Almost 300 years after the town of Danvers, Massachusetts, hosted the infamous 1692 witch trials, a new coven rises to power.
The 1989 Danvers High School girls’ field hockey team (go Falcons!) is sick and tired of losing. Frustrated after yet another loss at a summer training camp, goalie Mel Boucher takes matters into her own hands by signing a “dark pledge” in a spiral notebook with a picture of Emilio Estevez printed on the cover: “Years later [Mel] would try and explain why she did it by saying that sometimes the Lord is busy and He needs us to be self starters, show a little moxie.” Emilio, whom right halfback Heather Houston calls an “alternative god,” shows his gratitude by improving the team’s performance in their next game, and one by one the rest of the players sign their names in the book, each of them given a cut-off slice of an old sock (in Falcon blue) to tie on their arm as a symbol of their pledge. When the official season starts and the Falcons start winning games, the girls feel Emilio pushing them toward their more devilish impulses. As they cause increasing mayhem around Danvers, the team can feel Emilio demanding more from them, and they worry they won’t be able to keep the magic going long enough to win the state championship. Barry (She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, 2014, etc.) is deeply witty, writing the narrator as a sort of omniscient group-think, the team speaking as one wry voice. Barry spends time with each of the team members and examines their struggles with the gender norms of the late 1980s as well as with race, identity, family, and friendship. Three of the characters are women of color who have complex relationships to being surrounded mostly by white people; a few of the girls discover budding nuance in their sexuality; and they all start to wonder if witchcraft is really about taking up space in a world that wants to keep you small. As Emilio pushes them further down the path of darkness, readers will cheer them on because what they’re really doing is learning to be fully and authentically themselves.
Startup culture and science fiction collide in this debut novel about love, loss, and coming-of-age.
Lucas and Margo are best friends, or something like it. The two cynical 20-somethings brave the oppressive whiteness of startup culture together, downing beers at the bar around the corner from their office and commiserating about their clueless, immoral bosses. "Being black means you're merely a body—a fragile body," confesses Margo, a talented engineer with a penchant for SF, over drinks. "If there was a machine that could do it, I'd change places with you right now, Lucas….I would be an Asian man and I would move through the world unnoticed and nobody would bother me." In retaliation for being pushed out of their company, Margo decides to steal user data and convinces cautious Lucas to help. But when she is suddenly struck and killed by a car, Lucas is left to navigate their theft—and the emotional roller coaster of working in big tech as a minority—on his own. Nguyen, a former digital deputy editor for GQ and a veteran of Google and Amazon, has a keen eye for satire. He illuminates how "lean" startup companies led by young white men with little management experience manufacture crises only to dodge responsibilities to their users and staff. "I started Phantom with lofty principles, and I haven't given up on them," says one CEO without irony. "But we'll never achieve those ideals...if we run out of money first." Running alongside the dystopian horrors of Nguyen's workplace satire are the warmth and humor, sadness and vulnerability of Lucas' and Margo's voices. Using text messages, voicemails, message board posts, and short story snippets, Nguyen's novel spirals inward to capture the hang-ups, cultural obsessions, and fuzzy ambitions of his characters. "I'd hoped leaving behind all my material possessions would mean leaving behind all the things I'd become: a cruel friend, a workplace creep, an alcoholic," Lucas muses from his new, nomadic life in Tokyo. "Or maybe I was all those things to begin with." At last confronted with his own poor romantic and workplace behavior, Lucas must decide how he will honor his friend's memory and whether he will work to become a better person in the hazy promise—or possible tragedy—of the future.
A blistering sendup of startup culture and a sprawling, ambitious, tender debut.
The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.
It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.
An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.
A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.
How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.
An African American pediatrician–turned–historical detective investigates her family’s history—and, by extension, that of America.
“Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president.” So her mother told Kearse, who opens her account with invocations of the West African griot tradition of storytelling and oral history. That tradition found a place in slavery-era America because most slave owners did not allow enslaved people to learn to read and write. James Madison was different: He allowed his mixed-race son, Jim, to linger within hearing of education lessons. Given well-documented events at nearby Monticello, that Madison had such a son is a surprise only because he had no children with his wife, Dolley, which led many scholars to assume that he “was impotent, infertile, or both.” Evidently not. Enriching that history not just with stories, but with more tangible historical evidence, Kearse visits the plantation, speaking with archaeologists, historians, and the descendants of slaves, reading widely, discovering the long-unknown burial sites of ancestors. She also traveled to Africa and Portugal—for, as her grandfather had told her mother, “our history goes well beyond America’s boundaries.” That Jim was educated did not spare him from being sold, always aware that he was the son of a president. So, too, with the descendants, enslaved and then free, who carried the Madison story to new homes, to be incorporated into the narrative of Madison’s life, as Sally Hemings is in Thomas Jefferson’s. On that note, Kearse writes searchingly of Madison’s language in crafting the Constitution, in which the words “slave” and “slavery” did not appear but that spoke of “other persons”—acknowledged as humans, that is, but still left out. “I understood that this omission,” writes the author, “was why oral history was essential to African Americans having knowledge of how crucial we have always been to what this nation is.”
A Roots for a new generation, rich in storytelling and steeped in history.
A deeply detailed account of the 1949 Nobel laureate’s early life and work.
In this first of two projected volumes, Rollyson (Emeritus, Journalism and Creative Writing/Baruch Coll., CUNY; Understanding Susan Sontag, 2016, etc.) returns with a thick volume that accomplishes several objectives. It rehearses the details of Faulkner’s family history in Mississippi; examines many intriguing aspects of his early life (romances, drinking, difficulties making enough money, determination to write, public and private manner, friendships and professional associations); and assesses in great detail the major works he published during this time, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Sanctuary among them. The author also deals frankly with some questions of Faulkner’s character, including his fabrications about his flying experiences (he underwent pilot training for World War I but did not go because the war ended before he could) and his evolving attitudes about race. Near the end of this volume, Rollyson examines Faulkner’s early experiences as a screenwriter in Hollywood, including analyses of the treatments and scripts he worked on—and how these would affect his subsequent fiction. Throughout, the author, an expert biographer, delivers arresting details and telling images from his subject’s life: Faulkner got a D in English at the University of Mississippi; he liked Charlie Chaplin movies and somewhat resembled the cinema star; As I Lay Dying appeared less than a year after he commenced writing it. Faulkner idolized Sherwood Anderson; though they became friends, their friendship eventually fractured. In Hollywood, Faulkner drank with Howard Hawks, and his literary friendships included Lillian Hellman (the subject of a previous Rollyson biography), Dashiell Hammett, and Nathanael West. The author’s underlying research is prodigious, and he does not hesitate to correct earlier biographers. General readers will find some of the book a bit daunting—especially the lengthy exegeses of literary works—but this is a top-notch biography nonetheless.
A filling, satisfying feast for Faulkner aficionados.
A feminist, activist, and prolific writer recounts her emergence from solitude and vulnerability.
“To have a voice,” writes Solnit (Whose Story Is This?: Old Conflicts, New Chapters, 2019, etc.) in her absorbing new memoir, “means not just the animal capacity to utter sounds but the ability to participate fully in the conversations that shape your society, your relations to others, and your own life.” As a young woman in San Francisco in the 1980s, Solnit lacked the “three key things that matter in having a voice: audibility, credibility, and consequence.” Instead, she felt silenced by a society that effaced women, circumscribed their freedom through harassment and violence, and insisted that they learn “deferential limits.” So she became expert “at the art of nonexistence, since existence was so perilous.” At 19, “young, ignorant, poor, and almost friendless,” Solnit was finishing her last semester at San Francisco State University, living in a dingy residential hotel, when she found an affordable, light-filled studio apartment. Furnished with pieces she found on the street or in thrift stores, the tiny apartment, where she lived for the next 25 years, became a refuge from a pervasive threat of violence. A joyous walker, she was often “followed and yelled at and mugged and grabbed.” In the news, movies, and TV, women were beaten, raped, and murdered by boyfriends, husbands, or serial killers: “Even if none of these terrible things happen to you,” writes the author, “the possibility they might and the constant reminders have an impact.” Books offered another kind of refuge where “I ceased to be myself, and this nonexistence I pursued and devoured like a drug.” Solnit traces her discovery of communities—artists, punk musicians, gay men and women—that sustained her and the people and places that inspired many of her books. Writing offered her a way of participating in the world, probing “what’s hidden beneath the assumptions or conventions,” illuminating forgotten people and places, and showing “how invisibility permits atrocity.”
A perceptive, radiant portrait of a writer of indelible consequence.
A memoir of the difficult lives of the author’s family members, who eked out a bare subsistence during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Out of a sense of guilt toward his relatives, who toiled raising young families during the revolution and endured no end of hardship in their poor village, Yan (The Day the Sun Died, 2018, etc.), a winner of the Franz Kafka Prize, addresses the rarely acknowledged sacrifices they made as well as how their lives inspired him and his generation to leave their rural homes and try to find greater opportunity in the city. Yan was the youngest in a big family growing up in Henan Province, breaking up “ginger stones” alongside his beloved father to fashion the tile-roofed house that would serve as his brothers’ bridal “mansions.” The author barely got a middle school education. With a sick sister whose care required all of the family’s earnings, there was nothing but toil and poverty, and Yan watched his father grow increasingly frail from chronic asthma. All the while, he dreamed of leaving and becoming a writer, and he followed his father’s brother to work in the city at a cement factory. His experiences in the city, Yan was sure, would make for a happy life, and he set about writing after his long shifts at the factory. Eventually, the author joined the army to get away from the poverty and monotony that his relatives endured. Throughout the book, Yan depicts his provincial relatives with enormous heart and respect, acknowledging their sacrifices in a dark yet poignant meditation on grief and death. “The elderly have no choice but to take a first step on behalf of the next generation,” he writes. “Then they go to the next world and lie down there, calmly waiting for their children to follow in their footsteps and be reunited with them.”
A memoir steeped in metaphor and ultimately tremendously moving.
A ghostly tale of revenge and the strength of the sisterly bond.
The four Torres sisters have fascinated the boys in their San Antonio neighborhood for years. Each with her own quirky personality, they all suffer from the suffocating hold their widower father has over them. While attempting to sneak out, Ana, the oldest, fatally falls from a tree. A year later, her angry spirit begins to haunt their home. The novel alternates between a first-person perspective by an unnamed narrator—one of the boys across the street—and the points of view of each sister, narrated in the third person. The chapters jump from past to present, dropping hints about what truly happened and why Ana is haunting her old home. The Torres sisters mourn in their own ways—Jessica tries to become Ana, even dating her abusive boyfriend; Iridian stays inside reading Ana’s romance novels; and Rosa attends church and hopes to commune with animals. The author adeptly portrays the claustrophobia of living in a small town and being under the watch of an overbearing patriarchal figure—in fact, the male gaze is the true enemy in this novel, and it’s only when the young women join forces that they’re able to break free of its oppressive ties. Mabry’s (All the Wind in the World, 2017, etc.) third novel has echoes of The Virgin Suicides. The protagonists are Latinx.
The evocative language and deft characterization will haunt—and empower—readers.
(Magical realism. 14-adult)
A cursed prince and a girl whose presence stops magic join forces to regain the kingdom of Avalon from the Snow Queen.
Prince Alexei of Avalon has lived incognito since the Snow Queen ensnared his home kingdom in ice. He is now in hiding with Tala’s family in Arizona, keeping his identity and Tala’s spell-breaking a secret given the illegality of magic in the Royal States of America. When the fabled firebird, Avalon’s protector, arrives in Arizona, Alex, Tala, and a group sent by the mysterious leader Cheshire return to Avalon in an attempt to defeat the Snow Queen once and for all. Mythology and folklore from around the world, including King Arthur, Yamato Takeru, and El Cid, meet in a single world. This mishmash does not overwhelm but instead makes for an intriguing read. Fantastical events such as the fall of Wonderland are woven seamlessly with emotionally charged real-world elements such as racist Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Tala is Scottish and Filipina, allowing for exploration of immigration and diasporic communities. Alex is gay, and other characters are nonbinary, disabled, adopted, and of various ethnicities. Incorporating modern sensibilities and a sprawling world drawn from fairy tales, Chupeco (The Never Tilting World, 2019, etc.) has brought readers a truly original novel.
A deftly executed melding of folklore and reality grounded in contemporary issues.
Award-winning author Reynolds (Look Both Ways, 2019, etc.) presents a young readers’ version of American University professor Kendi’s (How To Be an Antiracist, 2019, etc.) Stamped From the Beginning (2016).
This volume, which is “not a history book,” chronicles racist ideology, specifically anti-blackness in the U.S., from its genesis to its pernicious manifestations in the present day. In an open, conversational tone, Reynolds makes it clear that anti-black racist ideology in the U.S. has consistently relied on the erronious belief that African people (and black people in general) are “dumb” and “savage,” ideas perpetuated through the written word, other media, and pseudo-science. Using separationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist historical figures, a direct line is drawn throughout U.S history from chattel slavery through the Civil War, Jim Crow, the civil rights era, the war on drugs, and #BlackLivesMatter, with plenty of little-known, compelling, and disturbing details inserted. Readers who want to truly understand how deeply embedded racism is in the very fabric of the U.S., its history, and its systems will come away educated and enlightened. It’s a monumental feat to chronicle in so few pages the history of not only anti-black racism in the U.S., but also assimilationist and anti-racist thought as well. In the process it succeeds at connecting “history directly...to our lives as we live them right this minute.” Worthy of inclusion in every home and in curricula and libraries everywhere.
Impressive and much needed.
(further reading, source notes, index)
Relationships are complicated, but what happens when the bond that brought you solace unravels just when your parent’s marriage falls apart?
Cleo Baker wanders the streets of New York City, drowning her sorrows in jazz-age music and the words of Shakespeare as she mourns the loss of her best friend, Layla, a pain reminiscent of the grief felt for her late grandmother. It felt like fate when they met, and she thought it was in the stars for them to be together forever, but in sophomore year, Layla joined chorus and, over time, chose those girls over Cleo. Cleo was hurt but tried to give Layla her space…until she no longer recognizes her and instigates a vengeful feud. Now Cleo urgently wishes to overwrite the memories of their friendship, but that’s difficult when she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Feeling adrift, she works through the crumbling of her family, navigates a friendship that has grown apart, and learns to trust new friends and see them for who they are, not who she expects them to be. Told in the first person, Woodfolk's (The Beauty That Remains, 2018) novel seamlessly interweaves alternating timelines while making Shakespeare relevant to teens. The author skillfully voices the pain of unexpectedly losing a close friend and explores the choice to remain open despite the risk of future heartache. Cleo is black and Layla is Bengali.
A well-crafted story of resilience.
A young boy describes the bear that lives with him.
The story opens on the face of an unhappy kid who lives with a bear. The protagonist goes on to show a diagram of the bear, who has “sharp teeth,” “mean eyes,” and “strong arms.” The bear is loud, roaring when the narrator is trying to sleep. The bear is “messy,” “bossy,” and “always hungry,” even stealing the narrator’s food. The bear is “strong” and plays a little rough. The kid tries to tell Mom, but she dismisses the protagonist, suggesting some outside play in the park. At the park, three bigger kids start bullying the narrator, who suddenly wishes there were a bear to help out—and there’s the bear! After this rescue, the kid realizes that sometimes having a bear can be pretty great. It seems having a bear in the family is a lot like having an older sibling. Tatsukawa writes and illustrates a metaphorical but completely accessible tale for any child who has an older sibling. Displayed in a combination of printed text and hand-lettered speech bubbles, the writing is simple and straightforward. The illustrations have a textured-paper look, with cute details, such as the protagonist’s bee sweater and the lion, snake, and shark sweaters the bullies wear. Narrator and family present Asian, and the other kids have a variety of skin tones and hair colors.
A thoroughly charming take on sibling relationships.
(Picture book. 3-7)
A handsomely designed tribute to the brilliant naturalist who very nearly scooped Darwin.
It was “a case of great minds thinking alike,” Dorion writes. But while Darwin had slowly, cautiously
articulated his hypotheses to himself over decades in his country home, they
came as flashes of insight to Wallace in the course of scouring the jungles of
the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago for exotic specimens to sell to European
collectors. It was Wallace’s 1858 letter to Darwin that spurred the latter to
go public—and Wallace’s salutary lack of ego that turned what might have been a
bitter battle over claims of precedence into a long and cordial relationship. Though
the author skimps on Wallace’s later career and misleadingly tags the heart of
his proposed theory as “natural selection” (that was Darwin’s term, not Wallace’s),
she offers clear pictures of his character and his passion for natural science
while making generous use of direct quotations. Tennant gives the slightly
oversized volume the feel of a collector’s album with ranks of accurately drawn
tropical beetles, birds, and other specimens. These he intersperses with
portraits of eminent colleagues, images of collecting gear, and verdant scenes
of the white explorer at work either alone or with one or more Indigenous assistants
(the latter only sometimes identified, or even mentioned, in the narrative).
A case study of science at its idealistic and paradigm-changing best.
(map, glossary, reading list)
(Picture book/biography. 9-11)
Eleven-year-old Yumi Chung doesn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch, but she secretly harbors dreams of becoming a comedian. Shy + Asian + Girl = Comedian? Why, yes. Yes, it does.
Winston Preparatory Academy is a shy person’s nightmare. Yumi hides from the beautiful girls and the bullies who call her “Yu-meat” because she smells like her parents’ Korean barbecue restaurant. This summer, her parents are demanding that she go to Korean summer school, or hagwon, to get a near-perfect score on the high school entrance exam—because that is the only way to attend an elite college, like her superachiever sister, a 20-year-old med student. Yumi collects all of her fears and frustrations (and jokes) in her Super-Secret Comedy Notebook. When a case of mistaken identity allows her to attend a comedy camp taught by her YouTube idol, Yumi is too panicked to correct the problem—and then it spirals out of control. With wonderful supporting characters, strong pacing, and entertaining comedy bits, debut author Kim has woven a pop song of immigrant struggle colliding with comedy and Korean barbecue. With their feet in two different cultures, readers listen in on honest conversations, full of halting English and unspoken truths painting a realistic picture of 21st-century first-generation Americans—at least a Korean version. By becoming someone else, Yumi learns more about herself and her family in an authentic and hilarious way.
Readers will cheer the birth of this comedian.
Poets Browne (Black Girl Magic, illustrated by Jess X. Snow, 2018), Acevedo (The Poet X, 2018), and Gatwood (Life of the Party, 2019) team up to offer a collection that calls young readers to awareness and justice.
Browne’s introduction explains what it means to be woke—“aware of your surroundings”—and connects this awareness to historical movements for justice, stating, “this is where our freedom begins.” The poems are assigned subject headings located next to the page numbers, in nearly alphabetical order, for easy access when flipping through this slim volume for inspiration. Some poems cover quiet topics that nourish individuals and relationships, such as body positivity, forgiveness, individuality, and volunteerism. Other poems are louder, calling for lifted voices. In “Activism, Everywhere,” Browne writes, “It is resisting to be comfortable / When we all have yet to feel safe and free”; her protest poem, titled “Right To, After Claude McKay,” powerfully echoes McKay’s historic verses while reversing the premise: “If we must live, let it not be in silence.” A resistance poem by Acevedo urges readers to “Rock the Boat,” and Gatwood’s poem on privilege asks, “What’s in My Toolbox?” Identity issues are covered too, with poems on disability, gender, immigration, and intersectionality. Each of the 24 poems is an irresistible invitation to take up space in community and in society, and each is eminently recitable, taking its own place in the spoken-word tradition. Taylor’s bold and colorful illustrations complement the poems without distracting from their power; Jason Reynolds contributes a foreword.
Read it; gift it; use it to challenge, protect, and grow.
(Picture book/poetry. 8-18)