October 18, 2015 by Reader's Connection
A host of authors will be visiting the Irvington Library on Tuesday evenings in November. The Read Local series will feature four different programs: Justice, Young Adult Books, Novels Set in Indiana, and an evening with Philip Gulley.
All programs begin at 6:30 p.m. Book sales and signings will follow each program, with the books being provided by Bookmamas.
Unless otherwise noted, the book descriptions are from the publishers.
November 3rd – Justice
Fran Quigley, author of If We Can Win Here: The New Front Lines of the Labor Movement
In If We Can Win Here, Fran Quigley tells the stories of janitors, fry cooks, and health care aides trying to fight their way to middle-class incomes in Indianapolis. He also chronicles the struggles of the union organizers with whom the workers have made common cause.
George W. Wolfe, author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War
Religion and violence–the two concepts seem incompatible given the emphasis in religion on virtue, love, forgiveness and compassion. Yet many scriptures contain martial images and stories of god-inspired military conquest. The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence confronts this theological contradiction, arguing that martial images and symbols found in religious texts are often meant to be interpreted as metaphors for an inner spiritual struggle and should never be used as a justification for war. The analysis is undertaken from an interfaith perspective that explains many of the paradoxical concepts found in theories of nonviolence. Professor Wolfe also presents a compelling case for the sustainability paradigm and for offering peace education and interreligious dialogue on a global scale. He probes the scriptures of the world proving that nonviolence is a shared virtue and that the real enemy we must battle against and ultimately defeat is actually within us.
November 10th – Young Adult
Francesca Zappia, author of Made You Up
Nothing is what it seems in Zappia’s debut novel. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic at age 14, Alexandra Ridgemont, a senior entering a new high school after an infamous graffiti episode, meets Miles, a boy she believes she conjured in childhood. Her uncertainty and the pressures of a new school create an unraveling of the barriers between imagination and reality. Told from Alex’s perspective, Zappia’s story submerges readers into a world where they, too, are left unsure of what to trust. As the stakes get higher for Alex–with obstacles that include a principal who fanatically worships a scoreboard, a fellow student buckling under family pressure, and her mother’s threats of hospitalizing her–the truth continues to blur. Despite support from Miles, who comes to her aid even as he struggles with an abusive father and alexithymia, Alex must push past increasingly frightening hallucinations to uncover a surprising secret . . . Alex’s sardonic voice and the rapid, Heathers-like dialogue will hold readers’ interest. — Publisher’s Weekly
Deborah Dunlevy, author of the series that begins with The Book of Sight
When Alex received an unexpected package, she never dreamed the book it contained would change her life forever. After all, the words inside were gibberish. She had no idea the places that book would take her, the friends that book would help her make or the wonders that book would reveal. She had no clue the trouble that book would bring, either. A book can be a dangerous gift.
Bill Kenley, author of High School Runner: (Freshman)
Meet Sherman Leopold Kindle, aka K1, a ninth grader beginning his high school journey as a talented but apprehensive member of the cross-country team. Over the course of the season, he learns to rise to the challenge of the work through self-discipline, teamwork, and most importantly, empathy. Sherman’s often hilarious, sometimes pathetic, and ultimately inspiring coach mentors all of the runners—whether veteran or rookie, braggart or slacker, star or dud—in less-than-conventional fashion. Despite his life falling apart, Coach Viddstein molds his team and leads them to their greatest success. Written in the warm, nostalgic style of John L. Parker, Jr.’s classic Once a Runner, this novel is about the value of self-discipline and training, and how athletic skills strengthen character.
Julie Young, author of Fifteen Minutes of Fame
She sold her soul to rock and roll. It was the story that rocked the music world. After five years, four Grammy Award-winning albums, numerous number one singles, and outselling every other act in the music industry, entertainment icon MonAmi was a walking case of burnout. When her plans for rest and relaxation were derailed on the final night of what was supposed to be her Farewell Tour, the enigmatic singer took matters into her own hands, running away from her career, her manager, and the mysterious identity that made her into a superstar. Now a rocker gone rogue, MonAmi returns to her hometown of Kentwood, Indiana where, as 15-year-old Megan Taylor, she was plucked from obscurity and molded into rock and roll royalty with a new name, a lucrative recording contract, and a carefully crafted Hanna Montana-like image. However, what started as a teenage dream quickly turned into a living nightmare as her label gradually controlled every aspect of her life.
Sherri Wood Emmons, author of The Seventh Mother
The summer that her father falls in love with Emma, Jenny Bohner is just turning eleven, Jenny was three when her mother died, and since then Brannon Bohner has traveled with his daughter from one seasonal job to another, picking up girlfriends along the way. Somehow Emma is different, traveling with them from Idaho to Kentucky, filling Jenny with hopes of a real family. But something still troubles her, surfacing through years of memories–tempting her from within boxes Jenny has been told never to touch, filled with hidden mementos from long ago. Inside Jenny will find answers that will compel her to face the hard truth that she no longer can ignore.
November 17th – Novels Set in Indiana
Kurt A. Meyer, author of Noblesville
From David Henry’s point of view, everything that was wrong with life in small town America in the 1890’s has been cured by more than a century of progress, while everything that was best about it has been destroyed. David’s assumptions about the past are tested when a mysterious splash of light transforms David’s life, opening a doorway not only to the past but to the love of a young woman named Mary Harrison. The past and present of Noblesville weave happiness and heartache for the two lovers separated by a century but joined in their desire to find some place in time to spend their lives together.
Nate Dunlevy, author of Invincible, Indiana
Dale Cooper arrived in tiny Invincible, Indiana determined to coach his way to a better job. He never bargained for a clueless principal, a bitter star, a racist point guard, and a town fiercely proud of 49 consecutive seasons of finishing exactly .500. When it becomes apparent to Dale that neither the town nor his players have any interest in winning, he devises a way to turn everyone’s expectations upside down. His gambit forces Invincible to strive for greatness if only to keep their dreams of mediocrity alive. Set in 1996-1997, Invincible, Indiana explores the myths and motivations that led to the demise of the ‘single class tournament’ that was the bedrock of Indiana mythology. Invincible, Indiana will make you laugh, cry, and cheer, but most of all it will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the hysteria that was basketball in Indiana.
Greg Schwipps, author of What This River Keeps
In the rolling hills of southern Indiana, an elderly couple copes with the fear that their river bottom farm—the only home they’ve ever known—will be taken from them through an act of eminent domain. The river flowing through their land, where the old man has fished nearly every day of his life, may be dammed to form a reservoir. Their son, meanwhile, sinks deeper into troubles of his own, struggling to determine his place in a new romantic relationship and the duty he owes to his family’s legacy. What This River Keeps is a beautiful and heartfelt novel that reflects upon what it means to love a place and a family, and the sometimes staggering cost of that love.
Forrest Bowman, author of The Honorable Warren Drum
A prequel to A Patriot’s Peril. A Patriot’s Peril. The story of a young criminal defense lawyer dealing with a marital breakup; a legal secretary hoping to step into the breach; an arrogant, alcoholic, corrupt judge and his two bagmen; a headline-hunting prosecutor; a prostitute; a pimp; a doctor accused of abortion before Roe v. Wade; a trial with only a weekend to prepare; a legal maneuver made possible by a federal statute enacted as part of the effort to thwart the virulent racism of the post-bellum South; and a cast of colorful supporting characters, all taking place in Monument City, the capital of a far from sleepy Midwestern state.
November 24th – Philip Gulley
Sam Gardner has been pastor of Hope Friends Meeting for just four months when ninety-eight-year-old member Oilve Charles passes away. What’s more shocking news is that Olive has left her entire estate–worth nearly one million dollars–to the meeting. At first the gift sounds to Sam like a godsend. Yet as word of the unexpected windfall spreads, it stirs up a storm of conflicting opinions among the church members as to how the money would best be used.
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October 15, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Jamaican author Marlon James has won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. The prize is awarded each year to a work of fiction written in English.
This lengthy novel by the acclaimed Jamaican author of The Book of Night Women (2009) is a densely imaginative fictional retelling of the 1976 assassination attempt on reggae superstar Bob Marley (“The Singer”) and its aftermath. It is far less about music than about Jamaican (and international–the CIA is implicitly engaged) politics and its gangs, inextricably linked. The book is, as a result, nasty, complicated, violent, and profane. That it is also beautiful is testimony to author James’ immense talent. Despite the lack of suspense (one knows Marley survives, though James handles the ensuing events deftly), James keeps the pages turning. He handles a complex cast of characters with disparate viewpoints and voices (literally) that, although daunting to readers unfamiliar with the country’s culture and speech (“No star me no know a who that?”), will please and delight (and shock) many but should impress all diligent readers. This is a breakthrough novel not only for the author but also for Caribbean and world literature. The Kingston milieu (and its extensions, including New York) is made horrifyingly believable; the patois is rhythmic, slangy, and often quite funny. This is a unique, difficult (the latter portions less so), and very worthwhile reading experience.
October 14, 2015 by Reader's Connection
The finalists for the National Book Award–five books in each of the four categories–were announced to today. The winners will receive their awards at a ceremony on Wednesday, November 18th.
I want to read a bunch of these.
Karen E. Bender, Refund
Bender’s collection of stories appears to be about money, something we all need, work for, spend, misuse, even throw away. In “Reunion,” a woman is scammed out of money she can’t afford to lose by an old high-school crush. In “Anything for Money,” a host of a game show on which people do crazy stunts for money finds himself doing anything he can to get his ailing daughter a heart transplant. And in the title story, a struggling couple sublet their apartment right before 9/11 and find that the woman who rented it is demanding more than just her deposit back. But Bender’s stories are about more than money. She portrays people who are broken and asking themselves the same question in different ways–am I worthy of being loved? Bender’s tales are stark, heart wrenching, quirky, and sometimes end without closure. But they all work together, as Bender leads us to a unifying conclusion: you can’t put a price on human life or love. — Booklist
Angela Flournoy, The Turner House
Flounoy’s debut is a lively, thoroughly engaging family saga with a cast of fully realized characters. Francis and Viola Turner and their 13 children have lived in a house on Detroit’s East Side for more than 50 years. In its prime, Yarrow Street was a comfortable haven for black working-class homeowners. In 2008, after Detroit’s long economic depression, Francis has died and Viola is about to lose the house, the value of which has declined to less than the owed mortgage payments, and the siblings are faced with a difficult decision about the house’s fate. Flournoy focuses on three of the Turner siblings–Cha-Cha, the eldest son, who drove an 18-wheeler carrying Chryslers before an accident took him off the road; Troy, the youngest son, a policeman with an ambitious, illegal plan; and Lelah, the unstable youngest daughter, who has a gambling addiction. In addition to the pressing financial issue regarding their family home, the plot touches on the moral, emotional, marital, and psychological problems that affect the siblings. Flournoy evokes the intricacies of domestic situations and sibling relationships, depicting how each of the Turners’ lives has been shaped by the social history of their generation. She handles time and place with a veteran’s ease as the narrative swings between decades, at times leaping back to the 1940s. A family secret, which involves a “haint” (or ghost) who became Francis’s nemesis–perhaps real, perhaps just a superstition–appears many years later to haunt Cha-Cha. Readers may be reminded of Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, but Flournoy puts her own distinctive stamp on this absorbing narrative. — Publishers Weekly
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
An absorbing story of a modern marriage framed in Greek mythology. Groff’s sharply drawn portrait of a marriage begins on a cold Maine beach, with newlyweds “on their knees, now, though the sand was rough and hurt. It didn’t matter. They were reduced to mouths and hands.” This opener ushers in an ambitious, knowing novel besotted with sex—in a kaleidoscope of variety . . . The story centers first on Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite, a dashing actor at Vassar, who marries his classmate, flounders, then becomes a famous playwright. Lotto’s name evokes the lottery—and the Fates, as his half of the book is titled. His wife, the imperial and striking Mathilde, takes over the second section, Furies, astir with grief and revenge. The plotting is exquisite, and the sentences hum; Groff writes with a pleasurable, bantering vividness. Her book is smart . . . The author gives this novel a harder edge and darker glow than previous work, echoing Mathilde’s observation, “She was so tired of the old way of telling stories, all those too worn narrative paths, the familiar plot thickets, the fat social novels. She needed something messier, something sharper, something like a bomb going off.” Indeed it is. An intricate plot, perfect title, and a harrowing look at the tie that binds. — Kirkus Reviews
Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles
How do you follow a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel? For Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son), the answer is a story collection, and the tales within are hefty and memorable. Johnson goes deep (and long–there are only six pieces in this 300 pager) into unknown worlds. In the title story, two North Korean criminals adjust to post-defection life in South Korea; in “Nirvana,” a man deals with his wife’s illness by creating an app that lets people talk to the (fictional) recently assassinated president. Johnson lets us spend time with an East German prison commander whose former office is a tour stop in a “museum of torture”; a man coping with hurricanes Katrina and Rita and an array of personal problems; and, in “Dark Meadow,” the highlight of a very strong collection, a pedophile trying to behave himself in the face of a variety of temptations. What these very different stories have in common is their assurance: the environments Johnson creates, along with the often problematic choices their inhabitants make, are totally believable. Escaping back to North Korea by balloon? Sure. Going to AA meetings because they offer child care? Makes sense if your ex has just dumped a toddler on you in post-Rita Lake Charles. Often funny, even when they’re wrenchingly sad, the stories provide one of the truest satisfactions of reading: the opportunity to sink into worlds we otherwise would know little or nothing about, ones we might even cross the street to avoid. — Publishers Weekly
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
Yanagihara follows her debut novel, The People in the Trees, with a deceptively simple tale of four male friends, Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB, who meet during their college years at Ivy League institutions. The men choose to continue their journeys into adulthood together by relocating jointly to New York. As they sustain their friendships into their fifties, the author delivers tales of their loyalty, love, and support for one another. However, lying beneath the surface is an emotionally disturbing story line about Jude, a highly successful lawyer and the brightest of the four men. The horrors of Jude’s victimization during his youth by the brothers of a monastery and his eventual abduction by Brother Luke, a pedophile and pimp, force him to struggle relentlessly with inner demons and a deep-seated distrust of others, with his pain manifested in constant acts of cutting. VERDICT As in her previous novel, Yanagihara fearlessly broaches difficult topics while simultaneously creating an environment that her audience will find caring and sensitive. Not all readers will embrace this work, given its intense subject. However, for those strong of stomach or bold enough to follow the characters’ road of friendship, this heartbreaking story certainly won’t be easily forgotten. — Library Journal
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
In this brief book, which takes the form of a letter to the author’s teenage son, Coates, the justly acclaimed author of the family memoir The Beautiful Struggle (2008), comes to grips with what it means to be black in America today. On the basis of his previous writing, Coates is the ideal candidate to even attempt such an ambitious undertaking. He has become an extraordinary essayist; that he succeeds here will rank him securely among his forerunners. The title is from a quotation by Richard Wright; the chief literary influence is James Baldwin; Coates’ personal inspiration is Malcolm X; the crucible of the piece is Howard University; and behind it are the writings and attitudes handed down by Coates’ father, publisher Paul Coates. Like Baldwin, Coates is both furious and judicious. When he took his son to visit Civil War battlefields, he felt as though he was “a nosy accountant conducting an audit and someone was trying to hide the books.” In the days after 9/11, Coates could not help seeing the celebrated police as no different from those who had recently killed a Howard classmate. And he desperately wants his son to know (as his father taught him) that American history too often equates with robbery, and its complacent boosters are hypocritical at best. There is awesome beauty in the power of his prose and vital truth on every page. — Booklist
Photographer Mann’s sensuous and searching memoir finds her pulling out family records from the attic, raising questions about the unexamined past and how photographs “rob all of us of our memory,” and calling upon ancestry to explain the mysteries of her own character. Rockbridge County, Va., a place of great beauty, is the site of Mann’s uncontained childhood; her wedding to her lifelong companion, Larry Mann; and the idyllic family farm, where she took the photographs collected in Immediate Family (1992). Those photos of her three young children in the nude, and the controversy that erupted around them, “changed all our lives in ways we never could have predicted, in ways that affect us still,” she says, firmly stressing that photography is mere artifice, that the images “are not my children.” The pictures and fallout attracted a fanatic stalker, who kept the Mann family on edge for years. (Indeed, this memoir periodically reads like a crime thriller.) Mann’s power at evoking the raw fear that comes with being a parent is uncanny, and she is equally insightful when discussing her own childhood. Her book is also a catalogue of material objects–letters, test grades, teacher reports, even a letter of complaint from the superintendent of schools regarding 16-year-old Mann’s wild driving. The vivid descriptive energy and arresting images in this impressive book will leave readers breathless. — Publishers Weekly
Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus
Naturalist Montgomery (Birdology, 2010, etc.) chronicles her extraordinary experience bonding with three octopuses housed in the New England Aquarium and the small group of people who became devoted to them. As a casual visitor to the aquarium, she had been intrigued by the sense that the octopuses, invertebrates separated from us by millions of years on the tree of life, she watched were also watching her. “Was it possible,” she writes, “to reach another mind on the other side of the divide?” Their appendages are covered with “dexterous, grasping suckers” that propel food into mouths located in their armpits, and they savor the taste of food as it travels along their skin. This ability is one of the ways in which they perceive their environment. On her first behind-the-scenes visit to the aquarium, Montgomery was given the opportunity to directly interact with Athena, a 2 1/2-year-old, 40-pound octopus housed in a 560-gallon tank. Hosted by the aquarium’s director of public relations, with other personnel on standby to ensure her safety, the author was encouraged to place her hand in the tank. Though Athena possessed the strength to pull Montgomery into the tank, she was gentle and even playful. The author describes the thrill of this and subsequent encounters with Athena and two other octopuses housed at the aquarium. They recognized and openly welcomed her visits, soliciting petting and stroking as might a house pet in similar circumstances. Octopuses seemingly relate easily to humans, quickly learning to pick up cues from their keepers, who make a game of hiding food, and in turn play tricks on them. Yet in the wild, they are generally solitary and may attack and eat others of their species if placed in the same tank. With apparent delight, Montgomery puts readers inside the world of these amazing creatures. A fascinating glimpse into an alien consciousness. — Kirkus Reviews
What happens when a secular, feminist journalist spends an entire year studying with and interviewing an Islamic scholar? This memoir-style narrative addresses this question, as journalist Power documented her year with Sheikh Akram Nadwi, who resides in Oxford, England. Yet this story is not just about the interactions between two people from very different backgrounds and belief systems. It also, through the experience and the insights from the Sheikh, provides an introduction to Islamic thought and practice. With clarity and wisdom, the Sheikh responds to difficult questions, such as ones concerning Islamic Jihad movements in Palestine as well as the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a nine year old. One is struck by this conservative Sheikh’s ability to address such questions and Islam in general in a thoughtful, perceptive manner. Interestingly, while Powers did not, after the year spent with the Sheikh, convert to Islam, she did come to deeply respect him and his religious perspective. — Library Journal
Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light
Poet Smith, a Whiting Writers’ Award winner who received the Pulitzer Prize for her third poetry collection, Life on Mars (2011), has ventured into prose and written a gracefully nuanced yet strikingly candid memoir about family, faith, race, and literature. Smith grew up in Northern California, snuggled close to her elegant and devout mother; challenged by her engineer father, whose career with the air force was followed by work on the Hubble Space Telescope; and enthralled by books. As one of few African Americans in their community, Smith navigated a “sea of white faces,” in stark contrast to the world she discovered when staying with relatives in Alabama. In meticulously structured, philosophically inquisitive chapters, Smith compares the orderly facade of her youth with her inner turmoil and “spiritual dilemma” as she became more cognizant of her legacy, the “pain that was tied up in blood, in race, in laws and war.” Smith holds our intellectual and emotional attention ever so tightly as she charts her evolving thoughts on the divides between races, generations, economic classes, and religion and science and celebrates her lifesaving discovery of poetry as “soul language.” Smith’s intricate and artistic memoir illuminates the rich and affecting complexity of “ordinary” American lives. — Booklist
Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
The Bloomington Community Orchard must have spread its roots into Ross Gay, an Indiana University English professor, as the organic poems in his third collection bear fruit, line by line, with each fresh word or phrase. These are accessible, alive poems that give one the sense of sitting and talking in the poet’s kitchen. Often vulnerable and self-conscious in tone, they dig deep in the dirt of memory and unearth powerful images. In “Burial,” the speaker adds his father’s ashes to the soil while planting a plum tree, and he sees his mother as a bison, dragging “her hooves through the ash / of her heart,” in “c’mon!” Whether by contemplating the extraordinary within everyday acts (sleeping in clothes, drinking water, buttoning and unbuttoning a shirt), or by entwining past and present as he pays homage to parents, friends, even his former love, Gay embraces the natural cycles of life and death as only an introspective gardener and accomplished poet can. — Booklist
Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn
Hayes delivers another stunner, following up his 2010 National Book Award-winning Lighthead with a collection that sees the poet thinking more deeply about perception–the public and private, the viewed and ignored. In the opening poem, readers receive a warning–“Never mistake what it is for what it looks like”–before being taken through a hall of mirrors, in each one a reflection of race, art, and the makeup of America today. Hayes cops from crime reports and q&as, charts and instructional guides, toying with form to paint the realities of life for modern black Americans. Scenes are drawn with razor sharp lines: NWA plays idly “at a penthouse party with no black people”; the ghosts of lynched slaves are invoked to haunt a “white man/ with Confederate pins.” The poems pull from sources as seemingly disparate as Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Vladimir Mayakovsky, and evoke the souls of Walt Whitman and Ralph Ellison. The work hurdles between violent beauty (“I want to be as inexplicable/ as something hanging a dozen feet in the air”) and stark, philosophical truth telling (“Humanity endures because it is,/ at most, an idea”). Hayes manages not only to reassess the visual, but also to ask what we do with the information once we have it. — Publishers Weekly
Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus
Robin Coste Lewis’s electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems meditating on the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. In the center of the collection is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” an amazing narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present–titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s own autobiographical poems, “Voyage” is a tender and shocking meditation on the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, juxtaposing our names for things with what we actually see and know. A new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin–five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role did art play in this ancient, often heinous story? Here we meet a poet who adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire–how they define us all, including her own sometimes painful history. Lewis’s book is a thrilling aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race–a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts. — Publisher’s note
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things
In her newest volume of poems, Limón delves into the divided self–self separated by geography, by loss, by change, by circumstance. In “Torn,” she says “something/ that loves itself so much it moves across/ the boundaries of death to touch itself/ once more, to praise both divided sides/ equally….” Limón’s landscape is Brooklyn, California, and the horsey and blue-grassy hills of Kentucky, and her writing is intensely intimate and wild, softly sensual and bold. In the mostly lyric narratives, with an occasional prose poem included, loss and redemption are apparent, and love–whether tough love or easy love–is resilient. “How good it is to love/ live things, even when what they’ve done/ is terrible, how much we each want to be…turned loose/ into our own wide open without a single/ harness of sin to stop us.” Generous of heart, intricate and accessible, the poems in this book are wondrous and deeply moving. — Library Journal
Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine
Phillips examines masculinity and loss with a surgeon’s precision in his elegiac third book. The poems occupy a space that is, in his own words, “Something like sadness/ like joy, like a sudden/ love for my life,// and for the body/ in which I have lived it,/ overtaking me all at once.” The figures of father and son, brother and husband, all play out here–often simultaneously–and Phillips’s careful language consciously breaks down these distinctions, fusing the roles men play throughout their lives, and connecting past to present. While at his son’s soccer game, the poet observes that “the father/ of my son’s friend/ watched his father die,” and in doing so sees “the truth about love, about all of us,/ so plain in him/ there was nothing left// but to pretend I was not watching.” Phillips scrapes away nostalgia to reveal raw, sparse reflections. He writes of a body: “Soon the undertaker’s sons/ will come and lift this/ strangest of all strange things:// a palimpsest/ of what we loved,/ a nest in the brittle leaves.” And Phillips ponders just what makes a human body different from any other relinquished object, imagining his mattress decaying at the dump “as it sloughs its guts into the dirt.” — Publishers Weekly
Young People’s Literature
Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish
Suzy lost her longtime best friend twice: first at the beginning of sixth grade, when Franny shifted away from her and into a clique of “pretty girls,” and irrevocably during the following summer, when Franny drowned at the beach. Entering seventh grade and burdened by painful memories that she can neither express nor forget, Suzy almost entirely stops talking for many months. She becomes fascinated with jellyfish and intent on linking Franny’s drowning to a sting. Unable to connect meaningfully with those who are closest to her, she secretly, meticulously plans a trip to Australia to consult a jellyfish specialist in hopes of finding answers to her questions about Franny’s death. In the end, though, a conversation closer to home offers what she needs in order to deal with the experience, forgive herself, and move forward. Benjamin’s involving novel features clean, fluid writing that is highly accessible yet rich with possibilities for discussion. Science minded and fascinated by facts, Suzy is intellectually able to see the big picture but limited in her life experience. Her highly individual first-person narrative makes compelling reading. Facts and metaphors related to jellyfish are woven seamlessly into the narrative of this memorable story. An uncommonly fine first novel. — Booklist
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap
A teenage boy wrestles against forces real and imagined in a small, rural town named Bone Gap. Finn was the only one to witness the kidnapping of brother Sean’s beautiful girlfriend, Roza, at the spring festival. But when he looks at mug shots, all the faces look frustratingly similar. Meanwhile, a tall man with eyes like ice who demands her love traps Roza in an ever changing netherworld. But Roza is determined to find her way back to Sean and Finn’s backyard, no matter what the cost. Told from the viewpoints of multiple Bone Gap citizens, this inventive modern fable whimsically combines elements of folklore, mythology, romance and feminism. Finn starts out as a daydreaming cipher, but when he discovers he has a condition called “face blindness,” his vague character comes into sharp focus, and his mission to battle the tall man becomes clear. Both Roza and Finn’s love interest, Priscilla, develop over the course of the magically real journey into strong women to be reckoned with, while the secondary characters, including a sassy beekeeper, wise chicken farmer and self-aware horse, are charming and memorable . . . Cleverly conceived and lusciously written. — Kirkus Reviews
Without a wasted word or scene, and with the timing and prowess of a writer of thrillers, Sheinkin takes on a spectacularly complex story–and makes it comprehensible to teen readers: how Daniel Ellsberg evolved from a committed “cold warrior” to an antiwar activist, and why and how he leaked the Pentagon Papers–“seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years”–which led to the Watergate Scandal, the fall of the Nixon administration, and, finally, the end of the Vietnam War. From the very beginning of his account, Sheinkin demonstrates the human drama unfolding behind the scenes; the secrecy surrounding White House and Pentagon decisions; the disconnect between the public and private statements of our nation’s leaders. Throughout, readers will find themselves confronted by large, timely questions, all of which emerge organically from the book’s events: Can we trust our government? How do we know? How much secrecy is too much? The enormous amount of incorporated primary-source documentation (from interviews with Daniel Ellsberg himself to White House recordings) means not only that readers know much more than ordinary U.S. citizens did at the time but that every conversation and re-enacted scene feels immediate and compelling. Sheinkin has an unparalleled gift for synthesizing story and bringing American history to life; here, he’s outdone even himself. — Horn Book Magazine
Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep
Caden Bosch lives in two worlds. One is his real life with his family, his friends, and high school. There he is paranoid for no reason, thinks people are trying to kill him, and demonstrates obsessive compulsive behaviors. In his other world, he’s part of the crew for a pirate captain on a voyage to the Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest trench. There he’s paranoid, wary of the mercurial captain and his mutinous parrot, and tries hard to interpret the mutterings of his fellow shipmates as they sail uncharted waters toward unknown dangers. Slowly, Caden’s fantasy and paranoia begin to take over, until his parents have only one choice left. Shusterman’s latest novel gives readers a look at teen mental illness from inside the mind of Caden Bosch. He is a credible and sympathetic character, and his retreat into his own flawed mind is fascinating, full of riddles and surrealism. Shusterman based the novel on his son’s mental illness, and Brendan’s input regarding his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and psychiatric care makes the novel ring true. Teens, especially fans of the author’s other novels, will enjoy this book. This affecting deep dive into the mind of a schizophrenic will captivate readers, engender empathy for those with mental illnesses, and offer much fodder for discussion. — School Library Journal
Noelle Stevenson, Nimona
A not-so-bad villain fighting against a not-so-good hero teams up with a spunky shape-shifting heroine in a cleverly envisioned world.Nimona, a plucky, punk-tressed girl, is determined to be the sidekick of the nefarious (in name only) Ballister Blackheart, the sworn enemy of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and their sporran-sporting champion, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Blackheart, intrigued by Nimona’s moxie and ability to shape-shift, takes her on, and the two decide they’re going to take down the Institution. Nimona and Blackheart learn that the supposedly benevolent Institution has been hoarding a great quantity of a poisonous plant, jaderoot. As they delve deeper into its inner workings, they soon find that the lines that separate good and evil aren’t simply black and white. Stevenson’s world is fascinating: an anachronistic marvel that skillfully juxtaposes modern conventions against a medieval backdrop. Imbued with humor, her characters are wonderfully qu irky and play with many of the archetypes found in comics. The relationships among her characters are complex and compelling: for an antihero, Blackheart dislikes killing and mayhem, while Goldenloin is not averse to cheating and trickery. Stevenson’s portrayal of the relationship between good and evil is particularly ingenious, as is her attention to detail and adroit worldbuilding. If you’re going to read one graphic novel this year, make it this one. — Kirkus Reviews
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October 12, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Velveteen Vargas, usually known as Velvet, lives in Brooklyn. She goes to upstate New York as a Fresh Air Fund kid, and her sponsors there are Ginger and Paul.
Ginger is an artist recovering from addictions, and Paul, an academic ten years her senior, is also a recovering addict; but in the past he has been fairly faithful to the Alcoholics Anonymous program, whereas Ginger “couldn’t stand the meetings, couldn’t stand the language, the dogma.”
Mary Gaitskill’s novel The Mare, which is narrated by these three characters and a few others, is due to be published November 3rd. The title and the book cover let you know that Velvet becomes involved with horses while staying with Ginger and Paul.
The book seemed unbalanced to me, because I was so much more interested in Velvet’s life with the horses, and with people around the stable, than I was with Ginger and Paul, who bored me. I had to keep setting the novel aside. (Don’t be scared away, though. Kirkus Reviews loved the book, and I’ve reprinted their rave below.)
Velvet alone held my interest much of the time, with the bravery she shows in her neighborhood and her school and with her sometimes brutal mother. She deals as best she can with puberty, and feels compassion for some of the marginal figures around her.
I DON’T THINK THIS QUALIFIES AS A SPOILER, BUT IT MIGHT: The novel’s action moves toward a horsing event. The last hundred-and-some pages are quite gripping, as Velvet and Ginger and Paul and Velvet’s mom & brother and Fiery Girl–that’s Velvet’s name for her beloved mare–are brought together beautifully.
Any Gaitskill fan on your gift list will want this book.
Read the Kirkus review below. First, though, there’s Julie Bruck’s poem, which came from Poem-a-Day while I was reading The Mare. Be sure to scroll down for the whole poem, and click on more for Ms. Bruck’s comment about the poem.
A young Dominican girl from the mean streets of Brooklyn forges a relationship with a white woman living in a bucolic upstate town and learns to love horses and respect herself.Eleven-year-old Velvet has a soft name, but there’s nothing even remotely plush about her life in a rough part of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Abused (mostly, but not only, verbally) by her mother, a tough immigrant, Velvet has little to call her own (she keeps her treasured objects—a shell, a dried sea horse, a broken keychain doll—in an old cotton-ball box in the back of a closet) and few friends, almost no one she can trust. Velvet’s mother clearly prefers her 6-year-old son, Dante, singing him to sleep at night with her back to Velvet in the family’s shared bed. Instead of comfort and cuddles, Velvet gets the message that she’s “no good”—not that it’s really her fault; it’s just that her blood is bad. While Velvet craves her mother’s love and attention, Ginger, a 47-year-old sometime artist recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse, an abusive relationship, and the death of her troubled sister, finds herself yearning for a child. Now living a comfortable life in upstate New York with Paul, her college-professor husband, Ginger has decided to “test the waters” of adoption by hosting a Fresh Air Fund kid for a couple of weeks, a commitment that stretches far longer and deeper. That’s how Velvet and Ginger meet, and it’s also how Velvet meets a mistrustful and mistreated horse at the stable next door to Ginger’s house, the horse the others call “Fugly Girl” and she renames “Fiery Girl,” whom she will tame and train, and who will do the same for her. Alternating primarily between Velvet’s and Ginger’s perspectives, with occasional observations from other characters, National Book Award finalist Gaitskill takes a premise that could have been preachy, sentimental, or simplistic—juxtaposing urban and rural, rich and poor, young and o ld, brown and white—and makes it candid and emotionally complex, spare, real, and deeply affecting. Gaitskill explores the complexities of love (mares, meres…) to bring us a novel that gallops along like a bracing bareback ride on a powerful thoroughbred. — Kirkus Reviews
October 9, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Yes, I know, every year I say that a gift card from Indy Reads Books is the perfect holiday gift.
Can’t help myself. The store is so cool. I’m always seeing something new (or old) to read.
Someone on your list deserves one of these.
Remember what it says on the gift card:
A GIFT FOR YOU. AND FOR US.
You, the bearer of this card, are entitled to the designated worth of merchandise at Indy Reads Books.
And this gift is already working to support our adult literacy programs in Indianapolis.
Looks as if we all win.
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