From the Shelf
Black Excellence in Comics
Black cartoonists like Jackie Ormes, George Herriman and Ollie Harrington paved the way for the diverse voices and perspectives in today's comics, and the myriad styles in which Black artists practice their craft.
Illustrator James Otis Smith worked with Ted Fox graphically to adapt Fox's 1983 Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem's Legendary Theater (Abrams ComicArts, $18.99). Smith's evocative shades of nightclub blue bring to life Fox's sprawling history of the Apollo Theater and its many legendary performers. The neon marquees that punctuate each chapter, announcing Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Prince, Chris Rock and Jay-Z, remind readers that behind one of the country's foremost cultural institutions is American history itself.
From Harlem, Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie take us to 1978 Yopougon, the working-class section of Abidjan. During this postcolonial era, the Ivory Coast flourished and its illustrious capital, Abidjan, was an international destination, and both a playground and place of promise for its inhabitants. In Aya: Life in Yop City (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95), readers see in the protagonist Aya an image of her own ascendant nation: anchored by tradition, yet curious to see all that lies beyond its bounds. Readers who pick it up might find parallels between the youthful antics of Aya, Adjoua and Bintou and many Western coming-of-age stories. Aya: Life in Yop City perhaps most closely finds an analogue as a West African Sex and the City, wherein young women contend with the pitfalls and rewards of love, friendship, and adulthood.
Bttm Fdrs (Fantagraphics, $24.99) by Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore confronts the darker realities of urban life in a surreal neon palette. As slumlords build luxury condos in historically Black neighborhoods, a seemingly self-propelling force of slime emerges from every drain, toilet and cellar. Daniels and Passmore's social commentary on gentrification in the not-for-the-squeamish style of David Cronenberg brings a dark comedy to the country's urgent housing crisis.
In this Issue...
by TJ Klune
A gay teen with ADHD seeks to find his place among real-life superheroes.
by Kelli Jo Ford
In this splendid novel-in-stories, a multi-generational family of Cherokee women work to break painful cycles in their lives.
by S.A. Cosby
Noir moves out of the city and into rural Virginia in this high-octane thriller centered on a Black mechanic forced by mounting debt to take part in a diamond heist.
Review by Subjects:
Magical Facts About the Magic School Bus
Video: "A Traveler's Guide to Westeros, Episode 1: The North."
Author Matthew Kneale chose his "top 10 books about tumultuous times" for the Guardian.
"Thoreau was actually funny as hell," Lit Hub promised.
"Explore the beautiful pages of the 1902 Japanese design magazine Shin-Bijutsukai," Open Culture invited.
Rediscover: John Lewis
John Lewis, the civil rights icon and longtime representative called the "conscience of the Congress," died on Friday at age 80. A speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, one of the first Freedom Riders, and a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he was best known as the leader of the voting rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, when he was brutally beaten by state troopers--a scene repeated on television that helped passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law several months later.
He told his story and the history of the civil rights movement in several books, including Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (1998), Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change (2012), Wake Up America 1960-1963 with Andrew Aydin (2015), Civil Rights and the Promise of Equality (2015) and Run: Book One with Andrew Aydin (2018). The most enduring and powerful of his books was the series March, done in graphic novel form, with Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell and published by Top Shelf Productions. In 2016, March: Book Three became the first graphic novel to receive a National Book Award. The entire trilogy is available as a slipcased set ($49.99).
The Writer's Life
Kelli Jo Ford: Dreaming the Impossible
|photo: Val Ford Hancock|
Even before Kelli Jo Ford's debut, Crooked Hallelujah (Grove, $26, reviewed below), was released, it garnered accolades: the seventh chapter, "Hybrid Vigor," won the Paris Review's Plimpton Prize in 2019, and Ford's pre-publication manuscript won the 2019 Everett Southwest Literary Award from the University of Central Oklahoma. Ford is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and her #OwnVoices novel-in-interlinked-stories offers a narrative featuring multiple generations of a matriarchal Cherokee family. Ford lives in Virginia with her husband, the poet Scott Weaver, and daughter.
Some of the chapters from Crooked Hallelujah were previously published individually. When did you know this would be a novel-in-stories?
I think for a while I was writing stories as they came, one after another. But they were all clearly coming from the same place. The longer I followed that trail, the more I realized I was telling a larger story. I think novel-in-stories became clear fairly early on. It was very important that each story/chapter stands up individually as its own complete movement.
Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine probably had/has such a profound influence on me that all I really imagined doing was creating this place and these people and telling the story of both. To me, Love Medicine is the perfect work of fiction. That is the book that I kept going back to over and over, in terms of dreaming the impossible.
The matriarchal family in which you were raised is not unlike the multi-generations in your book. How much of your own background is infused into your characters?
I had powerful women figures in my life from the time I was born. The book is fictional, but I took great inspiration from the strength of the women who raised me. And in the ways that we are bound to one another, despite our failures. I was born into a household (not literally! I was born in the Indian Hospital in Tahlequah, Okla.) of four generations of women. My great-grandmother was my rock. My mom was young and brash and strong and determined to give me a better life. My grandmother is a strong woman who is driven and guided and saved by her religion. You can look at that and see my life. But then I also created characters who get to make their own mistakes and find their own love and adventures. It's a fine line. And a hard one to explain to loved ones! I am still protected by gracious, strong women who only want me to succeed.
Have any of these women read your book?
I have asked my mom to read it almost every step of the way. And that was hard. It's hard to feel like you think you recognize some aspect of yourself or your life in a book. And perhaps it's even harder when the book is a work of fiction, so the characters are also, by the nature of making a story work, behaving in ways that obviously feel like NOT you. But my mom is incredibly proud of the work I've done. She has, I believe, pre-ordered 15 copies. Now that I'm a mom, I have some sense of the kind of love it takes to be so proud of your kid and to encourage them to follow their dreams, even if those dreams may hurt a little or a lot.
Reney has to leave to claim her individuality and find a sense of peace. What does that say about her place in her Native community?
I think when Justine and Reney first leave the Cherokee Nation, that is an act of survival. Justine sees the life she is making for Reney and understands that something drastic has to happen. I am not sure Reney ever really knows what her place is in the Native community. She is Cherokee and knows she is Cherokee. To her, being Cherokee is being raised in a multi-generational family of strong Cherokee women, being in their protection. Maybe she's Choctaw, too, in some kind of way. But she doesn't really know what any of it means, especially as she gets older and is separated from the Cherokee Nation by miles and years. She's searching for connection.
Might we see Reney again in another book?
I am not sure! I have had visions of what Justine does not long after the book ends, that her mama instinct would kick in if she felt unsure of Reney's well-being. Of course, if there is ever to be more of Justine's story, Reney would be there, too.
Religion provides both solace and suppression here. Does your family ever discuss the horrific history of Christianity-fueled abuse, especially in the government-sanctioned schools? Did you grow up with a strong faith? Is that faith a part of your adult life?
In terms of my family of three, with my daughter and husband, yes, we have talked about the role of Christianity in the history of this country and the part it played in genocide. I'm not sure I've talked much with the rest of my family. Probably with my mom, but not with family members who are strongly religious. I grew up in and around the Holiness church, like Reney did in the book. I feel like I got to glimpse the religion and see some of the beauty of the great faith. But religion wasn't forced upon me. I didn't have to rebel against it to free myself, as Justine did in the book. I don't claim a faith now. I pull deeply from Christianity because that's what I know. I pull from the Zen tradition. And I find a lot of what I need in nature. But I don't have a faith with a capital F.
#OwnVoices activism continues to change the publishing world. Do you ever feel pressure to be a representative of "your people," of BIPOC literary voices?
No! But mostly because I would make a terrible representative. I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I am proud of that. I am proud of who I come from. But I live a long ways away from the Cherokee Nation. I didn't grow up hearing our songs at stomp dances. I wish I did, but I got to grow at the feet of my great-grandmother, sleeping beneath a pew on a pallet, hearing tambourines and Holiness shouting.
I don't want any of us to carry the weight of being representative of our people. That's not fair. We should get to tell stories that reflect our experiences, whatever they are. There isn't only one way to be Native or write a Native story. The literary world seems to be opening up more. I'm excited about a lot of authors right now, people like Erika T. Wurth, Brandon Hobson, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Andrea L. Rogers, Tiffany Midge, Rebecca Roanhorse, Terese Mailhot, Tommy Orange. Other Native authors continue to do the amazing work they've always done: Susan Power, David Treuer, Stephen Graham Jones, Louise Erdrich. It's a rich, exciting time in Native Lit, and I'm hoping more doors will open for BIPOC writers.
And we can't disappoint your groupies--what can we next expect?
I have a rough start for a novel about a mother and daughter who get mixed up with a fundamentalist sect in Northeast Oklahoma. I think I'll always write about mothers and daughters and faith, too. It's too early to say much, but I'm interested in exploring the intersection of fundamentalist Christianity and white supremacist militias, which in this case happens to take place in the Cherokee Nation.
Thank you for asking about new work. It's good to think about and makes me want to get back in it! --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
by Kelli Jo Ford
Kelli Jo Ford, whose fiction has already earned several prizes, including the Paris Review Plimpton Prize, makes a magnificent #OwnVoices novel debut with Crooked Hallelujah.
In 1974, 15-year-old Justine lives in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma with her aging Granny and embittered mother, Lula. Almost seven years ago, Justine's father delivered his family to Beulah Springs Holiness Church for service and vanished: "Lula held herself together with a religion so stifling and frightening that Justine... never knew if she was fighting against her mother or God himself." Her first act of rebellion--sneaking out to meet an older boy--ends in rape. The traumatized, silenced teen gives birth to Reney, sealing their symbiotic relationship for life: "Mom was my sun and my moon," Reney later observes.
In the decades that follow, Justine works hard to break the cycle of abandonment and neglect for Reney. Despite floundering relationships with useless men, Justine eventually marries Pitch, whom she can't live without--no matter how many times they leave each other. Justine and Reney move to Texas, where Reney settles into a ready-made family, finding comfort and support in Pitch's family's farm, most especially with Pitch's debilitated mother, another forsaken woman, although she's still married to his philandering father. As Reney matures, she seems doomed to repeat her mother's mistakes but eventually finds the strength to drive far, far away.
A citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Ford adroitly, affectingly weaves Indigenous history into her spellbinding narrative, exposing displacement, cultural erasure and socioeconomic disparity. The interlinked story structure allows for an intriguing, vast cast, without losing sight of Justine and Reney. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In this splendid novel-in-stories, a multi-generational family of Cherokee women work to break painful cycles in their lives.
by S.A. Cosby
Aficionados of good noir have certain expectations: a moral dilemma, a crime, a double cross, a chase and wittily blunt dialogue, all unfolding against a pitiless landscape. S.A. Cosby's unforgettable Blacktop Wasteland has all that, but it doesn't play out in the genre's customary white metropolis. The novel revolves around a Black family living in Virginia's Red Hill County--"no one's destination," as lifelong resident Beauregard Montage puts it.
Things aren't going well for Beauregard. The garage he owns with his cousin is losing customers to a new (white-owned) shop. He's got a mother in a nursing home that needs to be paid, a kid who needs braces, another who needs glasses and still another who won't make it out of Red Hill if Beauregard can't cover her fall college tuition. He's been flying right for a while now: five years in juvie will do that, plus he wants to do better for his kids than his long-absent father did for him. But when Beauregard is invited to be the getaway driver in a diamond heist in another county, does he really have a choice?
Blacktop Wasteland starts with a car chase, and Cosby (My Darkest Prayer) never takes his foot off the accelerator. He's a natural storyteller and a nimble writer (one character is "as useful as a white crayon"). And Cosby works the magic performed by only the best noir scribes: somehow he gets readers to root for the protagonist as he commits a crime. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Noir moves out of the city and into rural Virginia in this high-octane thriller centered on a Black mechanic forced by mounting debt to take part in a diamond heist.
Age of Consent
by Amanda Brainerd
Amanda Brainerd's debut novel, Age of Consent, is a bracing, full-throttle dive into female coming-of-age in 1980s New York City. Justine grew up in New Haven with well-meaning, artistic parents who were often distracted by trying to keep their avant-garde theater afloat. Eve, in contrast, grew up with an overbearing mother on Park Avenue. The two become close friends while stuck in a preppy Connecticut boarding school. They long for the future lives they envision for themselves in New York City. But when they have the opportunity to spend a summer living and interning there, the experience changes them in ways they could not have imagined.
As haunting and nostalgic as a sepia-toned photograph, Age of Consent captures a fascinating era. From the cocaine-fueled art scene to the hangover-hazy Hamptons, the world that Brainerd conjures is one defined both by lingering old-world glamour and crippling new-world carelessness. Poised at this crumbling intersection, Justine and Eve encapsulate the bittersweet desperation of young adulthood; as their desires reach new peaks, they are continually disillusioned. While their experiences at boarding school develop them as vulnerable but strong young women, their exploration of the complex social world of Manhattan reveals the uncomfortable truths behind the imagined lives they have constructed. Readers will enjoy the whiplash pace even as--like the novel's characters who become increasingly numb to the thrill--they yearn to pump the brakes before it's too late. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Age of Consent reveals the vulnerable, human heart at the center of a place and time cloaked in addiction, neglect and regret.
Mystery & Thriller
by Zoje Stage
The anxiety of isolation and change takes menacing form in Wonderland by Zoje Stage.
Orla was facing challenges before the first signs something supernatural was happening. At the age of 41, she has retired from the ballet and agreed that it is her husband Shaw's turn to pursue art. But instead of leaving New York City for a smaller, more affordable city, as she had imagined, they and their two young children are moving to a remote house in the woods. "Orla tried not to think of it as an amputation, but that's how it felt."
Shaw has found his calling in painting surreal nature scenes, and their family has gone from a one-bedroom apartment in a crowded city to an old wooden farmhouse. Bizarre things begin to happen with the weather, and what has been calling to Shaw and, to a lesser extent, to their daughter Eleanor Queen, might be something more sinister than his metaphorical muse.
As Stage gave form to the harsher experiences of motherhood in her first thriller, Baby Teeth, here she masterfully depicts an unknown force that embodies the oppressive tension that can come with being trapped with one's family, cut off from the rest of society. Its release in the context of worldwide quarantine and stay-at-home orders during the Covid-19 pandemic is eerily timely, but Orla has much worse demons to face than the ones inside the mind. This story of domestic challenges and mounting horror will please fans of Shirley Jackson. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A family's struggle to adjust to an isolated home in the woods becomes something far darker when mysterious forces inhabit their land in this gripping suspense story.
by Jen Waite
"There are some stories that don't need to be told." Anne keeps secret the story of her daughter's father in order to protect Thea. But Thea is now 12 and the Internet is a powerful tool. For reasons unknown to Anne, Thea has recently changed into a volatile preteen, her relationship with Anne strained by deceit. Since Thea is tight with Anne's mother, Rose, Anne schedules a girls' getaway to a remote cabin, hoping to reconnect. There, the past fractures the present, threatening the lives of all three women.
Jen Waite is infinitely qualified to write about psychopaths, having shared the story of her former marriage in a courageous memoir, A Beautiful, Terrible Thing. Waite now folds her experience into a novel, Survival Instincts, focusing on the lengths to which mothers will go to protect their children. Starting "Four Days Before the Cabin," Waite alternates timelines and points of view as Anne, Rose and Thea head to the cabin. Meanwhile, an unidentified man spins a tale of violence as he goes on the hunt.
Waite deftly dips into the past to fill out the framework of her characters and ultimately connect the women to "The Man." Satisfying turns and surprises highlight the narrative, which, despite some extraneous exposition, remains tense and quickly paced. Waite keeps readers invested in each woman, despite their human faults and wrong turns, and everyone will wish they had a grandmother like Rose. Waite's fiction debut is an intense story of women doing what it takes to survive. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Three generations of women fight for survival in a remote location as the secrets of the past come back to haunt them.
Biography & Memoir
In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida
by Kent Russell
If Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion had produced a literary offspring, a young man whose older brother was Bill Bryson, his writing might sound something like Kent Russell's. That's the spirit that infuses In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida, Russell's entertaining, often deeply reflective portrait of his uneasy relationship with his native state, a place he calls "Hothouse America, a microcosm or synecdoche of the larger nation."
In late August 2016, the Miami-born journalist (I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son), along with his friends Glenn, a Canadian documentary film producer, and Noah, an Iraq War Marine veteran and fellow Floridian, embarked on a daunting journey, attempting to re-create the 1,000-mile walking campaign of former governor and senator Lawton Chiles in 1970. The goal, as Russell enthusiastically envisioned it, was to produce the "grandest, funniest, most far-ranging, depth-plumbing, tear-jerking, je-ne-sais-quoi-capturing work of art ever to emerge from the rank morasses and mirage metropolises of our beloved home!"
If they don't quite pull off that feat, the resulting account of their shambling odyssey on foot through America's "most dangerous pedestrian state" will more than suffice. Love it or loathe it, the third most populous state occupies an outsized presence in the country's life and consciousness. Anyone who wants to understand better why that is, and what it portends for the country, would do well to start with the energetic and insightful In the Land of Good Living. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: Journalist Kent Russell provides an unvarnished look at the attractive mess that is his home state.
The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch
by Miles Harvey
Brilliantly summed up by its subtitle, The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch is a fascinating glimpse into the dramatic world of antebellum America. Out of the "Burned-Over District" of 19th-century New York State sprang the Shakers, the Mormons and some less-remembered religious leaders, including James Strang.
In the wake of Joseph Smith's murder, Strang managed to convince a significant number of Mormons that Smith had declared him his successor. While the main body of Mormons headed west to Utah, Strang, who was "by 1853... a bona fide celebrity," used his charisma to draw several hundred followers north to Beaver Island, off the coast of Michigan's upper peninsula.
There he established a kingdom, had himself crowned as King of Earth and Heaven, proceeded to take multiple wives, speak out against slavery and generally raise a ruckus that led to his murder. A strange and enigmatic character, Strang exemplified the fervor of an era in which "a growing number of Americans came to believe the world was on the verge of an apocalypse."
Harvey (The Island of Lost Maps) does an excellent job of not only detailing Strang's peripatetic life, and those of some of his more outlandish followers, but also of placing their lives in the context of the turbulent 1850s. Strang, a relatively small actor who was brought to trial as a political move, nevertheless played an interesting role in the coming conflagration of the Civil War. Readers of Erik Larson or Gary Krist are sure to devour The King of Confidence. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: This fascinating history follows a man who was partly prophet, partly con man, but who remains completely intriguing 170 years later.
Filthy Beasts: A Memoir
by Kirkland Hamill
Filthy Beasts by Kirkland Hamill is an astonishing memoir of the author's unconventional upbringing, as the middle child of a charismatic, emotionally abusive mother with working-class Bermuda roots and a hapless, ineffectual father born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Hamill and his two brothers began life in their father's rarefied world of New York privilege, a style of living that was not destined to last. They then spent the majority of their childhood in Bermuda, left to raise themselves with few resources while their mother, Wendy, struggled to rebuild her life after a bitter divorce.
In chapters that read like a captivating family drama, Hamill excavates his relationship with a once exuberant, attentive mother who became hollowed out by endless glasses of scotch. Hamill's tenderness toward her reveals a central conflict of his chaotic childhood: he sees his mother as a victim and doesn't hold her responsible for her abject parental neglect. He remembers who she was before, the comfort and security she once provided and the sad bravery with which she tried to reclaim her glamorous life. While Wendy slowly fades away into an alcoholic haze the brothers try to bring her back, "like kittens nuzzling on the corpse of their unresponsive mother."
The tragedy of Wendy's descent into alcoholism is matched by Hamill's deep confusion over his sexual identity. Readers will appreciate his dry wit and compassionate lens while admiring the survival instincts that led Hamill to proudly assert himself as a gay man deserving of romantic love. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A gifted storyteller shares the humor and pathos of growing up in a dysfunctional family where the adults relate better to children once they've reached drinking age.
Reference & Writing
You Talkin' to Me?: The Unruly History of New York English
by E.J. White
E.J. White, in this diverting history of New York City's distinctive form of English, is perhaps the first writer to begin and end an academic press volume with the F-word. This deviation from the scholarly norm, combined with its cheeky title, sets the tone for You Talkin' to Me?, a book that explains the evolution of New York's English and its influence on the rest of the country.
The boisterous, jovial narrative tells how the developing city's newspapers and pulp novels introduced a new vocabulary to Americans, from "con man" to "street-walker," "kick the bucket" and "go on a bender." Tin Pan Alley's lyricists popularized "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," and, later, hip-hop artists brought the language of rap to the suburbs and Hamilton to theaters across the U.S.
White, who teaches the history of the English language at Stony Brook University, includes little-known facts, such as that Star Wars' C-3PO droid was first written to have a New York accent and that West Side Story was initially going to be East Side Story, about Jewish and Irish Catholic New Yorkers.
"New York City is a great factory of language," White says, and makes that clear in a book that is sure to appeal to anyone who loves New York. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: You Talkin' to Me?, combining the history of a city and the language it has developed, is a rare achievement: a scholarly book that's fun to read.
Art & Photography
Edvard Munch: An Inner Life
by Øystein Ustvedt , trans. by Alison McCullough
"All art like music must be created with one's lifeblood," Edvard Munch (1863-1944) declared in a note in the early 1890s. Øystein Ustvedt, curator at the National Museum in Oslo, offers a vital, approachable introduction to the celebrated expressionist--best known for The Scream, that howl of despair beneath a sky of undulating orange--that demonstrates how the painter lived that precept.
Munch strived over his half-century career to create emotional, subjective art based on existential experiences, to capture on his canvases what the novelist Knut Hamsun, a contemporary of Munch, deemed "the unconscious life of the mind." Artists in Munch's hometown Kristiania (now Oslo) recognized his genius early, even as critics and authorities in the late 19th century at first found his work too raw, too frank and often not convincingly finished. Edvard Munch: An Inner Life, Ustvedt's affordable study, presents 130 images of Munch's paintings, illustrations, prints and photographs whose chronological arrangement confirms that, from the start, the artist imbued his work with that lifeblood. The haunting The Sick Child (1885-86) confounded Kristiania with its rough brushstrokes, which draw attention to the impassioned creation of the painting itself--and stir subjective feeling that the works of the realists could not. Munch's depictions of bohemian life would likewise arouse controversy, including denunciations right into the 20th century.
Ustvedt's examination of Munch's career touches on all the biographical turning points--Munch was broke for much of his life--but is keyed above all else to the work. In Alison McCullough's translation, techniques, breakthroughs, symbols, controversies and the artist's lifeblood all get illuminated in prose of rare clarity. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This finely illustrated introduction to Edvard Munch reveals the man who laid bare humanity's existential terror.
Children's & Young Adult
by TJ Klune
TJ Klune (The House in the Cerulean Sea) shines in his YA debut, The Extraordinaries, a creative exploration of identity among queer kids and superheroes.
Gay 16-year-old Nick Bell is a proud author of online queer fiction based on the Extraordinaries, two actual superheroes in his city. While he feels a strong pull toward the superhero world, he spends a significant amount of his time grappling with living with ADHD: "Some people were born to be an Extraordinary. Nick was born to have a million thoughts in the space of a minute that often led to splitting headaches." Still, though, Nick has a quest: he is going to become (and date) a superhero. As the story unfolds, hints about the Extraordinaries' mysterious identities are cleverly revealed but, even as the superhero characters develop and become more nuanced, Nick obliviously sticks to his plan, missing all the clues around him.
Klune beautifully balances weightier topics (whether to medicate teens, intimate relationships, the death of a loved one), nail-biting superhero battle scenes and hilarious dialogue that emphasizes Nick's endearing--sometimes awkward--rapidly moving thoughts. As Nick explains to best friend Seth, "One moment, I was reading about diamond mines in Latin America, and the next, I'm following step-by-step instructions on making an idea board on Cosmo." Klune's deliberate use of traditional comic book themes, such as masking one's identity, mirror common struggles faced by neurodiverse and LGBTQIAP+ youth; this thoughtful approach urges readers to embrace their true selves. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: A gay teen with ADHD seeks to find his place among real-life superheroes.
Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party
by Yumi Heo , illust. by Naoko Stoop
In the charming Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party by Yumi Heo, illustrated by Naoko Stoop, the two celestial orbs share afternoon tea and argue about the activities they see in the world below.
Sun and Moon each have a very different picture of the terrestrial world. Sun sees children waking up, going to school and walking through the town. Moon views children going to sleep and streets "dark and... lonely as a moonless sky." They continue to disagree, providing evidence of their observations: Sun sees the birds flying through the air; Moon views them settling down to sleep in the trees. They cannot resolve their differences until Cloud comes along. Cloud, familiar with the conditions of both day and night, urges Moon to stay up and enjoy the daytime and then persuades Sun to experience the nighttime.
This gentle tale can serve as a bedtime story or a picture book introductory STEM lesson for young students. Yumi Heo, a prolific author and illustrator who won a Christopher Award and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor, died in 2016 with her story unpublished. Stoop, a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books winner for Red Knit Cap Girl, was asked to create the illustrations for this posthumous publication. Her illustrations, created in mixed media on plywood and finished digitally, are naively charming and delightfully detailed, depicting diverse households, busy streets and childlike personifications of Sun, Moon and Cloud. Stoop's art in collaboration with Heo's text, which alternates between describing the day world and the night world, allow young readers to realize quickly that both Sun and Moon are correct, which also supports their own daily experiences. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Sun and Moon dispute the nature of the world, but Cloud helps them reconcile in this wonderfully illustrated story about day and night.