and Social Security info. CanIHelpYou?'s family is affluent. But her best friend is one of the few black boys in her neighborhood and her parents have made it clear they're not okay with that. So CanIHelpYou? sells drugs to provide for herself, refusing to take money from those "nightmare racists." Loretta lives in a camper with her mother, her father--whom her mother occasionally kicks out but always lets back in--and a lunch box full of fleas she's training for a flea circus. Malcolm's father is dying from cancer. In between chemo treatments, father and son take trips to Negril. When in Pennsylvania, though, Malcolm stays with his grandparents, who make him uncomfortable with their bigotry and their wealth. The Freak's father "said tampons and pads were too expensive when she got her period, so she's used everything from a menstrual cup to random washcloths." The Freak now spends her time "flickering," traveling instantly between places, helping Malcolm dig up secrets and giving Loretta a new dress when her dad starts commenting on her legs.

As with many of A.S. King's (Still Life with Tornado) young adult novels, it takes time to get a handle on Dig. The perspective moves among the five teens; the connections grow clearer as the story unfolds. Though not an easy read, Dig is hopeful--the teens recognize how the racism and privilege of previous generations have shaped their lives and they work to be better. Brutally candid, Dig is well worth the intellectual and emotional investment. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A.S. King's newest work for young adults is a surreal, painfully open depiction of how the privilege and unconscious bias of one generation affect the lives of the next.

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 14-up, 9781101994917

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