From the Shelf
Beyond Pilgrim Hats and Cherry Trees
(photo: Andy Duback)
I grew up celebrating Thanksgiving with a construction-paper Pilgrim hat. I parroted that fake story about George Washington and the cherry tree. And I remember how betrayed I felt when I finally read a less whitewashed version of history. Why hadn't anyone told me? This was the spark behind the History Smashers series, which aims to undo some of the lies and myths we teach kids about history, and to portray heroes in a more honest light.
Last winter, I was having lunch with some second graders at a school. One boy told me how he loves the historical picture books his librarian shares, so I suggested one of my recent favorites, Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons by Gwendolyn Hooks and Simone Agoussoye.
"It's about a woman who was enslaved by George Washington but escaped and never got caught," I explained.
"Wait..." he said. "George Washington had slaves?"
I nodded. "He enslaved hundreds of people on his plantation in Virginia."
His eyes got big. "I thought George Washington was a good guy!"
"It's true that George Washington played a big role in the founding of America. He's honored for that," I said. "It's also true that he enslaved people. Lots of famous people from history did bad things as well as good things." I told him about History Smashers and the myths it would be deconstructing.
"Wow." He turned to his librarian. "Can you get us that series? And the book about the lady who escaped from George Washington?"
She nodded. "I already wrote them down."
I'm grateful that curious kid has a librarian who understands both young people and history. He deserves better than a construction-paper Pilgrim hat. All of our kids do. The true stories are important, and more interesting than cherry trees, anyway. --Kate Messner
Messner is the author of the History Smashers series, which launched with The Mayflower (reviewed below) and Women's Right to Vote (Random House, $7.99 each) this week.
In this Issue...
by Susan Wiggs
A family tragedy forces a career-driven woman to reevaluate her choices and embrace a deeper, richer life filled with new relationships and challenges.
At a time when girls weren't supposed to love science, curious young Marie Tharp found a way to follow her dreams and make significant geological contributions.
by John Fram
In this fresh thriller, the protagonist returns from New York City to his homophobic hometown in Texas to help his younger brother and ends up fighting layers of secrets and malevolence behind decades of violence.
Review by Subjects:
Frederick Douglass and Better Monuments
"Found: A letter from Frederick Douglass, about the need for better monuments." (via Atlas Obscura)
Apron, for example. Merriam-Webster looked up "9 words formed by mistakes."
"Summer reading is for adults, too," the New York Public Library noted.
"The risky journey that saved one of China's greatest literary treasures" was retraced by Time.
Pop quiz: "Can you match the fairy tale with its Spanish translation?" Mental Floss challenged.
Rediscover: Rise of the Warrior Cop
Recent protests against the murder of George Floyd and countless other unarmed black people by cops across the United States have renewed interest in a grim aspect of modern law enforcement: the militarization of police departments. Images of armored vehicles and officers wielding assault rifles in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown in 2014 sparked national outrage. A year prior to that, journalist Radley Balko released Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, which argues that the War on Drugs began a period of rapid expansion in police power with a corresponding decline in accountability. Balko traces the origins of policing to the ancient world, through the Middle Ages and into Colonial America. He interprets the Third Amendment, which forbids quartering soldiers in private homes, as prohibiting the military from engaging in domestic law enforcement (as later codified in the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act). Balko (also co-author of The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South) shows which policies led to the current state of police as occupying force, of the us-versus-them mentality that has resulted in rubber bullets fired at faces and chemical weapons deployed against peaceful protesters. Rise of the Warrior Cop is available in paperback from PublicAffairs ($17.99). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Susan Wiggs: The Bookshop, Purveyor of Dreams
|photo: Yvonne Wong|
In The Lost and Found Bookshop (Morrow, $27.99, reviewed below), Susan Wiggs explores the perils of owning a San Francisco bookstore. When a family tragedy forces marketing expert Natalie Harper to become the caretaker for the grandfather she adores, the family bookshop and the historical building that houses them both, she learns there's more to life than pursuing financial security. Wiggs lives on a Pacific Northwest island with her family.
Your heroine's journey from a practical yet dull existence to conquering a riskier but more fulfilling life drives this story. Did you choose this trajectory or did her character organically evolve as the story unfolded?
Yes, and yes! It's possible for both to be the case. I always start with a character facing a moment of profound change, either one that's thrust on her, or something she chooses. As readers will see from the prologue, Natalie definitely didn't choose this overwhelming life change.
And, then, if I did my job right, the character takes on a life of her own, and her evolution through the story is as moving and human as the story of a real person. Natalie was very real to me, and compelling to write about.
Could the story have been set elsewhere? Was there something about the San Francisco area that you felt was intrinsic to the story?
Again, yes and yes. On the one hand, I wanted to write about an independent bookstore in America, and you're right--it could have been anywhere, because there is no place in America that doesn't need a bookstore.
On the other hand, San Francisco was the only possible choice for me because of the secrets from the past, the ones that unfold as Natalie finds family artifacts hidden in the ancient building.
Which came first, the plot's fascinating historical details or the contemporary story? Might there be a historical novel in your writing future?
I was intrigued to learn that so many of the soldiers of the Spanish American War were deployed to the Philippines from San Francisco, and when they left, they sometimes left things behind, hidden away in the walls and basements of saloons.
I wove these details into her family history, and as I did so, the entire backstory emerged, fully formed. The story was fascinating to me, and so is that time period. So, yes, I can definitely see myself writing an entire novel set in the past.
Deepening the connection between Peach and Natalie through their mutual love of books contributes to the novel's lovely theme of books and booksellers. Have you always wanted to write a novel about a bookshop?
Always. Running a bookstore has been a fond fantasy of mine for a long time. Unfortunately, I don't have the skill set to do it in the real world, so Natalie is my avatar, creating a wonderful emporium that attracts readers (and converts nonreaders) from all over.
I love meeting people like Peach, unlikely readers who turn out to be amazingly well-read and intriguing.
Natalie cherishes her grandfather, and her concern for his age-connected medical problems is compelling. Can you tell us how you developed his character and their relationship?
This is probably the most personal aspect of the novel for me. I've been looking after my aging parents here in my town. My dad passed away with Parkinson's, and my mom, nearly 90, has numerous health issues, including early stage dementia.
To be honest, I've learned more from caring for my parents than any research has taught me, yet at the same time, books have been a source of knowledge and inspiration, and comfort me. As I watch her struggle with the simplest of everyday tasks, I connect with her reality. Sometimes just sitting on my patio, enjoying a cup of coffee while gazing at Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, is enough. The "garden" scenes in The Lost and Found Bookshop were definitely inspired by moments like this.
What's your writing process?
My writing habits were set before I could even read or write! Really. As a toddler, I used to scribble on paper and tell my mother, "Now, write this down..." And bless her, she did, and even saved some samples of my work. I was always desperate to get the story in my head onto paper.
Inspired by Harriet the Spy (one of my most influential books), I got in the habit of carrying a notebook wherever I went, so that's probably the root of my notebook obsession. As a schoolgirl in Europe, I became devoted to Clairefontaine notebooks, with ultra smooth paper and grid rule. And finally, as a leftie, I discovered one kind of fountain pen ink that dries instantly (so my sleeve doesn't get ruined as I drag my hand across the page), so I use turquoise Skrip ink.
It's quirky, but it works for me. Anne Tyler once said that writing by hand is like "knitting a book," an apt phrase for this!
As I move through my writing day, Barkis the doberman and Lenny the chihuahua are my shadows. They follow me around to all my favorite writing spots--a comfy chair by the fire in winter, the sunny patio in the summer, or the secluded loft of my husband's design atelier, which is where I go to escape the distractions of everyday life.
Every writer I know struggles with distraction. We love our stories, but there always seems to be something pulling us away from our work. It's a constant push-pull. Right now, I'm desperate to get back to reading Glendon Doyle's Untamed, but I need to get back to my work-in-progress!
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
My first novel was published in 1987. That's astonishing to me, when I realize writing has been such an enduring force in my life. How have I been able to build this career? This life?
The answer is in The Lost and Found Bookshop. The booksellers--the purveyors of dream--have brought my books to readers, year after year. I'm profoundly grateful for that.
What's next? American Princess, coming in 2021. It's the story of an overprivileged woman discovering that her privilege is actually a prison, and it takes a radical change in her life to put her on the right path. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
The Lost and Found Bookshop
by Susan Wiggs
In a wonderful paean to booksellers everywhere, Susan Wiggs (The Beekeeper's Ball; Return to Willow Lake) transports readers to the vibrant, colorful city of San Francisco. Here, a shocking tragedy has brought Natalie home to the family bookshop, housed in a crumbling historical building, and to the grandfather she adores. She hires a restoration expert, Peach Gallagher, to shore up the charming old building. He shares her love of books, is surprisingly well-read and has a precocious young daughter. Soon, both Peach and his daughter become vital to Natalie's life, particularly since her grandfather returns their affection and friendship. Her once quiet, work-driven life is suddenly filled with people who are becoming more important to her with each passing day.
With her grandfather's health failing, the bookstore's finances on life support and the historical building needing many repairs, Natalie searches desperately for a plan to save them all. Her grandfather refuses to sell the building, which has been in his family for generations. A solution to her problems seems within her grasp, however, when Peach's repair work to the structure's walls produces some startling discoveries. Natalie can only hope the bookshop's secrets from the past will save the building's future.
The Lost and Found Bookshop is an excellent story that resonates on multiple levels. Its rich variety of engaging characters live within a vivid San Francisco tapestry. The characters drive the outstanding plot, with intriguing historical mystery elements layered into the contemporary story. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: A family tragedy forces a career-driven woman to reevaluate her choices and embrace a deeper, richer life filled with new relationships and challenges.
22 Minutes of Unconditional Love
by Daphne Merkin
Early on in 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love by Daphne Merkin (This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression), the narrator--a writer and a married woman who's pregnant with her second child--says this from her perch in the early 2000s: "I've been meaning to write this book for years.... It's for myself, of course, that I tell it but also for all of you who have stumbled into this kind of twisted love--love indistinct from obsession--and reeled from its force."
The narrator proceeds to rehash an episode in the life of her admitted alter ego, a woman she calls Judith Stone, an editor at a Manhattan publishing house. One night at a party in the early 1990s, Judith meets Howard Rose, a criminal lawyer. Judith and Howard skip dating and go straight to sex. Howard is physically and verbally domineering in bed--"Do I own you now?" is one of his choicer lines--and he's cold and cruel to Judith out of the sack. It's not that she doesn't see the problem with "the spell he cast on her and her willingness to fulfill his every whim, concubine-like"; she keeps pursuing Howard because she likes the kind of sex they're having and entertains a hope that he will grow to love her.
Readers may consider Merkin's novel a fascinating look at human psychology, especially if they are intrigued by the notion of sadomasochism and admire Dr. Freud. As for those who find 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love's masochistic protagonist tough to take, they will nevertheless likely appreciate the book's vigorous prose and structural intricacy. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In Daphne Merkin's erotically charged novel, a narrator tells a story of sexual obsession involving her alter ego, a masochistic younger woman.
Mystery & Thriller
The Bright Lands
by John Fram
John Fram carves quite a niche with his debut, The Bright Lands, a gothic football thriller steeped in LGBTQ+ themes, all snuggled under an umbrella of supernatural horror. Sounding like an impossible camp mash-up, The Bright Lands admirably lives up to Fram's "Stephen Queen" moniker. The nickname breeds curiosity, and the work stands on its own.
Texas is about God and football, not necessarily in that order. Joel Whitley lives a successful, openly gay life in New York, escaping the small town of Bentley 10 years ago after suffering a public homophobic ambush. His younger brother, Dylan, is currently team quarterback with a million-dollar arm, poised to give the Bentley Bison a state championship. Football towns are notoriously solicitous of star athletes (as they chew them up and discard them) and Joel heads back to the "rotten rind of a town" when Dylan surprisingly says he wants out.
Then Dylan disappears and Joel finds strange goings-on in Bentley--money, drugs, secret weekend trips, cover-ups, set-ups and whispers of a mysterious place called the Bright Lands. To uncover the horrific truth, he'll need to face sheriff's deputy Starsha Clark, his first and final girlfriend, whose brother Troy also disappeared from Bentley when Joel did, never to be seen again. There's "nothing quite like the smell of Texas in the hours before some fresh calamity," and Fram cooks up some strong Southern aromas as Joel, Starsha and a few surprising characters join forces to uncover the evils behind generations of Bentley tragedies. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: In this fresh thriller, the protagonist returns from New York City to his homophobic hometown in Texas to help his younger brother and ends up fighting layers of secrets and malevolence behind decades of violence.
Of Mutts and Men
by Spencer Quinn
Fans of Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie mystery series know what to expect by now: wry humor, crime-solving smarts, and the occasional detour in pursuit of cats or Slim Jims by canine narrator Chet. The series' 10th installment, Of Mutts and Men, combines these familiar elements with a slightly unusual case: the murder of a hydrologist who may have had valuable information about local water sources. Chet follows the case with Bernie Little, a thoughtful private investigator, through multiple dry washes, while also exploring new territory in Bernie's personal life.
Quinn (Heart of Barkness; A Fistful of Collars) has mastered the art of giving his readers valuable information through Chet's decidedly non-human perspective. The Little Detective Agency, as Chet often notes, is in great shape "except for the finances part," due in some measure to a storage unit packed with Hawaiian-print pants. Chet also observes, though he doesn't always understand, Bernie's interactions with multiple suspects and lawyers (not mutually exclusive), a reconnection with an old flame and a rare congenial afternoon sipping wine with his ex-wife's new husband. All of these clues--plus a midnight detour to Mexico, a small vineyard perched in a strange place and Chet's always-reliable sense of smell--combine to create a twisty, highly satisfying case for Chet and Bernie. (This one might even be lucrative, for a change.) Quinn's fast-paced narration and Chet's fresh, funny take on the human and canine worlds also make Of Mutts and Men a solid entry in this entertaining series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: The 10th Chet and Bernie mystery brings canine humor and crime-solving smarts to the complicated murder of a hydrologist.
One Last Lie
by Paul Doiron
"Never trust a man without secrets" is the puzzling advice Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch receives from longtime friend and mentor Charley Stevens before Mike heads to Florida for a job applicant background check. The applicant had secrets. Mike tags along on a tremendous python hunt (with Stacey, former girlfriend and Charley's daughter) before having to race home when he learns Charley has secrets, too, and has disappeared. Charley's wife, Ora, doesn't want Stacey to know, adding to Mike's already complicated emotions surrounding Stacey and his current girlfriend, Dani.
Accustomed to tracking poachers, Mike has to hunt the man who taught him everything he knows. He traces Charley to a crafts fair where he argued with a man about a Depression-era game warden badge on his sale table. Tracking the badge leads to an old case involving the murder of an undercover warden whose body was never found. Charley was heavily involved in the violent case, including the death of the alleged killer. As Mike closes in and Charley behaves more like someone he doesn't recognize, the tension between solving the case and potentially losing a hero is gut twisting.
One Last Lie, Paul Doiron's 11th Mike Bowditch mystery, is a triumph for aficionados and newcomers alike. The secrets, old and new, are compelling, and Doiron's landscape imagery is perfectly balanced (as is the literary history). The people and relationships beautifully elevate from that foundation. Trust, friendship, love, faith and how the family we choose holds powerful sway is at the heart of this impressive series entry. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Game Warden Mike Bowditch searches for his missing father figure, who has kept secrets about the long-ago murder of an undercover warden and the death of the poacher presumed to have killed him.
One to Watch
by Kate Stayman-London
In Kate Stayman-London's smart, snappy first novel, One to Watch, a lovable and complex heroine sets out to bring an extra dash of "real" to reality television but could lose her heart in the process.
Thirty-year-old plus-size fashionista Bea Schumacher's style blog OMBea clocks millions of views per month, and half a million followers keep up with her on Instagram. One night, after watching the season premiere of America's favorite reality dating show The Main Squeeze, Bea writes a snarkily passionate blog post calling the show out for its " 'appalling' lack of racial diversity, its 'perplexing' erasure of queerness, and... its 'abject refusal to include any woman who wears above a size 4.' " When the post strikes a nerve and goes viral, the show's newly promoted executive producer Lauren recruits Bea as the next Main Squeeze, the sought-after love interest of 25 eligible men.
While The Main Squeeze is transparently patterned after ABC's iconic franchise The Bachelor, complete with hometown dates and fantasy suites, this rom-com is no simple work of fan fiction. Stayman-London tells her story from inside and out, through Bea's point of view combined with realistic blog and tabloid articles, tweets and online fan group conversations. Bea's journey shines a bright spotlight on the treatment of plus-size women in fashion, entertainment and social media, but the character shows beautifully that women are more than their dress sizes. Creative, intelligent and vulnerable, Bea brings depth and emotion to a story purposely set in a shallow environment. Whether readers loathe or adore reality TV, this unconventional love story deserves the final rose. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A plus-size fashion blogger takes a reality dating show by storm in this funny, romantic debut.
by Alexis Hall
Alexis Hall's Boyfriend Material is the sort of romantic comedy that would translate well to film, but achieves a level of depth, intimacy and character development not possible within the constraints of that medium. Hall (Pansies) pairs Luc, the tabloid-fodder son of aging rock stars, with Oliver, an uptight barrister, when each needs a fake boyfriend for a few weeks. Luc needs to rehab his image for his development work for a dung beetle nonprofit, and Oliver needs a date for his parents' anniversary party. A mutual friend sets them up, despite their disastrous meeting a couple of years earlier.
So begins a series of awkward dates, joke-filled text exchanges and mini-breakdowns as Luc sorts out his trust and intimacy problems. Hall deftly balances heavier plot points such as the reappearance of Luc's absentee father and Luc's past disastrous relationship with abundant humor. This is a deeply funny book, especially for fans of situational and British humor, but it's also a love story so endearing and believable that readers will alternate among laughing, grimacing at Luc's self-sabotage and sighing happily.
Both men have complicated histories with relationships, so while they are physically intimate with each other fairly early on, it takes longer to build a foundation of trust and love. Boyfriend Material's very few sex scenes fade to black and Hall emphasizes emotional connection and vulnerability.
This novel is as funny as it is romantic, making it the perfect book for readers who need a pick-me-up. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: This British romantic comedy is packed with situational humor, banter and the full spectrum of messy feelings.
Daring and the Duke
by Sarah MacLean
High adventure, intrigue and passionate romance inhabit Sarah MacLean's third and final entry in the Bareknuckle Bastards series (after Brazen and the Beast). It can be read as a stand-alone tale although readers will surely want to explore all three.
Grace and Ewan fell in love during their dangerous, violent childhood, but were torn apart by the schemes of a manipulative duke. Grace fled to London with two friends, where they built formidable reputations as the Bareknuckle Bastards, with fists and raw courage, on the rough streets of Covent Garden. Years later, the three have become the most powerful people in their corner of the world. Grace now owns an exclusive women's club and is the acknowledged Queen of the Garden. She's powerful, rich and fears nothing--except the unshakeable mix of love, anger and need for revenge she feels for Ewan.
Now known as the Mad Duke of Marwick, Ewan has never forgotten Grace, either, and has come to London to claim her. Grace doesn't trust him, for his betrayal left deep scars on her heart. He hates himself for having hurt her and will do anything necessary to stand by her side once more. But can a duke of the realm find happiness with a queen of the dark side of London?
This rousing finale to an excellent series has intense emotional drama, hot romance, fierce fight scenes--and an ending that will leave readers cheering. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: In this intense series finale, a reputedly mad duke and a dangerous woman find love and forgiveness in 1830s London.
The Devil of Downtown
by Joanna Shupe
Joanna Shupe (The Rogue of Fifth Avenue) wraps up the stellar Uptown Girls series with a satisfying stand-alone tale set in the late 19th century. Social do-gooder Justine Greene, daughter of a Park Avenue magnate, makes a deal with the devil when she asks a favor of Jack Mulligan, rich and sophisticated Bowery crime king. Despite the social gulf between them, Jack is intrigued by the beautiful heiress who defends and champions the poor. In his own way, Jack does the same, and the two become unlikely allies.
Stubbornly independent, Justine chafes under her family's demands that she comply with elite Knickerbocker society rules. Her sisters' and grandmother's warnings that her father will never accept Jack aren't ignored, but Justine is fascinated by the handsome, ineligible man. They repeatedly find themselves crossing paths due to her work with the tenement residents, and the heated attraction between them grows with each interaction. Secretly, Jack has plans to shift away from criminal activity to legitimate business. His world is still very dangerous, however, and Justine's involvement with him threatens her safety.
When a vengeful deadbeat husband seeks revenge against Justine, and a competitor for Jack's criminal empire attempts a takeover, the Bowery explodes with violence. Jack has controlled the dangerous streets for years, but this time, he might not live to save the woman he loves. Justine's fierce courage, however, might just save them both.
Witty dialogue, compelling characters and a plot layered with honorable goals, nefarious plans, danger and hot romance combine to create an excellent novel. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: In this compelling romance, an uptown princess meets a downtown crime lord, and their unlikely alliance changes their lives forever.
Biography & Memoir
The Heart and Other Monsters
by Rose Andersen
What essayist and short fiction writer Rose Andersen knows about her sister Sarah's death is this: "She died of an overdose in her bathroom. She was dead for four days before her body was found. Her dog spent those four days trying to claw and bite his way through the bathroom door.... The police thought she had accidentally OD'd." What Andersen believes began surfacing through rumors shortly after Sarah's death: the overdose wasn't accidental; Sarah was a "loose end" that required tying up.
In her poignant and distressing memoir, The Heart and Other Monsters, Andersen recounts her Herculean efforts to "resurrect" her sister via diaries, e-mail hacking, newspaper clippings, record reviews and raw reflection on a shared family history replete with suicide, betrayal, addiction and abuse. Their father was, among other detrimental things, emotionally abusive (calling Sarah "Piggy" and both girls "fat and lazy"), helping drive each to self-harm only Rose would overcome. Sarah "wanted a father, even if that father was a drunk or mean.... She wanted to be loved."
As Andersen relays their excruciating paths, parallel yet divergent, she begins to merge facts about violent men, murders and dismemberment in "Small Town," ultimately tangentially connecting them to her sister. Written as though there is blood and heroin in her pen, Andersen blames herself for not saving her sister from the "great shadowy monsters." The Heart and Other Monsters is a biography, cautionary tale and murder mystery, masterfully blended with a memoir burdened by grief and guilt for crimes committed by others. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: An older sibling shares her story of addiction and recovery, marred by family trauma and persistent guilt because she couldn't save her sister.
Children's & Young Adult
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret
by Jess Keating , illust. by Katie Hickey
Zoologist Jess Keating (Pink Is for Blobfish) dives deep into the geological contributions of the curious, tenacious Marie Tharp, who struggled to display her scientific acumen in a time when women "were not supposed to dream of becoming scientists or explorers." Keating's reverent treatment of her subject, coupled with Katie Hickey's (Lumber Jills) spirited illustrations, results in a splendid homage to one of the science world's great thinkers.
As a child growing up in the 1920s, Marie's inquisitiveness and exploration were encouraged by her father but, as she got older, she realized that the world at large didn't believe girls belonged in scientific jobs. Timing, however, worked in Marie's favor: a war took men away from the very jobs she coveted, presenting the opportunity for Marie to prove her mettle mapping the ocean floor. While Keating shares how sexism hindered Marie, she emphasizes the ways this brilliantly creative woman continued following her dreams, "Instead of the vast, open ocean, she dove into her tiny, cramped office.... Marie mapped point, after point, after point.... Soon, Marie wasn't in her office anymore. She was an explorer on the ocean floor." Hickey's playfully quaint watercolor and digital art harmonizes with Keating's words, and the scowling men juxtaposed against a jubilant Marie sends an inspiring message to young dreamers: don't let anything stand in your way.
Ocean Speaks celebrates determination and ingenuity; it celebrates dreams and accomplishments; and most of all it celebrates a curious little girl who became a talented, resourceful woman, leaving a permanent impression on the scientific world. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: At a time when girls weren't supposed to love science, curious young Marie Tharp found a way to follow her dreams and make significant geological contributions.
History Smashers: The Mayflower
by Kate Messner , illust. by Dylan Meconis
Kate Messner (Chirp; The Brilliant Deep) has an intuitive understanding of how to present materials to children in a way that is entertaining, edifying and always aimed directly at them. Messner brings her talent, her respect for the child reader and thorough research to the History Smashers series. Combined with the illustrations and comic panels of Dylan Meconis (Queen of the Sea), The Mayflower is as funny and silly as it is educational and fascinating.
"Imagine a high school basketball court cut in half the long way. Now imagine living in that space for a little over two months with 101 people... all of your stuff, and also some cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, and goats. Welcome to the Mayflower." Extensive backmatter shows Messner's sources for this fluid retelling of the Separatists' path--from England to Holland and eventually across the Atlantic--to becoming the Pilgrims of Plymouth. (Though they were supposed to land in Virginia.) Special attention is given to the Wampanoag people, who had lived in the area for "more than twelve thousand years" when the Separatists showed up. Messner holds no punches in explaining the history of colonialism and the falsehood that has come to be known as "the first Thanksgiving." Meconis's black-and-white illustrations and comic panels are full of action, her loose black line and figures effectively finding a balance between comic art and accurate historical representation. Her illustrations make Messner's text all the more dynamic, creating a history book for middle-graders that should be on everyone's (child and adult) to-read list. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Kate Messner and Dylan Meconis present a true history of the Mayflower for middle-graders that is both edifying and entertaining.
Cinderella Is Dead
by Kalynn Bayron
A fairy-tale legacy receives a creative dystopian twist in the YA fantasy Cinderella Is Dead, Kalynn Bayron's debut novel.
It has been 200 years since Cinderella attended that fateful ball, and her story can be found in every household in the kingdom. But the result is not fairy-tale charm: instead, the kingdom is a harsh oligarchy that imposes laws restricting women's rights in honor of "dutiful, faithful" Cinderella. Sixteen-year-old Sophia is outspoken and opinionated and seeks to make her own way in the world. Plus, she would "much rather find a princess than a prince." But freedom is elusive in a land where "the founding tenet of our laws is that women... are at the mercy of the fickle whims of men." At King Manford's mandatory annual ball (where suitors bid on young women for marriage), Sophia escapes into the forest, where she discovers Constance, a trained freedom fighter and a descendant of Cinderella's not-so-evil stepsisters. As Sophia's awe of Constance kindles into something stronger, they plot to take down the patriarchy, uncovering sinister secrets and shattering any preconceived notions of Cinderella's supposed happily ever after.
Cinderella Is Dead is a queer dystopian fantasy that questions written history and societal expectations. Through her idealism, Sophia understands the complexity of their situation, though not all of Bayron's inclusive cast of characters have the tenacity of her protagonist; some, fearing for their lives, deny their own identity in the hope of survival. Overarching themes of acceptance and equality give additional weight to a plot filled with dark magic and revolution as Sophia and Constance strive to write their own story in a world that tells them their very existence is wrong. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Cinderella's story is turned on its head in this queer dystopian fantasy YA that imagines the life of young women 200 years after the original happily ever after.