Clarkson Potter Publishers: Eat a Peach: A Memoir by David Chang and Gabe Ulla

Pass Books Issue for Tuesday, August 25, 2020

From the Shelf

Cultural Literacy and Citizenship

As we approach a new academic year and a presidential election under the shadow of a global pandemic, it's worth considering whether schools are imparting the lessons in civics, history, ethics and tradition that children need to develop into informed voters, part of a culturally literate society.

The educator E.D. Hirsch, Jr. thinks not, as his soon-to-be published manifesto, How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unite a Nation (Harper, $24.99), makes clear. Hirsch has dedicated his career to promoting curricula rich in core knowledge subjects such as civics and history. At a time when 71% of Americans think Alexander Hamilton was a U.S. president, it seems especially urgent that schools recommit to the important work of "citizen-making" that Hirsch insists is a basic function of our educational institutions.

Hirsch coined the term "cultural literacy" in the '80s to describe the essential information each American should be familiar with in order to thrive in the modern world. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (Vintage, $16.99) was criticized for its focus on "dead white males," but it is nevertheless a helpful starting point for anyone interested in brushing up on key cultural and historic facts.

For a perspective on U.S. history that differs from the "dead white male" version, I recommend A People's History of the United States (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, $26.99) by Howard Zinn, a classic (originally published in 1980) that recounts history through the experiences of natives, slaves, immigrants and factory workers whose blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices built America. Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror (Triangle Square, $22.95) is a good entry point for parents seeking to equip their children with the intellectual tools necessary to participate in the civic life of our multiethnic nation. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Sourcebooks: Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad


Algonquin Books: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen


Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Daughter of Smoke & Bone: The Complete Gift Set by Laini Taylor


Seal Press: Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo

In this Issue...

Reviews

Helen Macdonald's dazzling essay collection showcases her wonder, deep love and respect for nature.

Read this review >>

Thrown in the Throat

by Benjamin Garcia

This lyrically stunning poetry collection champions queer desire while addressing inherently violent language toward BIPOC, especially those in the LGBTQ community.

Read this review >>

Elatsoe

by Darcie Little Badger

A Lipan Apache teen with the ability to raise ghosts travels across Texas to bring the man who killed her cousin to justice.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Biography & Memoir Social Science Nature & Environment Poetry Children's & Young Adult

Travelers' Tales Guides: French Like Moi: A Midwesterner in Paris by Scott Dominic Carpenter

Book Candy

Quiz: What Did These Words Originally Mean?

Merriam-Webster posed an original meanings quiz "for the pedantic and those annoyed by them!"

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Video: "Golden Retriever puppies enjoying story time from a dragon."

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"Get excited for the Tour de France with these reads, the New York Public Library suggested.

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Open Culture featured "25 animations of great literary works."

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Bookshelf checked out the "Story Station."

Running Press: Stir it up with cocktail and cooking gifts!

Great Reads

Rediscover: Shirley Ann Grau

Shirley Ann Grau, a Southern writer whose novels "explored themes of race, power, class and love," died on August 3 at age 91, the New York Times reported. Grau was best known for her 1964 novel The Keepers of the House. Set in the Deep South, the book features a decades-long relationship between a wealthy white widower and his Black housekeeper. They marry in secret, and their descendants must face the repercussions when the family secret is eventually exposed. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1965, and when the Pulitzer representative called to tell Grau the news, she assumed it was a prank and hung up. Published in the midst of the civil rights movement, the novel drew the ire of white supremacists for its depiction of interracial marriage. In an episode that Grau would later describe as having a "Groucho Marx ending to it," a group of klansmen attempted to burn a cross on her lawn. She was not even home at the time, and as the group forgot to bring a shovel, they had to lay the cross on the ground. As a result, it did not light properly and sputtered out after burning some grass.

In addition to The Keepers of the House, Grau wrote five other novels and four short story collections. Her debut collection, The Black Prince and Other Stories, was published in 1955 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her last novel was Roadwalkers, published in 1994, and her final short story collection, Selected Stories, was released in 2006. The Keepers of the House is available from Vintage ($16.95).

Incorgnito Publishing Press: All the Good Little Girls Keep Quiet by K Kibbee

The Writer's Life

Shannon Hale: Limitless Potential

photo: Jenn Florence

Shannon Hale is the author of more than 30 books, including the fantasy novels The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days; the SF novel Dangerous; Newbery Honor winner Princess Academy; the graphic novel memoirs Real Friends and Best Friends with LeUyen Pham; and the romantic comedy Austenland, now a movie. She lives in Utah with her husband and frequent collaborator Dean Hale, their four children and two cats, Misty Knight and Mike Hat. We recently caught up with Hale to discuss the power of mean girls, peaking in high school and her new YA novel, Kind of a Big Deal (Roaring Brook Press, reviewed below).

The chapters that Josie spends in book worlds play with various genres. Would you call your approach lampoon or homage? How did you decide which genres to represent, and how did you get to be so dang funny?

The brief, honest answer is: so, so many revisions. In my experience, comedy writing is harder and takes way more time. Like in Austenland, when I write comedies, I'm always trying to find the balance of laughing at the thing while loving the thing. It's the only kind of humor I enjoy. I despise insult, putdown comedy. I wouldn't dare to either lampoon or pay homage to any genre that I didn't also adore. I had particular fun coming up with the book titles for the literary fiction classics that the nannies' book club reads, strongly inspired by the most depressing college course I ever took: The 20th Century French Novel.

If you had to be trapped in a story forever, which would you choose? Personally, I want to pick Lord of the Rings, but I'm put off by the lack of flush toilets.

I love the U.K. and magic, but also I love modern plumbing, so it's hard to beat Harry Potter. I would just want to make sure any Harry Potter story I entered is also freely inhabited by all women, including transgender women. As much as I love Austen, I'm afraid the truth of that era would feel repressive for a woman, and again, no plumbing. Is there a book about our world but with an alternate timeline where everything isn't so horrible? I could use a little less drama and a whole lot more justice, peace and equality.

In your acknowledgements, you mention that this story is a labor of multiple drafts and years. Could you tell us more about its development?

It's that age-old story of a naive, younger writer thinking, "Here's a light, funny idea for a romp of a tale that shouldn't be too hard to write!" and seven years later, cursing herself and her offspring for generations to come. The most common question I get from readers is, "Where do your ideas come from?" but ideas are the least strenuous part of storytelling. It's all in the execution. It took writing this idea first as a screenplay, then as a novel about a young mother and finally, dozens and dozens of revisions later, finding Josie and her specific 18-year-old-high-school-dropout story, for it to finally work. It ended up as a New Adult Musical Comedy Contemporary Romance Fantasy Novel with a Graphic Novel Section, which makes it so easy to shelve, right, booksellers and librarians? Practically shelves itself? You're welcome.

What can you tell us about the illustrated section? 

In an earlier draft, Josie only enters three stories. Once I sold the manuscript to Connie Hsu at Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, she said, "How about she goes into even more genres?" which is the best note to give me ever. Connie also suggested, "How about a graphic novel?" 

I said, "Could we do that?!" 

She totally editor-power-flexed and said, "Yes, we freakin' can." For an artist, I immediately thought of Samantha Richardson, my good friend of 30-plus years. She had been a beta reader for me in an earlier draft to help me keep a transgender character authentic, and she's a skilled comics artist. I'm so excited that this book is her first publication, one of hopefully many more to come.

Your heroine's stage name, Josie Pie, is a hat-tip to Josie Pye from Anne of Green Gables. Does this character have a special significance for you?

Anne Shirley is a precious character to me. Hi, redhead here with an inferiority complex or two. At one point, Anne of Green Gables was going to be the book my Josie Pie went into as her final live-your-fantasy. 

As a young reader, I freely hated "mean girl" characters like Anne's Josie Pye, but as an adult, I feel for them. Mean girls have a healthy dose of social power but aren't mature enough to know how to use it in a healthy way. I don't mean to defend bullies. I'm tired of the "deep down, bullies are more miserable than--" blah blah. However, I am intrigued by girls with power, and I want to root for them.

You've written in multiple genres and for different age groups. What pushes you to constantly stretch your creativity in new ways? 

Instability, maybe? I've done picture books, early chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, adult novels, screenplays and graphic novels. And genres: fairy tales, fantasy, murder mystery, science fiction, comedy, tragedy, romance, realism, superhero and memoir... I think it reflects what kinds of books I like to read--all! It also reflects my fear of boredom and a need to constantly challenge myself for fear I'll stop growing.

Did you draw on your own acting career to help inform Josie's experiences?

Yes, and so joyfully! Besides books, theater was my safe, happy space and friendship-generator in junior high through college. Unlike Josie, I'm not a singer and was never, ever a big deal, but I did dozens of school and community theater plays and improv comedy. My final part was as Poppy in Noises Off! at the Missoula Children's Theater. It's been 20 years since I stepped onto a stage as anyone but myself, but my decades-old best friends are still the people I met in theater. Theater people are loving and so accepting.

Josie's biggest fear--aside from her mom finding out about her debt, of course--is that she peaked in high school. How did you, a successful artist, channel her feelings? What would you say to a young adult who felt their best years were already behind them?

At any given moment, it's probably been less than a month since I've declared, in profound sincerity, "I'm washed up! I've lost it! I'll never write anything good again!" Like clockwork, the creative arts force us into humility, so drawing on those feelings isn't hard for me. I also get that fear that we must be constantly "better" than the year before or we've failed, but I think it's a fallacy. I like Nina's advice to Josie in the book: "We are who we used to be, who we are now, and who we will become. Even if we can't see it, we are never-ending, eternal, with limitless potential." --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Seal Press: Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy by Leslie Brody

Book Reviews

Fiction

Against the Loveless World

by Susan Abulhawa

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Returning to the Palestinian multigenerational epic format that made her debut novel, Mornings in Jenin (2010), an international bestseller, Susan Abulhawa's haunting Against the Loveless World features another extended Palestinian clan enduring exile, surviving persecution and (sometimes) cheating death.

Abulhawa's compelling protagonist is a woman with four names, each imbued with significant meaning. Born in Kuwait, her 1967 birth certificate identifies her as Yaqoot, chosen by her father without her mother's consent, a nod to the first of his many mistresses. Her mother called her Nahr, meaning river, honoring the River Jordan she crossed while pregnant to escape what would be declared the Six Day War. She was Nanu to her beloved younger brother, for whose education she would later become Almas, meaning diamond, made resistant but valuable. As a middle-aged woman, she's imprisoned in Israel, condemned as a terrorist. Trapped in high-tech solitary confinement, she's secured a pencil, then paper, after a long battle with the guards. "I stare at the blank pages now, trying to tell my story." And so, she begins: "My life returns to me in images, smells, and sounds, but never feelings. I feel nothing." With that detachment in place, Nahr--her preferred moniker "for the purer part of [her]"--reveals a difficult, rebellious life.

Like Nahr, Abulhawa was born in Kuwait in 1967 to Palestinian exiles who fled the Six Day War. Through Nahr, Abulhawa affectingly parallels Palestine's brutal, occupied history during the last half-century, humanizing headlines about people with whom readers can identity, believe, empathize, mourn and ultimately, albeit tentatively, celebrate. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: A Palestinian woman in solitary confinement records her decades of displacements, disappointments, betrayals--intertwined with glimmers of hope, joy and undying love.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9781982137038

Book Industry Charitable Foundation: Double your donation!

Hysteria

by Jessica Gross

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Jessica Gross's debut novel, Hysteria, is a heated, propulsive dive into a troubled young woman's all-night bender. An unnamed protagonist's sexual exploits have been getting increasingly out of control. After a double-header of sleeping with her psychiatrist parents' middle-aged colleague and her beloved roommate's off-limits brother, she senses she's hit rock bottom. To numb her desire, she starts her day drinking at a local dive bar, only to find that the bartender bears an uncanny resemblance to Freud. Over the course of the next 24 hours, a series of dizzying interactions with this Freud-figure brings her to the brink of self-discovery.

Gross's prose conveys casual brilliance, highlighting the extraordinary in the mundane in a way that helps ground the novel's dreamlike plot. Throwaway descriptions, such as how a character's "feet were long and delicate, like greyhounds" paint impressionistic, surreal images that are nonetheless vivid in their accuracy. The narrator, a pitch-perfect millennial flâneur, encounters every sexual act and bizarre situation with deep-gutted melancholy, conjuring a hard-edged eroticism and slow-burn tension that propels readers forward.

As the protagonist falls headlong into her downward spiral, readers, too, may begin to experience her fear of seeming unwell, and question every act as a potential coping mechanism against that perception. Thus, the novel becomes the ultimate example of a clever and deeply felt character study, asking readers to consider their own self-implication when making a study of the character. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Coolly sexy and razor-smart, Hysteria presents an urban millennial fever dream with timeless style and insight.

Unnamed Press, $18, paperback, 144p., 9781951213121

Little Brown and Company: Enter for a chance to win a James Patterson Prize Pack

Mystery & Thriller

Vanishing Falls

by Poppy Gee

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Poppy Gee (Bay of Fires) has created a brooding literary thriller in Vanishing Falls. The town of Vanishing Falls, Tasmania, is in the middle of the winter rainy season, which lasts until spring begins in October. Once a prosperous village of apple farmers, the town now has significant unemployment, and meth addiction is a rapidly growing problem. Jack and Celia Lily, wealthy heirs to the Calendar House, built by some of the earliest colonists, live much better than most people in Vanishing Falls.

But one night, Jack comes home to discover his four daughters asleep, the front door of the Calendar House ajar and his wife missing. Jack, a defense lawyer, knows he's likely to be the first suspect, and starts hunting desperately for Celia.

Meanwhile, Joelle Smithton, the butcher's wife, knows a secret about Jack. Many people in Vanishing Falls think that Joelle is simple-minded, but her brain just works a little differently than most people's, as a result of an awful childhood trauma. Joelle becomes increasingly anxious that if she reveals what she knows, her own secrets will be uncovered.

Tense and atmospheric, the heavy rain that permeates the story is an apt metaphor for the dark secrets that many of the residents of Vanishing Falls are hiding. As Gee delicately unveils the truths in the Lily and Smithton marriages, readers are taken along on a journey of discovery. Fans of Jane Harper and Camilla Läckberg are sure to enjoy this familial thriller. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this atmospheric Tasmanian thriller, a neurodiverse woman knows a secret that could upend a village.

Morrow, $16.99, paperback, 432p., 9780062978493

Good Harbor Press: The Taste of Snow by Stephen V Masse

Dead West

by Matt Goldman

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A wealthy couple offers Minneapolis private investigator Nils "Shap" Shapiro an assignment that sounds like a paid vacation: fly to California to make sure the couple's only grandson, Ebben, is spending his trust fund responsibly. It's frigid in Minneapolis and sunny in Los Angeles, so why not? Of course, the job is too good to be true. Like the previous three books in this series (including The Shallows), Emmy-winner Matt Goldman's engaging Dead West starts out breezily but a dead body is lurking just around the corner.

It takes Shap about five minutes after meeting Ebben to determine Ebben is indeed handling his finances in a savvy way--he's formed a film collective that requires a small investment of his money but promises healthy profits. Not all is rosy, though: Ebben is grieving the recent accidental death of his fiancée, Juliana, and it takes Shap only another five minutes to detect that Juliana was murdered. And Ebben might be next.

Shap is a winning combination of wit, decency and smarts, a man touchingly dedicated to his fiancée, best friends and baby daughter. He could be labeled a square but he's entertaining, such as in this observation of a client: "His neck was too small for his white dress shirt--the shirt didn't touch his neck the way Saturn's rings don't touch Saturn." In Goldman's world, even the bad guys are funny, and the author gives an amusing peek into the behind-the-scenes hustle of the movie industry. Readers don't need to have read other books in the series, but they'll probably want to after finishing this sharp and sweet installment. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Minneapolis PI Nils Shapiro travels to Los Angeles to help keep a movie producer from being murdered in this entertaining mystery.

Forge, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250191342

Biography & Memoir

Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body

by Rebekah Taussig

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A candid and engaging memoir-in-essays, Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Body offers readers deep insight and broad perspective on disability, as reflected in Rebekah Taussig's life.

Taussig, an independent woman, successful educator and prolific Instagrammer (@sitting_pretty), became paralyzed at age three following treatment for childhood cancer. Because her parents didn't treat her any differently than her five siblings--several years passed before she got her first wheelchair--Taussig initially didn't see herself as disabled. "I continued to sleep on the top bunk on the top floor of the house." Like many young children, "I believed that I was royally beautiful, valuable, and fully capable of contributing to the group." That idyllic view changed as she began to understand--often painfully--how society considered people like her. "I consumed and digested the culture around me and slowly learned, with certainty, that I was not among those who would be needed, admired, wanted, loved, dated, or married." 

This groundbreaking memoir immediately draws the reader into Taussig's world with a casual, witty and confident tone. While acknowledging her privilege and position as someone who is highly educated (she holds a Ph.D. in disability studies), Taussig conveys that her greatest struggles aren't always physical. Sitting Pretty poignantly demonstrates that the biggest obstacle is the common inability to see past disability so that all people can be fully accepted and integrated into society. This book is a necessary addition to the voices that may help get everyone there. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com

Discover: A powerfully engaging memoir-in-essays that blends one woman's experience as someone who uses a wheelchair with society's perception of people with disabilities.

HarperOne, $25.99, hardcover, 256p., 9780062936790

Social Science

Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It

by Tom Philpott

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Tom Philpott is a food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones. His precise and pointed survey, Perilous Bounty, reveals the waste, inefficiency and destructiveness of contemporary American agriculture. He pays special attention to the bone-dry Central Valley of California, where almond planters tap the dregs of the aquifer to irrigate the thirstiest of crops, and the Midwestern Corn Belt, where farmers forgo a topsoil-preserving rotation of crops in favor of the corn and soybeans that insurance and government subsidies make a sure economic bet. Iowa's harvest doesn't feed the world, exactly--instead, it feeds the region's factory-farm livestock whose abundant fecal waste joins the farmers' herbicides in polluting streams and rivers, contributing to poison algae blooms in Lake Erie and a "dead zone" the size of New Jersey where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico. 

With patient, quiet outrage and persuasive testimony from experts, Philpott makes the case that American farming faces multiple looming crises: topsoil erosion, water scarcity, climate change, weeds that constantly develop new resistances to expensive herbicides and increasing awareness of the health hazards of the American diet. Perilous Bounty identifies a common denominator linking these problems: the interests of agribusiness, the "oligopoly" of companies invested in the status quo. Philpott documents that Corn Belt farmers are incentivized not to adopt more sustainable methods--and how, in California, the wealthiest planters command the limited water. These choices, he argues, are made according to the efficiencies of markets rather than concern for the public good. He makes the case with such power that the book's final notes of hope sound wan by comparison. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This deeply reported study of American farming will terrify readers hoping for a sustainable future and will move them to action.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9781635573138

Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women

by Kate Manne

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What do mansplainers, husbands who slack on housework and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh have in common? According to Kate Manne, it's a sense of male entitlement, an entrenched social system that shafts women. In the scholarly but nevertheless eminently readable Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, Manne sets out to expose how "misogyny, himpathy, and male entitlement work in tandem with other oppressive systems to produce unjust, perverse, and sometimes bizarre outcomes."

In essay-like chapters, each zeroing in on a specific aspect of entitlement, Manne (Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny) shows how male privilege can inform everything from how rapes are prosecuted to how medical care is administered and pain medication is prescribed: "Women are regarded as more than entitled (indeed obligated) to provide care, but far less entitled to ask for and receive it." Male entitlement flagrantly powers the grievances of incels (self-described involuntary celibates), and it can fuel the violence perpetrated against transgender people (the aggression can stem from the assailant's sense of entitlement to know the victim's biological sex). Manne pounces on news stories to point out entitlement at work and anatomizes some famous examples; beyond the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, she looks at the falls of film mogul Harvey Weinstein and former senator Al Franken.

Entitled is a valuable addition to any social-justice library. Manne's thesis, shored up by copious research, will be hard to refute, although her book's abundance of buzzy neologisms ("himpathy," "herasure," and so on) may incline some readers to try. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Kate Manne incisively argues that male entitlement is an entrenched social system that shortchanges women.

Crown, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781984826558

Nature & Environment

Vesper Flights: New and Collected Essays

by Helen Macdonald

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In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald (H Is for Hawk) showcases her affinity for the essay in her quest for readers to see "the glittering world of non-human life around us," and see it through other eyes, to realize the world does "not belong to us alone. It never has done."

Topics include a captive wild boar provoking introspection about Macdonald's place in the world; the territorial anxiety over wild animals "intruding" in human spaces; an autistic boy's mutual delight with Macdonald's parrot; a young refugee smuggled into the U.K.; and the complexity of avian navigation.

The poet in Macdonald moves these subjects toward mystery. A night flight of migrating birds delicately amazes: "Watching their passage is almost too moving to bear. They resemble stars, embers, slow tracer fire." A peregrine falcon seems to make the atmosphere heavier as it flies, "the barred feathers of his chest, his black hood, a faint chromatic fringe ghosting him with suggestions of dust and rainbows. He's exquisite, the colour of smoke, paper and wet ash."

She crafts brilliant descriptions, drawing wisdom from her observations: "It's true that time walking in a forest can be beneficial to our mental health. But valuing a forest for that purpose traduces what forests are: they are not there for us alone." She takes hard-won emotional solace from "knowing that animals are not like me, that their lives are not about us at all."

Helen Macdonald set the bar high with H Is for Hawk; with Vesper Flights, she still soars into the ether. --Marilyn Dahl

Discover: Helen Macdonald's dazzling essay collection showcases her wonder, deep love and respect for nature.

Grove Press, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9780802128812

The Reindeer Chronicles: And Other Inspiring Stories of Working with Nature to Heal the Earth

by Judith D. Schwartz

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These days it seems that environmental news is always bad. But as journalist Judith Schwartz (Water in Plain Sight) observes in The Reindeer Chronicles: And Other Inspiring Stories of Working with Nature to Heal the Earth, fear tends to be self-fulfilling. If people think there's no hope, what's the point of working to make things better? This book provides hope that devastated ecosystems can be revived, and that it requires doing more than just letting nature take its course.

Although there are reindeer in the title, this book is less about wildlife and more about things like the water cycle. The projects described start with a deep understanding of how a local ecosystem functions, which allows them to jump-start a natural healing process. The results are landscapes that are more productive for the people who depend on them--livestock, even, can be part of the process--so it's not a matter of choosing pristine nature over struggling locals. What's more, there can be broader effects, such as when the return of healthy vegetation results in increased rainfall.

Some chapters are more encouraging than others--while Schwartz had fascinating conversations with people in Hawaii, they don't provide a specific success story with a clear takeaway. There may also be a bit too much first-person detail for the reader who doesn't care about the color of the author's raincoat. Despite those quibbles, this is a book that is very much worth reading for anyone who cares about the state of the planet. --Linda Lombardi, writer and editor

Discover: The projects surveyed in this book have helped to heal devastated landscapes, offering hope for our damaged planet.

Chelsea Green, $17.95, paperback, 256p., 9781603588652

Poetry

Thrown in the Throat

by Benjamin Garcia

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Thrown in the Throat by Benjamin Garcia is an unabashed celebration of complexity in queerness and gender, an arresting snapshot of survival and a triumphant reclamation of language.

With a musicality that encourages reading aloud, Garcia's poetry tackles difficult topics--being undocumented in the U.S., familial and institutional violence, addiction, suicide and society's discomfort with queer desire. "If you want to keep America America, better bolt it/ down or lock it," says one immigrant speaker, using images of cages and swallowed rainbows and tongues to convey his sense of difference. Such difference is relished in "Queso de Patas," wherein a mother is likened to Mexican cheese, "ungrated as she tread upon this foreign soil."

The collection unpacks the harmful layers hidden in language. "Wouldn't you like to have a dress as wonderful as a rose petal? Well, not you," a mother tells her child, denying her "handsome boy" the beauty reserved for girls. Garcia rails against this "claustrophobic" dichotomy of "boy or girl, left or right, right or wrong," slamming verbiage that tries to fit LGBTQ lives into "heteronormative birds & bees" narratives, that assumes a "flower" to be likable or that suggests "orientation doesn't matter." At the same time, he disparages speech that tiptoes around anything offensive, which thereby others those who wield such words positively. Elevating this message, Garcia's brilliant wordplay shatters the taboo of supposed vulgarities, particularly sexual ones: he ponders the Spanish "come" in its varying English meanings and has the reader say "masturbation" aloud. By thwarting expectation, Thrown in the Throat fervidly asserts the possibilities for self-acceptance and belonging in the face of intolerance. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: This lyrically stunning poetry collection champions queer desire while addressing inherently violent language toward BIPOC, especially those in the LGBTQ community.

Milkweed Editions, $16, paperback, 80p., 9781571315212

Children's & Young Adult

Elatsoe

by Darcie Little Badger , illust. by Rovina Cai

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Darcie Little Badger's creative and meticulously plotted YA debut, Elatsoe, is a supernatural murder mystery that takes place in a United States that has Fairy Ring Transportation Centers, endless fields of scarecrows with human eyes and a rich history of Lipan Apache ghost whisperers.

When Elatsoe's ghost dog, Kirby, throws a fit, she knows something is very wrong. Turns out, Ellie's cousin Trevor was in a fatal car accident. That night Ellie, whose "family secret" is the knowledge of how to bring back the dead, dreams of Trevor. "A man named Abe Allerton murdered me," he tells Ellie. "Don't let Abe hurt my family." Ellie's mother and father believe that Ellie is as powerful as her Six-Great-Grandmother who traveled Lipan Apache territory saving her people from undead evils, dangerous creatures and deadly settlers. Knowing the strength of his daughter's gift, Ellie's father agrees to help her investigate. With the assistance of her parents and her good friend and Lord Oberon descendant, Jay, Ellie takes a trip across Texas to find Abe Allerton and bring him to justice.

Little Badger excellently balances humor and horror in this inventive YA mystery/alternate history/fantasy. Ellie is a very likable protagonist whose Lipan heritage and ethnicity is not just twined with the story, but is the story: her gift comes from Six-Great; she's vocal about the contemporary mistreatment of Indigenous people; and she has a pretty ingenious way of dispelling vampires. Each chapter begins with graceful, almost ethereal black-and-white illustrations by And the Ocean Was Our Sky artist Rovina Cai, adding to the evanescent vibe of the book, a Lipan Apache Sookie Stackhouse for the teen set. One hopes Ellie--and the wonderfully developed world in which she lives--will appear in many more books to come. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A Lipan Apache teen with the ability to raise ghosts travels across Texas to bring the man who killed her cousin to justice.

Levine Querido, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9781646140053

Kind of a Big Deal

by Shannon Hale

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A down-on-her-luck teen singer-actress literally escapes into the world of reading in Kind of a Big Deal, a hilarious genre-hopping fantasy romp from the versatile Shannon Hale (Best Friends; the Princess Academy series).

Josie Sergakis was a big deal in high school, but a stint in New York City trying to break into musical theater saddled her with credit card debt and shattered dreams. Flat broke, Josie follows her job as adorable five-year-old Mia's au pair to Missoula, Mont., where she can't even get the respect of the other nannies. At the local bookstore she meets Deo, "the kind of guy she imagined trophy wives would hire to be the pool boy, if they lived in a state where pools were a thing." The flirty bookseller recommends a romance novel, and Josie finds herself magically transported into the story, where her singing captivates the characters. Amazed, she reads herself into other stories, facing down zombies and channeling magical forces. What starts as investigative curiosity quickly turns into a way to avoid facing failure, money worries and troubled relationships with her long-distance sweetheart Justin and best friend Nina. However, magic comes with a price, and if Josie isn't careful, she could end up lost in a book forever.

Hale lovingly lampoons tropes from a smorgasbord of genres, even dropping Josie into a graphic novel sequence illustrated by Samantha Richardson [art not seen]. Never taking itself too seriously, this quirky, clever tale of confidence lost and found aims for the hearts of bookworms but has a sassy-sweet message with broad young adult appeal. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: A struggling teen actress discovers she can hop into books in this genre-jumping comic fantasy.

Roaring Brook Press, $18.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9781250206237

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