Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

From My Shelf

Indiana University Press: God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Elizabeth Lenz

Bunim & Bannigan: David Lazar by Robert Kalich

The Dark Side of Comics

As a comics fan and bookseller, I spend a lot of time recommending warmhearted comics and graphic novels that might serve as welcoming introductions to the medium. At the same time, I relish the opportunity to explore the darker side of comics, especially horror comics. Whether it's the immediacy of the macabre art or the writers' willingness to affront good taste, there's something about horror comics that hooks me.

Fortunately, excellent horror comics are not hard to find right now, and I have a few relatively recent recommendations to offer. Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott's Black Magick (Image Comics, $9.99) is both accessible and supremely suspenseful, a stand-out in large part due to its protagonist, a detective and--secretly--a witch. The character's unlikely occupation allows the creators to combine horror and police procedural to a remarkably effective degree, with humor occasionally playing off Scott's foreboding art.

Victor Lavalle's Destroyer (Boom! Studios, $19.99) also toys with ancient horror archetypes, this time modernizing the story of Frankenstein's monster. Victor Lavalle's reputation as a horror novelist is well-earned--Destroyer is a confident foray into comics with illustrator Dietrich Smith. The comic takes countless unexpected turns, grounding its horror in modern-day issues such as police shootings.

Lastly, I'd like to recommend a graphic novel that might not be traditional horror but partakes of its tropes and imagery: Emil Ferris's masterful My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics Books, $39.99). The graphic novel is a marvel to look at, presented on faux notebook paper and expressing the ghoulish imagination of the 10-year-old protagonist. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters might be best described as a coming-of-age story, but the character's obsession with pulp horror is reflected on every page. Ferris uses the garishness of pulp horror to comment on the horrors of the real world that her young protagonist encounters. Whether or not it fits the genre, Ferris's graphic novel understands horror's curious appeal. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.


Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: More to the Story by Hena Khan


Book Candy

The E-Odyssey

"An interactive map of Odysseus's 10-year journey in Homer's Odyssey" was charted by Open Culture.

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"The abundant history of 'bumper crop.' " Merriam-Webster explored the many meanings of "bumper."

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Tom Gauld's illustrated exploration of "the stages of writing" was featured in the Guardian.

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"Sacramento has renamed a local park after Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton," Mental Floss noted.

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Mental Floss explained "how the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie accidentally spoiled some future storylines."


The Lesson

by Cadwell Turnbull

The canon of science fiction brims with first contact stories, but rarely do those stories draw such strong and poignant parallels to humanity's history of colonialism as Cadwell Turnbull's extraordinary debut, The Lesson. Set in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the novel follows three families as they navigate a world entirely changed by the arrival of the Ynaa, an alien race with superior strength and technology but with little regard for humans.

The arrival stuns the islanders, leading to chaos of all kinds. But even before the aliens land on Earth, drama follows our protagonists. Derrick and Patrice are teens when we first meet them. Having been platonic friends their whole lives, they're navigating newfound feelings brought on by surging teenage hormones. Further straining their friendship is Derrick's recent questioning of God and Christianity and Patrice's desire to leave the island for college. Patrice's father, a university professor, has begun an affair with a former student, and Patrice's mother has begun to fall in love with a woman she works with. Derrick's younger sister, Lee, struggles to find her own footing in the world, while their religious grandmother, Henrietta, sternly rules their household.

As the novel unfolds, we follow this cast of characters over the course of years, watching Derrick and Patrice grow into adults and their parents and grandmother drift further apart as their relationships with each other change with time. The Ynaa arrive just before Derrick and Patrice graduate high school. The novel's focus never leaves the Virgin Islands, so the reaction of the world at large remains a mystery. We do learn, however, that the aliens bring with them technologies that improve humanity's energy sources and healthcare. But those gifts come at a price: the aliens will kill a human at the slightest provocation, and they do kill. Often.

To ease the relations between the two races, an alien named Mera serves as an ambassador to Earth. Unlike the rest of her kind, Mera has highly developed emotions and the patience to withstand criticism and physical attacks. Derrick is moved by her kindness (and beauty) and goes to work in her office. His position there inspires resentment and suspicion among the islanders, including his grandmother, who thinks Mera and the rest of the Ynaa are "demons." This tension forms a subplot that grows as tense as the main one.

The Lesson is mostly a character-driven story, its plot shaped by the evolution of its protagonists' relationships. It delves deep into the psychology of its characters to offer a clear-eyed look at just how flawed but compassionate humans can be. It's also a richly drawn portrait of the Virgin Islands, their landscape and people and sounds and colors jumping to life on every page. In one especially poetic passage, Patrice stands on a beach at night staring into the ocean. She "heard a splash below her. She looked down just in time to see the tail of something dark breach the surface and then disappear again. It was so quick, it could have been a trick of the eye, a phantom, a twin soul." Lyrical prose like this and well-observed human behavior combine again and again throughout the novel to create some of the most memorable scenes in a work of science fiction in recent memory.

Turnbull is at his finest, however, in the chapters set hundreds of years earlier, when slavery was still the law of the land. These chapters are few in number, but they bring to mind the urgent and vibrant writing of Octavia Butler. They also make explicit the comparison between the Ynaa's arrival and the colonialism that first drew white settlers to the Virgin Islands. The early colonialists, like the aliens, brought with them the bounties of progress--gifts that ultimately destroyed the islanders' freedom and traditional ways of life.  

Also impressive is Turnbull's sympathetic portrayal of divergent belief systems. The arrival of the Ynaa drains what's left of Derrick's spiritual beliefs, but bolsters the beliefs of Henrietta. Both characters are equally realistic and justified in their responses to such a life-changing event. Mera is also a highlight of the novel. As the Ynaa's ambassador to the human race, she is forever navigating a complex set of expectations. On the one hand, the Ynaa demand her loyalty to their cause, which is never made explicit but involves teaching "a lesson" to the human race. On the other hand, she wants to protect humans and their fragile bodies. Human pain, she learns, is unlike anything the Ynaa can feel. If the aliens had any idea, she thinks, they'd show far more respect for human life.

From beginning to end, The Lesson is thrilling, moving and thought-provoking. This may be Turnbull's debut, but it reads like the work of a seasoned writer. It's also proof that science fiction is more than entertaining--it's a vital genre that lays bare the perils of the age and the boundlessness of the human spirit. --Amy Brady

Blackstone, $26.99, hardcover, 9781538584644

Cadwell Turnbull: When Sci-Fi Is Steeped in History

(photo: Anju Manandhar)

The Lesson (Blackstone Publishing, June 18, 2019) is Cadwell Turnbull's science-fiction debut. It's set in the Virgin Islands and follows three families as they come to terms with a life-changing event: the arrival of an alien race called the Ynaa. Turnbull has written for Asimov's Science Fiction, Lightspeed and Nightmare, and he holds an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Linguistics from North Carolina State University. He lives in Somerville, Mass.

What inspired this novel?

It came out of a dream I had in my early 20s that involved an ancient alien civilization integrated into a human society. Like the Ynaa, the aliens in my dream reacted to threats with extreme violence. My dream also featured a female alien like Mera who was asking moral questions about herself and her people's relationship to humans. The dream stuck with me a long time. When I started my MFA I decided to use it as the basis for the book.

In the novel you draw comparisons between the alien visitation, or invasion, with actual, historical colonization. What do you hope readers take away from this?  

First-contact stories, especially ones written by marginalized people, tend to bring in colonialism as a critique. And I acknowledge that I am a part of that history. Once I decided to set the book in the Virgin Islands, it became apparent that powerful, hyper-strong aliens that are somewhat benevolent are a good parallel to the superpowers that colonized the Caribbean. America is, in a lot of ways, benevolent, but also callous in its treatment of its territories. I knew that was something I wanted to explore with the Ynaa, who, when not killing people, could be quite nice. The problem is that they do not acknowledge human beings as equals. That leads to several dangerous domino effects in the novel and, sadly, that's how colonialism operates in the real world as well.

There is this cloud of fear and resentment surrounding the Ynaa at all times, even when they're not engaged in violence.  

A lot of that comes from the fact that I set the novel in a relatively isolated community. On a day-to-day basis, people everywhere benefit from the advancements brought to Earth by the Ynaa. But they don't feel the strain of living with them in quite the same way my characters do. That's another parallel to our society: some communities are vulnerable to the strain of progress while other communities benefit from it.

There's a fascinating sub-theme to your novel that has to do with religion. Some of your characters lose their religion after the arrival of the Ynaa, while others find their spirituality strengthened. Where did this theme come from?

The Virgin Islands is a very conservative place, and very religious. It's predominately Christian, and I imagine that the experience of seeing aliens would have different effects on different people. On the one hand, the aliens would serve as a kind of proof that the universe is bigger than we think. But on the other hand, it might lead others to lean into their faith to get through such a shocking encounter. It was really important for me to be fair to different perspectives, because I'm from the Virgin Islands. I know people in my family who would feel connected to their religion in this situation and others that would completely abandon it. I think that both of those are legitimate responses and should be validated. Neither is more right than the other--everyone deals with trauma differently at any given time.  

Who are your influences?

Ursula K. Le Guin is the first person to come to mind. I don't think we necessarily share a style, but I'm definitely inspired by her empathy and at how she thinks about how people arrived in certain places and developed their cultures. When I'm writing a character, I like to think about how the conditions of a person's life affect their responses to incredible things like an alien invasion. That way of thinking comes from Le Guin. I'm also inspired by Octavia Butler, whose writing comes closer to mine. We write about similar themes. I also love the work of N.K. Jemisin.

What's next for you?

AMC optioned The Lesson for a television series, which is exciting. And Blackstone, my publisher, has also signed me to write two more books. The book I'm currently working on is set in the near future. Some of it is set in the Caribbean, and other parts are set in Boston. I'm interested in how each of those places will respond differently to major changes in society. --Amy Brady


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Book Review

Fiction

Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory

by Raphael Bob-Waksberg


Creator of the hit Netflix series BoJack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg makes his short fiction debut with sidesplitting panache. It's perhaps unsurprising that a writer whose major cultural contribution is an animated dramedy about a talking horse living in a hallucinatory version of Hollywood would excel in realms of the absurd. And Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory has absurdity to spare.

After a few pages of throat clearing, the story collection hits its stride with "A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion." Dorothy and Peter are planning their wedding, only to be met at every turn by the intrusive opinions of others--such as for where to buy candles (Rite Aid) and how many goats to sacrifice to the Stone God (at least 38). Moreover, Peter's brother explains, "You have to do the slaughtering at the end, otherwise you're going to slip in goat guts while you're doing the Dance of the Cuckolded Woodland Sprite and the blood will get all over your marriage cloak and the video will end up on one of those wedding fail blogs."

Other standouts include the long, awkward silence of "Missed Connection--m4w" and the unlikely superheroes of "Up-and-Comers." Bob-Waksberg writes with an obsessive attention to detail that lends itself well to comedic timing, though his characters' voices blur together on occasion. Nevertheless, his knack for revealing the ludicrous in patient micro-doses carries the reader through an exceptionally inventive uncanny valley in this hilarious, if uneven, collection. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Raphael Bob-Waksberg flexes his TV-seasoned storytelling skills in these bizarre and hilarious short stories.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781524732011

New Harbinger Publications: Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids by Hunter Fields-Clarke and Carla Naumburg


Time After Time

by Lisa Grunwald


Lisa Grunwald's Time After Time brings to life the vibrant, bustling metropolis of Terminal City--also known as Grand Central Terminal--in the early to mid-20th century. In this city-within-a-city in December of 1937, Joe Reynolds meets the young, beautiful Nora Lansing and agrees to walk her home. But when she disappears--literally--just a few blocks outside of Grand Central, Joe and Nora find themselves caught up in a love story that challenges the bounds of time and place.

Nora and Joe build an impossible life together, bound by the walls of Grand Central and defined by the many things they cannot do together: walk outside, travel, visit Joe's family in Queens. This story is compelling, true, but what makes the novel stand out from other missed-connection romances is the incredible history of the transit station. "Old and new photographs of Grand Central looked practically identical, and people often spoke about the place being timeless.... But to anyone who knew it well, the terminal was filled with time." This time is apparent on every page as Grunwald reveals the hidden world of one of New York City's most enduring buildings, packed with secret rooms and hidden layers, unseen machinations and subtle details, an indelible part of the cityscape, both past and present. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Two lovers fight to make a life together against the constraints of time and place in a magical romance set in New York City's Grand Central Terminal.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 416p., 9780812993431

Sleeping Bear Press: Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan, illustrated Timothy Banks


The Perfect Date

by Evelyn Lozada, Holly Lorincz


Life hasn't been easy for 23-year-old, proud Puerto Rican Angel Gomez. She is a hardworking and financially strapped single mother to seven-year-old, asthmatic Jose. By day, Angel is a nursing student, fending off the advances of her demeaning, sexually harassing superior, Dr. Collins. By night, she is a "mixologist" at a swanky club run by a racist male boss.

When Jose suffers a sudden and acute asthma attack and is rushed in for medical treatment, Angel and Jose cross paths with a friendly and handsome African American stranger in the waiting room. Unbeknownst to them, the patient is Caleb "the Duke" Lewis, a star pitcher for the New York Yankees. He's also a notorious partyer and ladies' man with a past. Why is the superstar being treated at a "crappy" medical clinic in the Bronx and not at a state-of-the-art hospital?

When the Duke's identity is revealed and it is discovered that he's trying to keep an unhealed ankle injury--sustained from a stray gunshot when his friend was killed--hush-hush from the ball club and the media, Angel gets roped into posing as his girlfriend, his alibi for being at the clinic. This arrangement paves the way for a feisty romance challenged by class differences, old wounds, rivalries and power plays.

With The Perfect Date, television personality and model Evelyn Lozada (with Holly Lorincz) has written a lively debut populated with diverse characters and contemporary conflicts that blends elements of mystery and suspense into a larger romance plot. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Romantic sparks fly between a feisty, down-on-her-luck nurse and single mother and a troubled star ballplayer trying to hide an injury.

St. Martin's Griffin, $16.99, paperback, 288p., 9781250204882

Rp Minis: Dancing with Jesus: Bobbling Figurine by Sam Stall


A Philosophy of Ruin

by Nicholas Mancusi


Oscar Boatwright is a young philosophy professor in California. Despite his meager salary and sizable student loan debt, he enjoys the pursuit of inquiry and discussions around eternal philosophical questions. But a series of events unfolding in rapid-fire succession leads Oscar to question everything he believes and to do things he never considered himself capable of.

When his mother dies mid-flight on the way to Hawaii, Oscar learns from his devastated father that they were in debt to a self-help guru named Paul St. Germaine. Oscar's anger about the situation is magnified by St. Germaine's pseudo-philosophical platitudes, which contradict his beliefs. As an escape, Oscar gets drunk and has a one-night stand with Dawn, only to realize too late that she's a student in his class. Dawn has a proposition for Oscar: transport drugs from the Mexican border in exchange for a sizable cut of the proceeds. Oscar "wondered if the story of his life was going to be the story only of an intelligent coward who used a vague moral superiority to mask his inaction." What path does Oscar choose?

In A Philosophy of Ruin, Nicholas Mancusi imbues the psychological thriller with uncommon depth and no easy answers. Oscar's contempt for St. Germaine is complicated by his father's assertion that, despite his charlatanism, he made Oscar's mother happy. As Oscar undertakes actions that were unthinkable just days before, he questions whether he is acting of his own free will or if external forces have determined his fate. A thought-provoking page-turner, A Philosophy of Ruin is noteworthy debut. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: In this cerebral and gripping thriller, a philosophy professor becomes a drug runner after his life unravels.

Hanover Square Press, $26.99, hardcover, 256p., 9781335930668

Mystery & Thriller

Those People

by Louise Candlish


Louise Candlish's Those People is the riveting story of a tight-knit, South London community driven to desperate measures by a neighbor from hell.

The story begins eight weeks after an incident causes the Metropolitan Police to go door-to-door interviewing witnesses to determine what happened. The characters give statements, then Candlish reveals what they aren't telling the police.

Welcome to Lowland Way. It's a lovely street where people are nice, swans flourish in a beautiful park pond and a nearby stand sells refreshing lattes. It's the kind of neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, and they share babysitting duties, host community cookouts and strive for the betterment of the community. This utopian scene is shattered when Darren Booth moves in. He's labeled one of those people--construction noises and dust emanate from his place, he plays loud music at all hours and starts running a used-car business on his lawn. When property values are threatened, local power couple Ralph and Naomi organize a community meeting that includes not-quite-so powerful couple Tess and Finn (Ralph's brother), new parents Em and Ant (closest in proximity to Darren) and Sissy (a longtime resident who runs a B&B from her house). They attempt all legal courses of action to rectify the situation, but their efforts yield no results. Things escalate and the novel becomes a dark whodunnit.

Perspective shifts seamlessly from character to character, challenging the reader's notion of who Louise Candlish (Our House) is referring to in the title Those People. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: A terrible neighbor drives his neighbors to take desperate action in Louise Candlish's exciting thriller.

Berkley Books, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780451489142

Assassin of Shadows

by Lawrence Goldstone


Historian Lawrence Goldstone (Out of the Flames; Birdmen) has written many books, and his attention to historical detail shines in Assassin of Shadows, a thriller about the assassination of President William McKinley.

In the wake of McKinley's shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., in September 1901, Walter George and Harry Swayne, Secret Service agents, seek to uncover why Leon Czolgosz shot the president, and if he did so at the behest of anyone else. The Secret Service was not what it is today; agents were primarily responsible for catching counterfeiters. But as McKinley's life hovers in the balance, Walter and Harry take their duty seriously.

Their meticulous research into various anarchist groups, and their interviews of Czolgosz's contacts, including the famous anarchist Emma Goldman, keep Walter and Harry busy, traveling from Chicago to Ohio to Buffalo. As they begin to narrow in on what seems to be a massive conspiracy behind Czolgosz, they realize that their own lives are on the line as well.

Well researched, and occasionally funny as the taciturn Harry and thoughtful Walter butt heads, Assassin of Shadows offers a glimpse of a period of U.S. history that few contemporary Americans are familiar with. The eight days between the attack and McKinley's death kept the nation on tenterhooks; Assassin of Shadows, with its curveball ending, will keep readers guessing until literally the last page, capturing that same tension. Fans of historical mysteries and presidential history are sure to enjoy this standout thriller. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this historical thriller, two Secret Service agents race to find out what motivated Leon Czolgosz to shoot President McKinley.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781643131306

Girl in the Rearview Mirror

by Kelsey Rae Dimberg


Finn Hunt, the protagonist of Kelsey Rae Dimberg's seductive debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, is a liar. But the novel doesn't reveal the extent of her lies until its thrilling end. Running from a working-class past, Finn is a nanny for the Martin family, which includes Philip, the handsome blond-haired son of an Arizona senator; Marina, Philip's beautiful but aloof wife; and Amabel, their gifted four-year-old daughter. As the novel unfolds, Finn snags them all in her web of lies, only to be found equally trapped by the family's dark secrets.

Set in Phoenix, Ariz., this superb novel proves that political thrillers don't have to take place in Washington, D.C. It's filled with clandestine meetings between Philip, his father and mysterious colleagues, all of whom have less-than-perfect pasts that threaten to thwart their ambitions. The story takes off when a young red-headed woman, who Amabel says has been following her, shows up on the Martins' doorstep. Philip and Marina are away, but Finn greets her at the stoop and learns yet another shocking truth about Philip.

As Philip's past is slowly revealed, so is Finn's, who proves to be an electrifyingly unreliable narrator. Told from her perspective, the story takes on a mirage-like quality. Dimberg's prose, meanwhile, zips along like a sand-kicking roadrunner, and the overall pace of the novel is adeptly timed. Gripping and glamorous, Girl in the Rearview Mirror is part political thriller, part domestic noir and 100% entertaining. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This enthralling debut thriller features an unreliable narrator and a son of a senator with pasts they can't keep secret forever.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062867926

Biography & Memoir

In Pain: A Bioethicist's Personal Struggle with Opioids

by Travis Rieder


Travis Rieder, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins University, offers chilling testimony that anyone can fall victim to opioid dependence and abuse. In May 2015, Rieder suffered a harrowing motorcycle accident, almost losing his foot after he collided with a van. The devastating event led to a dozen complicated reconstructive surgeries. Along the way, Rieder was prescribed medications that helped alleviate the intense pain during each phase of his recovery. However, his dependence on opioids escalated, and he was faced with the grim reality that he was addicted to prescription painkillers and would need to learn how to live without them.

In Pain: A Bioethicist's Personal Struggle with Opioids presents intimate details of Rieder's experiences, struggles and frightful setbacks while seamlessly weaving in myriad issues of the larger addiction cycle. This includes the nature of pain, instincts to avoid it and classes of painkillers; the history of pain control; and how painkillers evolved into a lucrative pharmaceutical business. He further expounds on aspects of dependence and addiction, and the ethical responsibility of health-care providers who prescribe, and many times overprescribe, painkillers.

Opioids have pervaded American culture, creating a public health crisis. Rieder, however, offers hope to combat the epidemic by sharing examples of some of the great work being done by dedicated scientists and physicians. The urgent, riveting nature of Rieder's well-informed narrative convincingly advocates for a shift in values and the pursuit of alternative means of pain control as essential parts of necessary reform. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This riveting account of one man's journey into painkiller addiction illustrates larger aspects of the opioid epidemic and suggests ways to combat the crisis.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062854643

Business & Economics

Rockonomics: A Backstage Tour of What the Music Industry Can Teach Us about Economics and Life

by Alan B. Krueger


In the posthumous Rockonomics: A Backstage Tour of What the Music Industry Can Teach Us about Economics and Life, Alan B. Krueger's premise is a simple one: that the music industry reveals much more about American culture than just its predilection for pop stars.

Krueger's bona fides were as strong as they come. As a labor economist, he was known widely for his research on the minimum wage. Krueger taught economics at Princeton University for more than three decades, advised President Bill Clinton and served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for Barack Obama.

In Rockonomics, he turns that expertise on the music industry, comparing it with the economy at large. There exists a clear parallel, he argues. One example: both the country's top 1% and the top 1% of performers are experiencing tremendous growth. Everyone below that? Not so much. As digitization fundamentally disrupts music sales, nowadays "Americans spend less money on music in a typical year than they do on potato chips."

Krueger's analysis is engaging, clear and often funny. Along with ample studies, graphs and economics 101, he includes fascinating interviews with industry veterans like Cliff Burnstein, who manages Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Gillian Welch; drummer Steve Ferrone, of Heartbreakers fame; and John Eastman, lawyer to Paul McCartney and Billy Joel.

Krueger died this past March, before the release of Rockonomics, but his wisdom looms large in its lessons. "Music," he reminds us, "more than money, is the tonic of happiness." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: In this entertaining read, a former economic adviser to two presidents looks to the music industry for an insightful, illuminating take on how its trends mirror those of the U.S. economy.

Currency, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781524763718

Social Science

A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past

by Lewis Hyde


Is there an affliction more feared than dementia, with its relentless erasure of memory? Although acknowledging that dread, cultural critic Lewis Hyde reveals in his provocative A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past that there are times the conscious expungement of memory may be the only rational, humane response, especially to instances of profound trauma and injustice.

Hyde (The Gift) describes his book as a thought experiment designed to "test the proposition that forgetfulness can be more useful than memory or, at the very least, that memory functions best in tandem with forgetting." Forgoing a conventional narrative, he assembles a "prose collage" of journal-like entries whose building blocks are quotations culled from years of wide reading. They serve as the departure point for his own reflections on the operation of memory and forgetting in four broad, often overlapping, categories: mythology, personal psychology, politics and the creative spirit.

Drawing on literature, art, history, psychology, sociology and personal experience, Hyde is less concerned about advancing his thesis--one he recognizes is not without controversy--than he is in creating a work that will "both invite and provoke a reader's own free reflections." In a book whose sources range from St. Augustine to former Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell, his generous invitation is easily grasped.

Hyde recognizes that, with any book, readers will "extract the unique book of our own engagement." That's especially so when the topic is as fraught as this one. Expansive in its scope and at best suggestive in its answers, Lewis Hyde's bold thought experiment in A Primer for Forgetting is one well worth engaging. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Drawing upon a rich assortment of source materials, cultural critic Lewis Hyde explores whether forgetting is superior to memory.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28, hardcover, 384p., 9780374237219

Children's & Young Adult

Amelia Westlake Was Never Here

by Erin Gough


The sardonic, free-thinking Wilhelmina "Will" Everhart ("insolence is her trademark") and the naïve, overachieving Harriet Price, year-12 classmates, couldn't be more different. The one thing they can agree on is that something must be done about their school's swim coach, whose sexist comments have gone unchallenged long enough (even if Harriet is "fairly certain he does not mean them"). To expose him without incriminating themselves, they create Amelia Westlake, a fake student who uses political cartoons and epic pranks to speak out about injustices at their privileged all-girls school in Australia. As the intrigue and mystery surrounding Amelia grows, so does the chemistry between Will and Harriet, making it harder to keep their secret. When the perfect opportunity arises for Amelia's biggest prank ever, though, Will and Harriet must decide how far they're willing to go to fight the system.

Through the alternating viewpoints of a principled, controversial rule-breaker and a tightly wound, responsible rule-follower, Erin Gough (Get it Together, Delilah!) tells this slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance. The surprisingly complementary pairing of Harriet and Will and the will-they-or-won't-they tension create an affecting love story. Amelia Westlake Was Never Here is also a timely commentary on the injustices faced by marginalized groups, such as classicism--"What's the point of going to this school if we still have to mix with the poors?"--racism and sexism. A private school becomes the perfect backdrop for the "antiauthoritarian hoax" Will and Harriet enact to prove their school is a "crackpot institution that entrenches blind obedience."

Gough manages to strike the perfect balance between heartwarming queer romance and essential social criticism in this pertinent and empowering story. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: In this rabble-rousing queer YA romance, two dissimilar students team up to expose the injustices at a privileged all-girls school in Australia, and find love along the way.

Poppy/Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9780316450669

Brave Face: A Memoir

by Shaun David Hutchinson


Coming of age in the 1990s, Shaun David Hutchinson (At the Edge of the Universe) knew certain things about being gay from the messages society sent: "Gay people, especially gay men, were so often portrayed as promiscuous sexual deviants and drug abusers that, even in spite of my own limited personal experience, it's how I saw them too." Through pop culture, politics and news headlines, Shaun learned "there was no future to being gay," which presented a tremendous problem for the teen when he finally came to terms with the fact that he is gay.

In his powerful memoir, Brave Face, the young adult author bares his soul to the world about realizing his sexual orientation and suffering from a depression so profound he attempted suicide. Hutchinson's raw honesty pierces readers as he describes his fight to find an identity in a world that viewed homosexuals as "so worthless that they didn't even deserve to live." His fear and pain radiate off the pages, demanding others experience a small part of it, too. Audiences will be hard-pressed not to feel the emotional weight Hutchinson carries: "It was like every person I came into contact with was plugging themselves into me, and occasionally I'd overload and short." His journey to acceptance is one marred with struggle and loss, but also imbued with hope.

Hutchinson's gift for language makes this uncomfortable story beautiful and forceful. Courageous and commanding, Brave Face is a bold, banner announcement that there is a future for everyone. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A young adult writer tells his personal story of coming to terms with his sexual orientation and his battle with life-threatening depression.

Simon Pulse, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9781534431515

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