Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 10, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

The postponement of the 2020 Masters Tournament brings both bad and good news to golf fans: no golf to watch, and more time to read. Two worthy books about the tournament's defending champion, Tiger Woods, will pleasantly fill some golf-free hours.

When the 21-year-old Tiger ran away with the 1997 Masters by 12 shots, it appeared he would fulfill Jack Nicklaus's prediction that the prodigy would eclipse the total of 10 Masters titles won by Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. To mark the 20th anniversary of that triumph, Woods collaborated with noted golf journalist Lorne Rubenstein on The 1997 Masters: My Story (Grand Central, $30). In Woods's own words, the book is a moment-by-moment account of his stirring victory. Avid golfers who will never get closer to Augusta National than their TV screens will also appreciate Tiger's keen insights into the course, ones that will enhance their enjoyment when the tournament finally is played again.

But, as The Second Life of Tiger Woods by GOLF magazine's Michael Bamberger (Avid Reader, $28) reminds us, things didn't go exactly as planned. Bamberger's book focuses on Woods's personal and professional resurrection after his arrest for DUI in May 2017, shortly after that year's Masters (one he skipped before spinal fusion surgery). Bamberger reports that Woods told golf legend Gary Player, "I'm done. I won't play golf again." Bamberger ably documents how Woods's fierce dedication to reclaim his preeminent place in golf culminated in an unexpected victory at the 2018 Tour Championship and ultimately a win at Augusta in 2019, his 15th major title.

If you're one of those millions of golf fans who, as Bamberger describes, shared the "desire to see Tiger Woods be great again," you'll find much to entertain and inform you in these two books. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

The Writer's Life

Sahar Mustafah: Do Your Best Now and Don't Look Back

photo: Tamara Hijazi

Sahar Mustafah grew up in a family of six, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants. Her first novel, The Beauty of Your Face (reviewed below; W.W. Norton, $26.95), begins as a shooter confronts the young women in the private Muslim school where Afaf Rahman serves as principal. Mustafah intersperses scenes of the present with flashbacks to Afaf's girlhood and adolescence as a first-generation Palestinian American--the disappearance of her older sister and her closeness to her younger brother, Majeed--as well as chapters from the shooter's perspective to build tension and empathy for her characters. We spoke with Mustafah by phone from her home in Chicago, where she teaches English to high school students.

How did you come up with the structure for The Beauty of Your Face? You have us in the palm of your hands with the opening scene of the shooting in the school where Afaf is principal, and then you reveal Afaf's journey to that moment.

I was in a wonderful workshop called "novel in a year" conducted by Rebecca Makkai, who wrote The Great Believers. She's the conductor of StoryStudio Chicago. I went through the year, and it was a failed first draft. I realized it was because I hadn't gotten to the heart of these characters I'd created.

I thought, I need to spend time on one. I made a decision: I can look at Afaf from decade to decade, and what would be the monumental moment in each decade. I was interested in what she would look like not having that older sister anymore as a role model. I think we're so vulnerable as teens; let's add on a family that's dysfunctional, and that felt high voltage to me.

I couldn't lead into her embracing Islam without looking at that challenging period. There was no question there would be the teenage years before hitting on young adulthood afterwards. In order for that story to be told, I needed to show my readers where the victim was coming from.

It was surprising to read the chapters set in the shooter's experience. What made you decide to include them?

The shooter had always been part of this novel. I had a sense there'd be alternating chapters. I had Afaf's life unfold, and the present disrupt her journey. That framing allowed me to hold onto the story arc.

I didn't want to present this sort of case study of a white male domestic terrorist. I was not at all interested in that. I wanted to consider the potential for daily violence against Muslim women and those communities, especially in this political climate and post-9/11.

What ended up happening is there were similarities: they both have immigrant parents; they both experienced the loss of the presence of their sibling. That wasn't planned, but these similarities developed. I was also not interested in "here's how we can stop hate," or "here's the handbook on Islamophobia." I wanted to raise questions in times of fear, in times of a lack of understanding. Hopefully my readers, by the time they're done, are asking themselves those questions and bringing those experiences into their lives.

Afaf's embrace by the women of the Islamic Center, especially her classmate Kowkab, whom she'd remembered as wearing hijab at school, is a pivotal moment in the book.

It was so important for me that this not be, oh and then she converts. Really what happens is that these women embrace Afaf. She's never had any sort of community; she'd had to deal with her mother's mental illness and her sister's absence. She doesn't start wearing hijab until high school. She's been sitting with it; it's been her journey. I love this women's circle, and they're flawed and we see that, but Kowkab is such an embodiment of those transcendent relationships and experiences.

The trip to Mecca with her father turns out to be a momentous and bonding experience for both Afaf and her father.

I just did an article for my British publisher about the research experience; Hajj [the pilgrimage to Mecca] was the most challenging because I haven't been there. You need permits! I had to dig, and I was lucky because I found online journals and diaries of women who were there. Not just the emotions and ritual part, but the awestruck part, which I've heard firsthand from relatives. I tried to express that, what it's like to be part of the pilgrimage. "It's like you're falling in love with God," a native Arabic speaker said--I knew she was wary of the translation, but I also knew what she meant. You're doing this collectively and publicly, which can also be stressful and dangerous. That was the thing I was most nervous about--making that as authentic as I could.

Can you talk about the tension between Afaf's parents, and their struggle to raise their children in a country whose values differ from theirs so dramatically?

That's part of what I consider unique about my story, that the parents are not really pious. I would call them secular. They're not atheists, but they're not practicing Muslims. They're feeling maybe even more disconnected from their roots. I didn't want them to be godless. Baba's trying his best, but Mama has not been able to put down roots and, unfortunately, it's at the cost of their children, and at the root of Afaf feeling lost and not loving herself. This is part of my own experience; I'm familiar with families that aren't particularly religious. There was a resurgence in the 1990s, before 9/11, where women tended to be more practicing, wearing hijab, and more mosques were being built.

But with Afaf's family, we have a mom who doesn't feel she belongs, and they're struggling financially. For some people, religion would be a way to navigate or cope, and for them it isn't. When Baba is reawakened, it feels like more than as a Muslim but that he could start over and make things right with his family. He had had the roots, they just hadn't been cultivated in this country.

Do you think Afaf's mother also resents that her sister married better than she, in terms of marrying a doctor who could ensure her financial security?

Yes, it's a real classic ideal of America being a land of opportunity, which includes economic security. My father was part of a thriving business. But Afaf's parents were struggling. The father was someone who had to put his music career on hold in order to support the family, and this prevents her mother from going home to visit her family. It's sad, understandable, but we also know Mahmood [Afaf's father] is working as hard as he can under the circumstances. I think of my Mom; she wanted to marry an ex-pat who was going to take her out of Palestine. Her family was religiously strict, so she was also fleeing that. We were fortunate to have a roof over our head, and could afford private school. It was another narrative from perhaps what readers were expecting. I hope this is not "the typical immigrant" story. I do appreciate when people see that it's not "a single narrative" of being Muslim in America, or Palestinian in America.

Your portrait of Baba's recovery from his near-death accident and his embrace of the Muslim faith is so moving. His newfound faith drives not just a wedge, but a wall between Afaf's parents. Can you talk about this development in their relationship?

Her resentment comes from a few places. This intense grief that she's been carrying. Not being able to come to terms with the loss of her daughter enough to function for her children, for the living. She imagines the worst has happened to her firstborn. I think there's also a bit of a symptom of her mental illness--I don't want that to overshadow what she feels is a slight and an injury that her Higher Power has given her, and she has a yearning for home. Religion for her is just not going to do it.

I'm very moved by mental illness. It's something that's been taboo, and just starting to change in our communities, through treating mental illness and depression. You were just expected to turn it over to the Lord. She's not buying that, but she's also losing out on a community.

Afaf eventually comes to forgive her mother for her absence in their lives. What role does forgiveness play in Afaf's journey, and where does it fit in the Muslim faith?

It was important for Afaf to gain forgiveness before going to Hajj, to ask anyone you've injured for forgiveness. Still it was difficult for Afaf. She reveals that no matter how pious you are, there's going to be this intrusion of real human feelings of resentment. Her mother's made that suicide attempt. It's been a volatile relationship. I think Afaf continues to struggle, but she can live in the present. Her circle of women, by virtue of not asking her about her past, that feels like forgiveness too.

That may be something that in other religions is a strict ritual--I'm thinking of confession for Catholics. For Muslims, you should always ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoing, but the idea is that you're not going to keep committing those injuries, those sins, so you don't have to ask for contrition. It's about always being present. Do your best now and don't look back. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

New Lockdown Game

"Our new lockdown game: judging famous people by their bookshelves." (via the Guardian)


The Los Angeles Times showcased "21 new and classic books to keep you in touch with the natural world."


Russia Beyond's readers chose "5 Russian books to read in self-isolation."


Headline of the day (via the Scotsman): "Scotland's claim to fame as birthplace of the F-word revealed."


Explore Puzzlewood
, the "mysterious, fantastical woodland inspiration for The Lord of the Rings," Atlas Obscura invited.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Year of Wonders

When plague swept across England in 1665-66 (as depicted in A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe), the village of Eyam utterly isolated itself from the outside world. Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks follows housemaid Anna Frith in a fictionalized version of quarantined Eyam. When the plague travels from London to her village on a tailor's wares, Anna is cast in the unlikely role of healer. Villagers blame the local midwife and herbalist for the initial rash of plague deaths and murder them. Anna and the rector's wife attempt to learn those lost skills. Meanwhile, the rector and other villagers struggle to maintain religious faith and endure the ordeals of everyday life during a plague. The real Eyam's actions saved its surrounding area from infection and limited the damage within the community, though many in Eyam still died. Year of Wonders and the story of Eyam in general demonstrate the power of communal action--and the dangers of selfishness--during a society-wide crisis. Year of Wonders is available in paperback from Penguin Books ($18, 9780142001431). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Beauty of Your Face

by Sahar Mustafah

Sahar Mustafah's skillfully nuanced debut novel, The Beauty of Your Face, traces one family's challenges in adjusting to life in the United States through the perspective of first-generation Palestinian American Afaf Rahman. Readers first meet Afaf as a wife and mother and the principal of a private Muslim girls school in Tempest, Ill. At the close of the first chapter, Afaf, while praying downstairs in the school, hears gunshots above her.

Mustafah, maintaining a third-person narrative, then flashes back to 1976, when Afaf was 10 years old, and her 17-year-old sister, Nada, disappeared. The police pronounce Nada a runaway, and the tension simmering between her parents comes to a boiling point. Afaf enjoys her friendships, music and the limited independence her bike affords her, alongside her growing awareness of her mother's displeasure with American life. The author's interspersing of chapters from the shooter's perspective makes it impossible for readers to see him as pure villain. He was neglected by his parents and abandoned by his older sibling, just as Afaf was. A near tragedy drives teenage Afaf and her father into the Islamic Center, where they both begin to heal. In recounting the specifics of Afaf's journey of faith and self-discovery, Mustafah paints a universal picture of coming to understand oneself.

Afaf's incessant desire to win her mother's approval gives her empathy for her own children, her husband and her students. With exquisite pacing, Mustafah builds suspense and also Afaf's quiet courage until--in the book's final chapters--Afaf must do her hardest work yet. She must confront the shooter in order to save her students and herself. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Debut novelist Sahar Mustafah traces a Palestinian American's determination to face down her worst fears, within both her family and the school she's called to protect.

Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 312p., 9781324003380

Sin Eater

by Megan Campisi

Megan Campisi's Sin Eater opens with a 14-year-old girl named May being arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, in an alternate version of Elizabethan England. The royal family of Angland is entangled in court intrigue and murders, including of babes, to secure favored heirs to the throne, even considering marriage to the hated Northern lords. Common people work hard for a meager living; some starve unless given permission from the queen to beg in the street. The penalties for petty crimes are high: vagrants have a hole "burned through the gristle of [the] ear with a hot iron as thick as a man's thumb." The penalty for a second offense is death.

In this cruel world, below even dung men and woad dyers in the social order, lies a cursed role: that of the Sin Eater. "It's always women who eat sins, since it was Eve who first ate a sin: the Forbidden Fruit." She is called to deathbeds to hear the Recitation, a confession of sins; she translates these sins into foods, which the family will prepare for the Eating. By taking the sins of others into herself, the Sin Eater absolves the deceased.

Sin Eater is a fully fleshed work of speculative fiction, abundant with the fine details of Elizabethan life and, of course, food. May is a damaged and sympathetic heroine, at once intelligent and innocent. This is an opulently imagined debut, horrific and weirdly beautiful, filled with earnest feeling as well as cruelty. Set aside time to read this engrossing novel in one go. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In this enchanting alternate history, a Sin Eater consumes the misdeeds of others, and may have a chance to right some wrongs.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9781982124106

Separation Anxiety

by Laura Zigman

When Judy Vogel attempts the "ruthless purging of possessions" recommended by a trendy book, she thinks, "I already feel invisible; why not go all the way?" A baby sling, received when 13-year-old Teddy was born, triggers melancholy over his current teenage moodiness. But maybe the sling can give her joy--if she can fill it with "something baby-like." So begins the wearing of Charlotte, the family's 20-pound sheltie. As the narrator of Separation Anxiety, the fifth novel by Laura Zigman (Animal Husbandry), Judy describes in hilarious detail Charlotte-as-accessory and her other attempts to assuage midlife angst.

Anxiety that her husband, Gary, sleeps in a basement bedroom because they can't afford to actually separate tops Judy's troubles. Defending the "warm cotton sack of dog fur" as her choice of "a harmless, nonalcoholic, nonnarcotic, noncannabinoid solution" to her stress is commendable, she muses. Judy's contract work for a website, plus Gary's gig stocking snacks for an office, doesn't keep pace with Teddy's Montessori school fees or Gary's medical cannabis needs (his anxiety is well-established). The Vogels' domestic strife is matched by ongoing drama at Teddy's school, setting the stage for what becomes a very funny yet poignant climax.

Underneath the acerbic snipping, Judy and Gary's mutual respect survives. They share a cerebral sense of humor, and despite the stated goal of divorce they join forces in touching moments--for Teddy and for their dying best friend. "It is a choice--to accept, to believe, to remain--and I am choosing all of it now," Judy thinks, in this often hilarious and thoughtfully candid novel of midlife. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, former bookseller and freelance reviewer

Discover: A witty and wise novel of midlife turmoil and the protagonist's efforts to calm her stress and steer her family to happiness.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062909077

Good Citizens Need Not Fear: Stories

by Maria Reva

Ivansk Street, Number 1933, in Kirovka, Ukraine, seems be an exact address, but the town council's clerk insists "that building does not exist." Constructed last year, "someone seemed to have forgotten to connect it to the district furnace," but plenty of people already live there. These inhabitants comprise the memorable cast in Ukraine-born Maria Reva's skillful debut collection, Good Citizens Need Not Fear. The interconnected stories--inspired, remarkably, by her family's experiences--is a stupendous amalgam of pathos, black comedy and preposterous, post-USSR surreality.

Daniil, the building's no-heat messenger in "Novostroïka," is just one among 14 who inhabit his overcrowded unit. Zaya, an orphan with a cleft palate who gets discarded in "Little Rabbit," becomes a temporary 1933 Ivansk resident in "Miss USSR," then returns briefly in "Homecoming." A government agent sent to wrangle remorse from a famous poet in "Letter of Apology" ends up in the poet's employ guarding a saint's tomb in "Lucky Toss." Meanwhile, the poet's wife, Milena, sells illicit tunes etched into X-rays in "Bone Music," working with a neighbor whose near-empty abode will eventually receive one of Daniil's 13 roommates. Milena, too, switches units when she follows her heart in "The Ermine Coat," while an elderly couple living utterly alone in "Roach Brooch" inherits a Madagascar hissing cockroach that could prove invaluable--or not.

Nine entangled, intertwined, intricate stories later, Reva's fictional characters domiciled in a nonexistent building might seem absurd, but her remarkably convincing narratives assure plenty of thoughtful entertainment. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Maria Reva's debut collection of nine interconnected stories, with autobiographical overtones, is a tragicomedy of the utmost absurd.

Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780385545297

The Fortress

by S.A. Jones

To save his marriage, an egotistical lawyer must become a sexual supplicant in a female-dominated society in the intense psychological novel The Fortress by S.A. Jones.

Jonathon Bridge has a corner office, a bevy of female interns at his sexual disposal and is the envy of his coworkers. He loves his wife, Adalia, but abuses the interns because he can. Adalia is an investigative reporter and nobody's fool. She confronts Jonathon over his indiscretions and kicks him out.

Jonathon vows to do anything to reconcile. Adalia will take him back only if he becomes a supplicant to an all-female race called the Vaik. The Vaik live in an enclosed society but have a symbiotic relationship with the nearby New York City-esque metropolis where Jonathon and Adalia reside. The city's males sign up for selective servitude, so the Vaik can procreate, and in return the Vaik provide the city with healing creams, potions and foods. A supplicant must do whatever the Vaik command, without question; if he disobeys, he will be chained to a post at low tide. He will either drown or be eaten by sharks when tide comes in. Can an alpha male from a male-dominated world enter a female-run society and give in to complete submission?

The novel is part fantasy, part reality and all masterpiece. Jones immerses readers so completely in the fictious world of The Fortress that it's hard to believe the Vaik aren't real. And startling to realize how much a society could benefit from the Vaik. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: To save his marriage, a powerful attorney must move from a male-dominated society to a female-dominated society that rules with an iron fist.

Erewhon Books, $16.95, paperback, 288p., 9781645660026

Mystery & Thriller

The Boy from the Woods

by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben (Run Away) delivers yet again with The Boy from the Woods, a sweeping thriller of teen bullying, attorney-client privilege and secrets of the rich and powerful.

High-powered attorney Hester Crimstein gets a sudden visit from her grandson Matthew. He begs her to help find his missing classmate, Naomi, who was being bullied by rich and popular student Crash Maynard. Hester enlists Wilde--the titular boy now grown up and working as a private investigator--to find Naomi. Wilde quickly finds Naomi and discovers her "disappearance" was part of an elaborate prank by Crash and his friends.

They had convinced Naomi to go missing in exchange for the bullying to stop. She goes back to school, but the bullying intensifies. A distraught Naomi disappears again. No one takes it seriously except Wilde, a former outsider himself. This time, he can't find her. Wilde rushes to confront Crash, but Crash has gone missing as well; his parents, Dash and Delia Maynard, receive a ransom note. The wealthy Maynards think they are being targeted for their politics. They demand Hester and Wilde find their son before he's harmed. Wilde agrees to help because he thinks Crash's and Naomi's disappearances are connected. But will he be able to save both kids?

Fans of Coben's Myron Bolitar novels will recognize Hester Crimstein from her brief, applaud-worthy appearances. In this standalone, the author shows a softer Hester by explaining the bluster behind this formidable, no-nonsense attorney. In creating the role of Wilde, Coben introduces a reclusive and complicated hero extremely adept at solving mysteries--except for how and why he became "the boy from the woods." --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: This thrilling novel about teen torment spirals into an indictment of what the upper 1% can get away with.

Grand Central, $29, hardcover, 384p., 9781538748145

88 Names

by Matt Ruff

One of the most playful of novelists, the inveterate genre-hopper Matt Ruff (The Mirage; Bad Monkeys; Set This House in Order) follows up the chipper, revisionist cosmic horror of Lovecraft Country with an online techno-thriller whose plot hook gets roasted by one of its own pop-savvy gamers as "Ready Player One meets The King and I." But this brashly inventive story can't be broken down to formula.

After establishing a crackerjack set-up--a down-on-his-luck guide to the online role-playing games of the near future takes a contract to "sherpa" a mysterious plutocrat through the world of MMORPGs, drawing the ire of the CIA--88 Names proves predictably unpredictable, especially as the author seizes every chance to toy with the conventions and possibilities of computer role-playing. The digital espionage at times seems like a formal excuse for Ruff's loving parodies of gamer trolls, dungeon crawls, Grand Theft Auto-like crime sprees and old-school Infocom text adventures, all rendered in the breezy, geek-positive, charmingly profane mode he established in his 1988 debut, The Fool on the Hill. But Ruff is clever enough to make 88 Names' many apparent detours crucial to the revelations of his final chapters.

While he's sufficiently steeped in the milieu of gamers to satirize, Ruff also persuasively celebrates the pastime of adopting a fictional persona to embark on monster-stomping quests. Unlike most stories involving VR, all-powerful corporations and the possibility of catfishing, 88 Names never verges into the cynical or dystopian. Instead, Ruff invites readers to play. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This online role-playing techno-thriller is pure play.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062854674

Biography & Memoir

Final Draft: The Collected Work of David Carr

by Jill Rooney Carr, editor

In 2008's The Night of the Gun, David Carr wrote about how, as a single dad battling drug addiction, he raised his baby twins in his home state of Minnesota. Final Draft: The Collected Work of David Carr inspires no less admiration for the journalist, who died in 2015 at age 58.

Edited by Carr's widow, Jill Rooney Carr, Final Draft gathers nearly 60 personal and journalistic pieces dating from 1989 to 2015; they're bundled into seven sections reflecting what Carr was up to when he wrote them: freelancing, working for Washington City Paper, columnist for the New York Times, and so on. One constant feature is Carr's signature folksy-wry wordsmithery--e.g., "I have friends in town from a place where the Beltway is found only on a pair of pants."

It's clear from the pieces selected for Final Draft that one of Carr's preoccupations was journalistic ethics, including his own: he cops to having blown it when he interviewed Bill Cosby in 2011 and didn't ask about the sexual assault allegations against him. Another obvious fascination of Carr's was people in the market for second chances; his profile subjects include a disgraced airline pilot, the plagiarist Ruth Shalit, and the formerly drug-abusing actor Robert Downey Jr. If there's a cautionary tale within Final Draft, it's not so much about the dangers of substance abuse as about the danger of giving up on someone--after all, that someone could have been David Carr. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This posthumous collection offers a substantive sample of the great journalist's work: as a reporter and as a chronicler of his own steps and missteps.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780358206682


Dressed: A Philosophy of Clothes

by Shahidha Bari

Dressed: A Philosophy of Clothes is a book for which a reader's knowledge of fashion is neither necessary nor especially useful. Being well versed in literature, film and art, on the other hand, will come in handy.

"If, like me, you are haunted by clothes... then you will understand something of the mystery and allure that this book sets out to investigate," writes Shahidha Bari in her introduction to Dressed. For Bari, who frequently makes references to Freud, a cigar case is never just a cigar case. Organizing her inquiry into five themed chapters ("Furs, Feathers, and Skins," "Pockets, Purses, and Suitcases," etc.), she dissects dozens of clothing items and accessories, many iconic (such as the dress in John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Madame X). Absolutely fascinating is her look at how the expanding size of women's handbags over time and the gradual inclusion of pockets in women's clothing correspond with increased female independence.

A professor at the London College of Fashion, Bari is an unflinching feminist ("How tiresome is the notion that a woman's shoes could be shorthand for her sexual availability") and an unflaggingly resourceful writer. Although Dressed is a dense text (it doesn't have that subtitle for nothing), respite comes regularly via the first-person meditations that begin each chapter as well as via the book's 30-odd photos and reproductions. A reader can compare, say, suits worn by Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest and by the singer Janelle Monáe; under Bari's tutelage, the reader will see radically different garments. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This intensive investigation into the meaning of clothes in literature, film, art and every life (un)packs a wallop.

Basic Books, $30, hardcover, 352p., 9781541645981

Psychology & Self-Help

Navigate Your Stars

by Jesmyn Ward, illus. by Gina Triplett

"Take a step that will lead you toward the realization of your dream, and then take another, and another, and another." So beats the heart of Jesmyn Ward's Navigate Your Stars, in which Ward (Salvage the Bones; Sing, Unburied, Sing; Men We Reaped) delivers a powerful message of endurance and empathy in this illustrated adaptation of her 2018 commencement address at Tulane University.

Ward's own persistence has yielded an extensive catalogue of accolades--including two National Book Awards and a MacArthur fellowship. But in Navigate Your Stars, humility abounds. "Good morning, y'all," Ward begins. "I want to tell you a story." What follows is Ward's poignant account of her journey to becoming a writer, layered across her developing sense of what success can look like.

Growing up poor in Mississippi, Ward felt education was her ticket to a better life. Ultimately, her own understanding of what "education" might mean also had to evolve: "I realized that education wasn't one choice; instead, it was a lifetime's undertaking." Tracing her growing awareness of the dictates of circumstance, she contrasts her experiences in education with those of her family--especially those whose choices, and horizons, differed from her own, and persisted nonetheless.

Gina Triplett's vibrant illustrations are awash in color, a resplendent canvas for Ward's tribute to hard work, determination and family. Ward's tender truths will resonate not only with graduates of all backgrounds, but anyone yearning for a message of hope and of promise--who will take a step. Then another. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A two-time National Book Award winner offers a luminous, uplifting tribute to empathy and resilience in this illustrated adaptation of her 2018 Tulane University commencement address.

Scribner, $16, hardcover, 64p., 9781982131326

Children's & Young Adult

The List of Things that Will Not Change

by Rebecca Stead

Newbery Award-winning author Rebecca Stead has a gift for inhabiting the minds and hearts of young readers. In The List of Things that Will Not Change, she explores the messy feelings that come with divorce from the perspective of a daughter who bubbles over with love, rage, anxiety, shame and hopeful anticipation.

Bea is eight and already a bit of a worrier when her parents announce that they're getting a divorce because her dad is gay. They give her a notebook with the start of a list they call "Things That Will Not Change." Here they state certain unchanging facts: They will always love her. They still love each other, "but in a different way." And she will always have a home with each of them. Although she is reassured by the fixed new routines of the shared custody, Bea's anxiety gets worse, complicated by a developing problem with anger management. This is also the year she begins seeing a therapist, who explains that there are often "feelings behind feelings"--fear behind dislike, for example. And, behind fear, worry.

Stead (When You Reach Me; Goodbye Stranger; Liar & Spy) understands that the kinds of things a child worries about can be unexpectedly different from what an older person might fear: after the divorce, for example, Bea wants to know where her cat will stay. Bea's narrative, in Stead's hands, is droll, poignant and always realistic, whether she's angst-ridden about the fifth-grade colonial breakfast project or trying not to scratch her eczema. Stead masterfully explores the internal life of a girl going through both extraordinary and run-of-the-mill trials in a way that tells readers they are not alone in their complicated, contradictory feelings about the world. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this emotionally on-point middle-grade novel, a girl experiences the sometimes fraught ways a family rearranges itself through divorce, remarriage and the blending of children.

Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 8-12, 9781101938096

On the Horizon

by Lois Lowry, illus. by Kenard Pak

Lois Lowry, author of The Giver, gives poetic glimpses into the lives of World War II survivors and victims in the slim yet powerful On the Horizon.

Lowry's author's note explains the inspiration behind the book: "When I was a child... it was always a treat when we could talk Daddy into setting up the projector and screen and showing the home movies." In one film, child Lois plays on a beach in Waikiki. As an adult, when she showed this movie to friends, one said, "Wait... Look on the horizon. That's the Arizona." In the moment captured on film, the USS Arizona "carried 1,200 men. Almost all of them would soon be dead."

The specific people whom Lowry has chosen to feature in this history in verse--Pearl Harbor sailors and Hiroshima civilians--have an arbitrary quality to them. This haphazard nature and the sparseness of the piece somehow work to magnify the book's purpose. Lowry's inspiration comes from a point in time that seemed like any other; every person highlighted in the work is living an ordinary day before the planes appear, before the bombs drop. It's all brief, senseless chance. Kenard Pak's illustrations enhance Lowry's theme; his gray-scale pencil art has an ephemeral nature that suggests any piece could be erased from the page. The illustrations, whether a person, a watch face or the tricycle buried alongside its child owner, are detailed yet have indistinct borders with edges that blend into the white of the page. Solemn and forceful, On the Horizon displays, with respect and love, the impact a seemingly ordinary moment can hold. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Lois Lowry delivers a respectful, powerful tribute to World War II survivors and victims in this nonfiction work told in verse.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 80p., ages 10-up, 9780358129400

Grandpa Grumps

by Katrina Moore, illus. by Xindi Yan

Despite Daisy's carefully prepared "Things to do with Yeh-yeh" list, her goal during the week of her grandfather's visit is something far more challenging: "I have to make him smile before he leaves!" In creating Daisy and her Grandpa Grumps, Katrina Moore (One Hug) explores multi-generational, multicultural expectations and surprises with humor, patience and love, while Pratt-trained artist Xindi Yan's utterly delightful art adds cultural authenticity.

A tea party, hot cocoa and snowman-building are some of the activities Daisy plans to share with Yeh-Yeh (Dad's Dad), but his Sunday arrival is marked with grumbles rather than hugs. "Day and night, Daisy tried to make Yeh-Yeh smile, and day and night--he didn't." By Friday, a worried Daisy asks her mother for advice. "He shows love in other ways," she assures Daisy. Indeed, when Daisy sneaks into Yeh-Yeh's room with her latest surprise, she discovers plenty of evidence of his appreciative affection. By visit's end, there are belly laughs, jolly hugs and the promise of more time together.

Moore declares in her author bio that her mission is "to create books that children will hug for ages." Chinese-born Yan (Sylvia Rose and the Cherry Tree) helps fulfill this mission by augmenting the text with rambunctious energy. Pig-tailed Daisy and bushy-browed Yeh-Yeh's memorable expressions illuminate every page, and Daisy's sassy kitty and enchanting wardrobe (unicorn horn headband, fluffy boas and sparkling tiaras she shares with Yeh-Yeh) make for picture perfect scenarios. Her culturally sensitive enhancements are especially notable: the upside down fú character to welcome Yeh-Yeh's fortuitous visit; Chinese furniture and accessories throughout; and Chinese cooking tools scattered on kitchen counters. With Yan's Pixar-ready illustrations and Moore's sweet text about familial communication, Grandpa Grumps invites smiles all around. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Katrina Moore's multi-generational, multicultural family fun celebration, Grandpa Grumps, gets an extra boost of vivacity from ingenious illustrator Xindi Yan.

little bee books, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781499808865

Powered by: Xtenit