Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 2, 2019

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

From My Shelf

Dazzled by Mary Oliver

When Mary Oliver died in January, there was an outpouring of loss and remembrance. She was perhaps the most beloved poet of our age. Still, because she writes about old-fashioned subjects--nature, beauty and (gasp) God--she has not been taken seriously by many critics. Her deceptively simple poems and concomitant accessibility can mask her depth and profundity.

Oliver paid particular attention to nature, and in it found meaning and solace, intensity and peace. She saw the world in a pebble or an owl's gaze, or at a funeral, where "The Lord's terrifying kindness" came to her as a soul--"a small silvery thing," "a thousand spider webs woven together"--leapt out of a closed coffin. In "Stars": "Here in my head, language/ keeps making its tiny noises./ How can I hope to be friends/ with the hard white stars/ whose flaring and hissing are not speech/ but a pure radiance?... Listen, listen, I'm forever saying... then I come up with a few words, like a gift." And what a gift! Beans, bears, dogs, waterfalls, wind... the world delighted her.

Over and over, she called us to pay attention, to wonder: "It must be a great disappointment to God if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day" (from "Blue Horses"). It is to be hoped that we can find beauty and meaning wherever we are, but we will always be dazzled by Mary Oliver.

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

--Marilyn Dahl

Book Candy

From Spelling Mistakes to New Words

Mental Floss found "11 words that started out as spelling mistakes."


The "literary roles of Kiera Knightly" were screened by Quirk Books.


Author Leo Benedictus picked his top 10 evil narrators for the Guardian.


Literacy Partners' Unreadable Books campaign "jumbles up bestsellers to push literacy," the Big Issue reported.


The Library of Congress "will ditch the subject heading 'Illegal Aliens,' " Smithsonian magazine reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Salt on my Skin

Benoîte Groult (1920-2016) was a French feminist writer and activist who was born into an upper-class Parisian family of fashion and furniture designers, attended the Sorbonne and worked as a television journalist. She co-wrote three books with her younger sister Flora before publishing her own novel in 1972. Groult went on to write 20 books and many essays. Much of her work concerns the history of feminism, gender discrimination and misogyny.

Groult's best-known novel, Les vaisseaux du cœur (Salt on my Skin), was published in 1988. It follows two socially mismatched lovers, a Parisian intellectual and a Breton fisherman, united by lust in a globe-trotting series of sexual encounters. On February 5, 2019, World Editions published Salt on my Skin, translated by Mo Teitelbaum, with a new introduction by feminist writer Fay Weldon ($16.99, 9781642860092). --Tobias Mutter

Poetry for Children and Teens

Many who read picture books in rhyme don't realize that writing poetry for kids is no easy feat--it's simply that those who do it well make it look easy. A fantastic recent example of this mastery of rhyming verse in picture book format is Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn's picture book biography Brave Ballerina (Holt, $17.99), about Janet Collins, "the first African American prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera House." Meadows's (Super Bugs) text almost never stumbles, keeping metronomic time with Ebony Glenn's illustrations of soaring, spinning Janet: "this is the time,/ way back in the day,/ when dance schools turned/ black students away." Glenn's (Mommy's Khimar) digital art is visual poetry, the dancers sketched in long, sinuous lines, the earth-toned shades of their clothing blending out into the background as they move. When the verse in this enchanting biography does not make the full story clear (such as when "the dancer/ who found her way in... learned she would/ have to lighten her skin"), an author's note gives detail, rounding out Janet's incredible story. (Janet "could only join the Ballet Russe on the condition that she paint her skin white." She refused.)

For a brilliant example of the poetry found in translated picture books, there is Uk-Bae Lee's When Spring Comes to the DMZ (Plough Publishing, $17.95). The internationally award-winning author/artist has never known a united country. He channels a hope for reunion into When Spring Comes to the DMZ, originally published in his native South Korea in 2010 as part of the Peace Picture Book Project, featuring illustrators from Korea, China and Japan. His text, smoothly translated by Chungyon Won and Aileen Won, is understated and simple, the English text mimicking in physical form the Korean from which it was translated. Further resonance is presented through his multi-layered illustrations, for example, the reader's first glimpse of the DMZ is the same as Grandfather's, the lush, green landscape seen through two circles entirely surrounded by black--mimicking the view from Grandfather's binoculars. With gentle words and glorious art, Lee inspires the newest generation of readers to lead the way and make miracles happen.

Poetry for an older group of children and teen readers has its own difficulties: reading level, accessibility, content.... Sometimes, it even has to fight poetry misconceptions young readers may have. Essayist, short-story writer and first-time children's novelist Aida Salazar's The Moon Within (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99) is a contemporary tale told in first-person verse about a girl reaching deep within herself for understanding. Salazar's language is frank and rich, using occasional Spanish or Mexica/Nahuatl words, as she describes 11-year-old Celi and her situation: a good student, dancer and drummer, she and her fellow Oakland, Calif., tweens are beginning to learn about their changing bodies and expressions of sexuality and gender. Celi struggles with her identity as a young woman, scared of the moon ceremony her mother wants to hold to celebrate her first period.

In Soaring Earth (Atheneum, $18.99), a companion to Margarita Engle's Pura Belpré Award-winning Enchanted Air (a poetic memoir about her early childhood), Engle recounts high school, her first failed experience in college and her eventual successful return. Soaring Earth is told in beautiful, brief poems, featuring Engle's experiences from Berkeley's tumultuous campus to a rat-filled apartment in New York. Throughout, Margarita's thirst for adventure is strong and bold, even when she sees herself as anything but daring or courageous. By holding other characters at arm's length, never naming with more than an initial, Engle keeps her narrative intimate, as though readers are viewing pages of her diary. Introspective and inquisitive, Soaring Earth traverses adolescence and early adulthood with grace, grit and unflinching realism.

Also telling a story with "unflinching realism" is Laurie Halse Anderson's memoir-in-verse, Shout (Viking, $17.99). "Too many grown-ups tell kids to follow their/ dreams/ like that's going to get them somewhere/ Auntie Laurie says follow your nightmares instead/ cuz when you figure out what's eating you alive/ you can slay it." For two decades, Laurie Halse Anderson has been visiting schools and talking to teens about "rape mythology, sexual violence and consent." For two decades, "girls and boys" have sought her out to "tell [her], shame-smoked raw/ voices, tears waterfalling,/ about the time" they were assaulted. Anderson has spent 20 years as a repository for these stories of pain. And "those kids" who have shared, she writes, "taught me everything, those girls/ showed me a path through the woods/ those boys led me." Shout is a poetic biography, a call to action, a lesson, a fable, a warm embrace for those who hurt, a guttural scream demanding the pain stop. It's factual as it flows in lyrical verse through Anderson's life; speculative as she works to create a collective noun for teens ("a wince of teens/ mutter of teens/ an attitude, a grumble, a grunt"); direct as she speaks to scared librarians "on the cusp of courage." Shout is for survivors, for abusers and assaulters, for consenting young men and women, for gatekeepers unwilling to let sex through. Immensely powerful, this biography in verse is for everyone.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Review


The Girl He Used to Know

by Tracey Garvis Graves

In this heartfelt contemporary romance, Tracey Garvis Graves (Heart-Shaped Hack) follows the tumultuous love story of an autistic woman and the one that got away.

As students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1991, Annika and Jonathan meet over a hard-fought game at the school chess club. Struggling to adjust to independent life after years of homeschooling, Annika leans on her roommate Janice for guidance on navigating social situations and has never dated. Unable to read social cues, easily overwhelmed by sensory input and exhausted by too much human interaction, Annika's two comforts are playing chess and volunteering in wildlife rehabilitation. Jonathan, a transfer student, wants to start over after making the wrong choices at his last school. Thrown together by circumstance, the two embark on a relationship that evolves from sweet to white-hot.

In 2001, Annika and Jonathan meet again by chance in a Chicago grocery store. Jonathan works in finance and is newly divorced. Annika, now a public librarian and more adept at social situations, is determined to prove that their love deserves a second chance. Before the lovers can start over, they must face the truth about why their relationship fell apart and prove that a second tragedy can't break their bond.

Graves eschews the lighter tone of other romances featuring characters who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum and the result brims with thoughtful sensitivity. Romance fans who love the second-chance motif will find The Girl He Used to Know a must-read, but any reader who appreciates character-driven fiction will enjoy Annika's determination to reach her goals and become stronger in the process. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this sensitive, affecting romance, Graves's strong, autistic heroine fights for the love she once lost.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250200358

The Gulf

by Belle Boggs

The Gulf by Belle Boggs (The Art of Waiting) is a hilarious, pitiable, thoughtful first novel not to be missed. A rare combination of silliness and poignancy, with momentum and compassion, this is a story for every reader, but especially for struggling writers.

Marianne is desperately underemployed and about to lose her apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., and her poetry manuscript has been long stalled. Eric, her best friend and ex-fiancé, has an annoyingly good job teaching overseas, as he works to complete the second novel in his two-book contract. When he calls from the United Arab Emirates with a business offer, Marianne wants to say no, but she has no other option.

Eric has inherited an aging motel on Florida's Gulf Coast, and wants to realize Marianne's old college joke of a low-residency writing school for Christian writers. Marianne, a liberal atheist, soon finds herself in business with Eric, his venture capitalist brother, Mark, and their silent partner, great-aunt Frances. Ensconced in the crumbling motel with occasional hurricanes passing through, Marianne doesn't precisely want to fleece the applicants sending in embarrassing manuscripts, but she certainly could use the money.

Boggs's gifts are many. The Gulf's plot is inspired, even accounting for the arguable overabundance of novels about MFA program shenanigans. Perhaps the greatest genius is in her characters: Marianne, Eric, the writing instructor who can't remember anyone's name, the hotelier next door, Janine and the former R&B superstar now banking on an autobiographical novel to make his comeback. Each of these is perfectly developed and flawed just enough to be lovable. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Where a failing writer, ill-conceived for-profit education and the American political divide come together, the result is both funny and feeling.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 320p., 9781555978341

Tiny Americans

by Devin Murphy

"In the fall of 1978, our father brought home a stack of books from the library on activities to do with kids as an attempt to get himself sober." Terrance Thurber educates Jamie, Lewis and Connor about the outdoors--listening to trees with stethoscopes and making casts of animal tracks, trying to teach them self-sufficiency. He's also getting them away from their mother, whose haunting sadness has a "firm grip on her ankles." When Terrance abandons the family, the betrayal permeates their futures with insecurities and doubt.

In Tiny Americans, Devin Murphy (The Boat Runner) charts the lives of the Thurbers in short, chronological excerpts from 1978 to 2018. Jamie, who sought solace in childhood trysts in the local cemetery, questions her marriage when her military husband is catastrophically injured. Lewis escapes to the steadfast routine of the navy. Connor struggles to connect with his risk-taking son, who is so reminiscent of Connor and Lewis at that age, with their efforts to numb themselves through brutal games of childhood football.

As his kids try to fill their adult lives with love and stability following their tumultuous upbringing, Terrence gets his act together and tries to reconnect with weekly letters. Though permeated with melancholy, the narrative is buoyed by exquisite details and the sense that forgiveness may be possible even if redemption is out of reach. A collection of vignettes more than a novel, the time gaps sometimes work against the deep story arcs, but the whole is a satisfying chronicle of fraught family dynamics. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Short glimpses into the lives of five members of a fractured family are told through alternating perspectives as they each seek peace and forgiveness through the decades.

Harper Perennial, $26.99, hardcover, 256p., 9780062886248

Days by Moonlight

by André Alexis

Days by Moonlight follows Alfred Homer, a heartbroken botanist who's invited by family friend Professor Bruno Morgan on a Canadian road trip to discover the truth about reclusive poet John Skennen. The journey finds them among lycanthropes, fictional plants, witches and more, taking the pair into strange territory.

Like Neil Gaiman, André Alexis (Fifteen Dogs) uses mythology and folklore to probe deeper subjects, asking questions about the subjectivity of truth and happiness versus artistry, all in cool and beautiful prose. One can sense a Cheshire Cat grin in the writer's voice--how purely pleasurable it must have been to write this. There is pathos and tragedy here, especially in Skennen's story and Alfred's lost love. But black comedy and absurdity are there as well, and hang in uneasy balance with the sadder passages.

Then the fantastic tone shifts into a story of religion and divine experience. Up to a certain point Alexis nimbly plays with whether any of Alfred's encounters are objectively real, and the reason why is illuminated in the stunning final pages. But of course the best answer to "Is any of this true?" is another question, the perfect rebuke for those reaching for rationality: "Does it matter?" We tell falsehoods, stories, for many reasons and in so doing the stories become the truth. And in the tale of an at-first-average trip, Days by Moonlight finds a million other stories reconciling love and creation and divine gifts. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer

Discover: André Alexis's fantastical novel explores themes of religion and the cost of love through a road trip in a Canada filled with witches, werewolves and bizarre customs.

Coach House, $17.95, paperback, 224p., 9781552453797

Grace After Henry

by Eithne Shortall

Eithne Shortall (Love in Row 27) has created a poignant love story in Grace After Henry. Grace and Henry have been dating for several years, are happily in love, considering marriage and children and in the process of buying their dream home in Dublin. That is, until Henry is killed in a bicycle accident.

Reeling with grief, after a few weeks with her parents, Grace moves into their new home anyway and returns to her job as a chef. She's going through the motions of living, trying to fool her well-meaning friends and family into leaving her alone, but her heart is emptier than her new house. Until the day that Andy, a contractor, knocks at her door. Andy looks so much like Henry that at first Grace thinks she's losing her mind. But as she gets to know Andy, she sees the differences between the two men, and she's conflicted. Is she ready to let go of Henry? Is she really letting go of him if she moves on with someone who looks exactly like him?

Grace After Henry is bittersweet and charming, perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes. Grace's grief is all too understandable, as are her conflicted feelings about Andy's presence in her life. The story of Grace's progress is broken up with flashbacks to her life with Henry, offering the reader an emotional glimpse into their life together, including sweet moments, silly arguments and all the quotidian things that make up a relationship. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this poignant novel, Grace tries to move on after the death of her beloved boyfriend, Henry.

Putnam, $16, paperback, 384p., 9780525537861

Stay Up with Hugo Best

by Erin Somers

The late-night talk show host at the center of Erin Somer's Stay Up with Hugo Best isn't a direct take on any particular celebrity, but an ingenious mish-mash of white male comedians past their prime in Hollywood. With Hugo Best, Somers deftly teases out the muddled and sometimes inappropriate relationship men like him have with fame, aging and the women who get caught in their wake.

June Bloom is one such woman, a writers' assistant on Hugo's show and a fan of his early work. Living in New York with very little money and even fewer prospects for success, June's world starts to fall apart when it is announced that Hugo is retiring from his decades-long show, Stay Up. After a chance encounter at a dingy comedy club, Hugo invites her to stay with him at his house over Memorial Day weekend. Out of desperation, curiosity or some combination of the two, June agrees, and for a short while gets a firsthand look at the strange, sad world of Hugo Best.

It's important that the novel is told from June's perspective. She is neither an ingénue nor vixen, but instead a broke, self-aware woman who realizes that a tryst with Hugo could open some doors for her, or at least give her a pretty good story to tell her friends. Somers does a great job balancing June's competing feelings, but Stay Up with Hugo Best itself never feels unsure: Somers knows exactly when both the laugh lines and the cringes should hit. --Noah Cruickshank, director of communications, Forefront, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Stay Up with Hugo Best hilariously skewers and celebrates the world of late-night shows and comedy.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781982102357

Biography & Memoir

Funny Man: Mel Brooks

by Patrick McGilligan

Prolific biographer Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light) offers a massive warts-and-all biography of writer/director/producer/actor Mel Brooks. Brooks is a member of the exclusive club of EGOT winners (those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award), but his success and critical acclaim were hard-won. As a member of the writing team of the classic Sid Caesar TV series Your Show of Shows, Brooks was often dismissed as a gagman who tossed out funny lines rather than a comedy writer who constructed scenes. All his eventual screenplays were co-authored with others.

McGilligan skillfully profiles Brooks's two sides--the bullying, raging and credit-grabbing "Rude Crude Mel" and the "Nice Mel," who performed discreet and generous acts of kindness and was a lightning rod for laughter in public. "Behind his façade as a perpetual amusant were depths of self-loathing and a fury at the world," writes McGilligan. The behind-the-scenes tales of The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and other films show Brooks's need for collaboration at constant odds with his desire to control everything. Much like his relationship with critics: "Brooks desperately yearned for the approval of critics while at the same time resenting their power and opinions," writes McGilligan. Brooks joked, "Critics are like eunuchs at an orgy--they just don't get it." But he also quoted negative reviews verbatim decades later.

This fascinating and exhaustive biography presents a complicated and immensely talented man whose inner demons fed his hilarious output of films, TV series and albums. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This thorough and candid biography of Mel Brooks showcases his outrageously funny creative talents and his prickly and litigious side.

Harper, $40, hardcover, 640p., 9780062560995

Social Science

Murder by the Book: The Crime that Shocked Dickens's London

by Claire Harman

In May 1840, British aristocrat Lord William Russell was found dead in his bed, his throat slashed so violently that his head was nearly severed. All of London was swept up in the mystery of his murder, with Queen Victoria herself noting in her diary, "It is almost an unparalleled thing for a person of Ld William's rank, to be killed like that." But this is only half of the story that Claire Harman tells in Murder by the Book; she also explores the rise of "felon fiction" or "Newgate novels," which celebrated the wit and ingenuity of the common, working-class man, but glamorized crime and violence. The two threads of Harman's story come together in the eventual confession of Lord William's murderer, which cites Jack Sheppard, the most popular of the "Newgate novels" at the time, as inspiration for the crime.

Harman's work is authoritative and well researched, and she's able to build a surprising amount of tension, considering that the murderer is identified fairly early. She writes with an expressive and slightly old-fashioned language that suits and helps to develop her setting. Meanwhile, the concern shown by Victorian critics over the moral (or more accurately immoral) influence of contemporary media should be a familiar issue to most modern readers. With special appearances by Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and Edgar Allan Poe, this is an engrossing story of true crime, wrapped in a fascinating literary history. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: A salacious tale of true crime from Victorian London.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780525520399


Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace

by Christie Purifoy

Growing up in small-town Texas, Christie Purifoy yearned for trees. Through her winding years as a newlywed, she and her husband, Jonathan, longed for a physical place to call their own. These days, they tend the ground and the trees (and their four children) near Maplehurst, an old brick farmhouse in southeast Pennsylvania. In her lyrical second memoir, Placemaker, Purifoy traces their family's geographical and spiritual journey, and asks questions about the ways human beings shape, and are shaped by, the places they inhabit.

Purifoy (Roots & Sky) centers each chapter on a different tree: citrus grove, honey locust, Norway maple, saucer magnolia. She tells of building a patio in a grad-student rental in Virginia, and meeting her neighbors in a Chicago apartment building. She draws in anecdotes about the history of each place she's lived, exploring the effects of decisions by city planners, colonists and homeowners on the land and its communities. Through her own experiences and those of others, she asks questions about grief, joy, community, loneliness and the ways placemaking interacts with all of those.

"Placemaking asks that we love a place with all of ourselves," Purifoy writes. But that love is rarely easy, nor does it lead to a guaranteed outcome. Like so much of life, placemaking "offers no protection from the many forms loss can take." Her memoir is a thoughtful meditation on choosing to pay attention to, and invest in, the places we live, and the often surprising rewards of doing so. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Christie Purifoy's second memoir is a lyrical, honest meditation on choosing to shape, and be shaped by, the places we live.

Zondervan, $18.99, paperback, 224p., 9780310352242

Reference & Writing

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative

by Jane Alison

Who knew literary criticism could be so much fun? That's the impression that lingers after finishing novelist, memoirist and University of Virginia creative writing professor Jane Alison's Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. It's Alison's impassioned brief against the dominance of the Aristotelian dramatic arc, the "one path through fiction we're most likely to travel," in which a "situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides." Instead, serving as an assured and entertaining guide through an assortment of narrative structures, she hopes more writers will follow her lead and not "feel oppressed by the arc, that they'll imagine visual aspects of narrative as well as temporal, that they'll discover ways to design, being conscious or playful with possibilities."

Alison (Nine Island) offers a well-stocked "museum of specimens," from the work of writers both widely known (Philip Roth, Raymond Carver and W.G. Sebald, one of her favorites) and less so (Marie Redonnet and Murray Bail). She meticulously but briskly unearths an impressive body of evidence to support her argument that the arc structure "makes sense for tragedy, but fiction can be wildly other."

Even for those reluctant to abandon the classical narrative arc for more adventuresome fare, Meander, Spiral, Explode is a joyous celebration of literature's robust shape-shifting qualities. At the very least, it's a book that will have open-minded readers viewing the next work of serious fiction they encounter with a more discerning eye, ear and mind. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: With the goal of unearthing intriguing patterns in literature, novelist and teacher Jane Alison leads writers and readers on a stimulating journey.

Catapult, $16.95, paperback, 272p., 9781948226134

Children's & Young Adult

Sweet Dreamers

by Isabelle Simler

Whether in trees or in caves, in mud or the ocean, animals take their rest in myriad ways. Animals may sleep "vertically," like the humpback whale, or "rolled up, wrapped up," like the hedgehog "safely in his shelter." They might sleep like the snail "tight inside his twisting shell," with "dreams spiral[ing] out," or like "the spider... on a tightrope--/ the lacework pattern of his sleep/ hanging by a thread." Maybe they rest as the horse does, "standing up,/ in the middle of the herd" while "her thoughts break free."

Sweet Dreamers is a soporific bedtime book filled with distinctive facts and delivered in poetic language (translated from the original French by Sarah Ardizzone) that gets right to the heart of each of the featured animals. Each illustrated, double-page spread presents a close-up of the slumbering animal, along with a wider view of its surrounding habitat. Isabelle Simler's (The Blue Hour) digital art is comprised of lines of vibrant color that coalesce into shimmering images worthy of framing. Bold pinks, oranges, greens and browns are all grounded in a judicious use of black, conjuring up the magic of our natural world. Wordless landscapes are interspersed at regular intervals throughout, adding to the feeling of peace and repose. Additionally, the nonfiction material lends itself to use as an artful introduction to wildlife study.

Whether "slung like a hammock," "bundled into a ball" or "in full flight," all of the animals in this lyrical ode to slumbering take their rest with distinct flair, including the human child at the end, who "all night long... dreams beneath the moon." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: In Isabelle Simler's picture book, poetic text and distinctive digital illustrations highlight the very different ways that animals slumber.

Eerdmans, $19, hardcover, 80p., ages 4-8, 9780802855176

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

by David Elliott

Voices, David Elliott's second young adult novel in verse (Bull), uses concrete poetry and a variety of poetic forms--villanelles, sestinas, ballades, triolets--to tell a fictionalized account of Joan of Arc's last hours. Joan herself speaks often, walking the reader through her short life and how she came to be imprisoned: "Every life has its own story--/ not without a share of glory,/ and not without a share of grief./ I lived like a hero at seventeen./ At nineteen, I die like a thief." Also included are direct quotes from Joan's 1431 Trial of Condemnation and the 1455 Trial of Nullification, to give "the real Joan and her associates the opportunity to speak for themselves." These "associates"--her parents, Charles VII, Bishop Pierre Cauchon and more--are given their own poetic monologues. But others tell their tales, too: Saint Margaret, the warhorse Joan rode, the tower in which she was imprisoned, the stake that held her to the ground... even the fire. The fire, unlike the other characters, speaks directly to Joan throughout. It lusts after her, growing in ferocity and size, each appearance a longer poem than the one before: "I burn I burn I burn my darling/ I burn I burn I burn/ I yearn I yearn I yearn my darling/ I yearn I yearn I yearn."

Powerful and fierce, Voices focuses on and revels in the base impulses and overwhelming gynophobia that led to the martyring of the Maid of Orléans. The virginal Joan and her death are sexualized in such a way that there is an abiding sense of wrongness in addition to the enduring dread. The reading experience is unsettling yet entrancing, and likely to acquire many fans. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness 

Discover: In Voices, David Elliott tells a powerful fictionalized poetic account of Joan of Arc's final hours.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 14-up, 9781328987594

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