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by Susan Barker ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 18, 2015
A letter from a mysterious stalker upends the life of a Beijing taxi driver in Barker’s (The Orientalist and the Ghost, 2009, etc.) stunning epic, which spans a thousand years of Chinese history and six lifetimes of betrayal.
Wang Jun, husband of Yida, father of Echo, is driving down Workers Stadium Road when the first note falls from the visor of his cab. “I watch you most days,” it reads. It is taunting in its anonymity: “Who are you? you must be wondering. I am your soulmate, your old friend, and I have come back to this city of sixteen million in search of you.” And so begins Wang’s unraveling. In the present, it’s 2008. The city is preparing for the impending Olympics, and Wang—distanced from his troubled family, mostly recovered from the nervous breakdown of his college years—has carved out something like contentment for himself: a beautiful wife, a beloved child, a job, if not the one he once seemed destined for. But this is not Wang’s first or only life, the letters explain. There have been other incarnations. He and the “soulmate” have, in fact, been intimately connected for more than a thousand years, from the Tang Dynasty to the Opium War to the Cultural Revolution. They have been father and illegitimate daughter, the product of incest and fellow courtesans to the sadistic Emperor Jiajing; schoolmates at the Anti-Capitalist School for Revolutionary Girls and Jurchen boys, enslaved by the Mongols. Moving between Wang’s many pasts, all of them thrilling, gruesome, and tragic, and his increasingly desperate present, Barker’s historical tour de force is simultaneously sweeping and precise. It would be easy for the novel to teeter into overwrought melodrama; instead, Barker’s psychologically nuanced characters and sharp wit turn the bleakness and the gore into something seriously moving.Effortlessly blends the past with the present, dark humor with profound sadness. A deeply human masterpiece.
Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: May 13, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015
A posthumous collection of stories, almost uniformly narrated by hard-living women, that makes a case for the author as a major talent.
From the 1960s through the '80s, Lucia Berlin (1936-2004) published brilliant stories for low-profile publications—her six collections all appeared with reputable but small presses. One suspects she might have had a higher profile had her subject matter been less gloomy: she mined her history of alcoholism in stories like “Her First Detox” and “Unmanageable,” which detail the turmoil of the DTs and lost potential, and her work in hospitals in stories like “Emergency Room Notebook, 1977,” which establishes a milieu of “rich massive coronaries, matronly phenobarbital suicides, children in swimming pools.” Yet the prevailing sensibility of this book, collecting 43 of the 76 stories Berlin published, is cleareyed and even comic in the face of life hitting the skids. The title story, for instance, balances wry commentary about housecleaning work (“never make friends with cats”) and deadpan observation (“I clean their coke mirror with Windex”) with a sad, thrumming back story. Similarly, “Sex Appeal” is narrated by a girl watching her older cousin primp for a date only to realize that she herself is the lecherous man’s lust object—a discovery Berlin presents with both a sense of surprise and foreboding. Berlin’s skill at controlling the temperature of a story is best displayed in her most emotionally demanding material. In “Tiger Bites,” narrated by an El Paso woman who heads to Juarez for an illegal abortion, the pain of her experience and the pieties of her family at home collide. And “Mijito,” which deserves to be widely anthologized, exposes how an immigrant woman’s best intentions to care for her ailing son are easily derailed by circumstance and obligation.A testament to a writer whose explorations of society’s rougher corners deserve wider attention.
Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015
Page Count: 432
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015
by Lauren Groff ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 15, 2015
An absorbing story of a modern marriage framed in Greek mythology.
Groff’s sharply drawn portrait of a marriage begins on a cold Maine beach, with newlyweds “on their knees, now, though the sand was rough and hurt. It didn’t matter. They were reduced to mouths and hands.” This opener ushers in an ambitious, knowing novel besotted with sex—in a kaleidoscope of variety—much more abundant than the commune-dwellers got up to in Groff’s luminous Arcadia (2012). The story centers first on Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite, a dashing actor at Vassar, who marries his classmate, flounders, then becomes a famous playwright. Lotto’s name evokes the lottery—and the Fates, as his half of the book is titled. His wife, the imperial and striking Mathilde, takes over the second section, Furies, astir with grief and revenge. The plotting is exquisite, and the sentences hum; Groff writes with a pleasurable, bantering vividness. Her book is smart, albeit with an occasional vibrato of overkill. The author gives this novel a harder edge and darker glow than previous work, echoing Mathilde’s observation, “She was so tired of the old way of telling stories, all those too worn narrative paths, the familiar plot thickets, the fat social novels. She needed something messier, something sharper, something like a bomb going off.” Indeed it is.An intricate plot, perfect title, and a harrowing look at the tie that binds.
Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015
Page Count: 368
Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015
A lively, loopy experimental novel rich with musings on language, art, and, yes, teeth.
Each section of the second novel by Mexican author Luiselli (Faces in the Crowd, 2014) opens with an epigram about the disconnect between the signifier and signified. If you dozed off during lectures on semiotics in college, fear not: though the author is interested in the slippery nature of description, this novel’s style and tone are brisk and jargon-free. The narrator, Gustavo, has decided late in life to become an auctioneer (“to have my teeth fixed”), a job he thrives at in part by skillfully overhyping the values of the objects on offer. Not that he’s immune to being oversold himself: did the new set of teeth he buys at auction really once belong to Marilyn Monroe? The skeletal plot focuses on Gustavo’s hosting an auction to benefit a church outside Mexico City, his hoard of prized objects, and his reunion with his son. But the book lives in its offbeat digressions, like an extended discussion of literary eminences’ lives via their teeth. (St. Augustine was inspired to write his Confessions due to a toothache; G.K. Chesterson had a marble-chewing habit; false teeth were recommended to calm Virginia Woolf’s inner turmoil.) But all this dental chatter isn’t precisely the point. “We have here before us today pieces of great value, since each contains a story replete with small lessons,” Gustavo tells a group of auction attendees, and the whole book is a kind of extended commentary on how possessions acquire value largely through the stories we tell about them. (In an afterword, Luiselli explains that this “novel-essay” was inspired by such questions and was first written for workers in a factory outside Mexico City that has a gallery connected to it.)A clever philosophical novel that, as the author puts it, has “less to do with lying than surpassing the truth.”
Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015
Page Count: 184
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015
by Jim Shepard ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 12, 2015
An understated and devastating novel of the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation, as seen through the eyes of a street-wise boy.
Shepard has recently earned more renown for his short stories (You Think That’s Bad, 2011, etc.), but here he presents an exhaustively researched, pitch-perfect novel exploring the moral ambiguities of survival through a narrator who's just 9 years old when the tale begins. He's a Jewish boy living in the Polish countryside with his family and an odd sense of his place in the world. “It was terrible to have to be the person I was,” he despairs, matter-of-factly describing himself as basically friendless, a poor student, and an enigma to his loving mother: “She said that too often my tongue worked but not my head, or my head worked but not my heart.” Yet Aron proves to be engaging company as he describes the selfishness that will help him survive as the world becomes increasingly hellish. The horrors are so incremental that Aron—and the reader—might be compared to the lobster dropped into the pot as the temperature keeps rising past the boiling point. Aron’s perspective is necessarily limited, and he often seems to have little understanding of what’s happening around him or why. His family is pushed into the city, and in the ghetto's chaos, he's separated from them. Serving as a moral counterweight to the boy's instinctive pragmatism is Dr. James Korczak, a real-life Polish Jew whose ambition to “become the Karl Marx of children” inspired him to keep a couple hundred alive through his orphanage, which he supports by begging for funds from the better-off ghetto inhabitants. Aron becomes the doctor’s ward and accomplice, though he has also been serving as an occasional informer for the Gestapo through an intermediary in the Jewish police. He tries to use his position to help save the doctor from being sent to a concentration camp, but the doctor is only interested if he can save all the other children as well. “How do we know if we love enough?” asks the doctor. “How do we learn to love more?”Ordinary people reveal dimensions that are extraordinarily cruel or kind.
Pub Date: May 12, 2015
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015
Categories: HISTORICAL FICTION
by Hanya Yanagihara ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.
Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.
Pub Date: March 10, 2015
Page Count: 720
Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
Categories: GENERAL FICTION
by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.
Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
by John Ferling ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 5, 2015
From servants to citizens: a nuanced study of the American Revolution focused on how the war changed the way Americans saw themselves.
Having written abundantly about the Revolutionary War, accomplished scholar Ferling (Emeritus, History/Univ. of West Georgia; Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation, 2013, etc.) employs his extensive knowledge to relay a tremendously complicated and multilayered story of the gradual embracing of ideas of independence by the once-loyal colonists. Economic incentives drove the colonists to question the relationship with the mother country. They were offended by having to pay for Britain’s chronic warfare, furnish soldiers and then endure England’s “coldhearted indifference” to matters of the colonists’ “vital interests.” Attempts by Britain to enforce imperial trade laws—by the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, one-third of England’s trade was with the colonists—only led to more alarm that Britain was scheming to take away liberties. Little by little, the colonists began to react, and Ferling takes note of certain important early firebrands, e.g.—Virginia’s Patrick Henry, Boston’s Samuel Adams, John Dickinson and his “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania.” Others, such as Benjamin Franklin, emissary to London, played both sides until they were sure which way the wind was blowing. Ferling effectively shows how the colonists’ sense of themselves changed from the very bottom up. From deep in the provincial hamlets, they were organizing, training their militias and accepting more egalitarian proclivities and self-governing practices, such as freedom from the Anglican yoke. Hostilities against Britain provoked a “rooted hatred” for the mother country and a “growing sense of identity as Americans,” although the outcome was in no way certain. In fact, for many years, it looked quite bleak. Ferling impressively demonstrates how the military reality eventually galvanized the fledgling country.A first-rate historian’s masterful touch conveys the profound changes to colonists’ “hearts and minds.”
Pub Date: May 5, 2015
Page Count: 416
Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015
by Helen Macdonald ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 3, 2015
An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.
Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.
Pub Date: March 3, 2015
Page Count: 288
Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014
by Adam Tooze ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 13, 2014
A vigorously defended argument that the war to end all wars was really the origin of a new world order and American superpower.
Taking a truly global view of World War I, Tooze (History/Yale Univ.; The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, 2007, etc.) holds that the conflict was Europe’s undoing in more ways than one. Obviously, it laid the groundwork for the global war to follow, but it also announced the arrival of an America that was able to act unilaterally on the world stage. The huge bloodletting also left the losing, and even some of the victorious, powers politically unstable. The author highlights Hitler, of course, but also Leon Trotsky as representatives of a sweeping change by which the war “opened a new phase of ‘world organization.’ ” What is novel about Tooze’s thesis is that, in this light, Hitler, Mussolini and the military leaders of Imperial Japan saw themselves as rebels against this new world order, which oppressed Germany financially and dismissed Italian and Japanese claims for rewards for their parts in defeating the Central Powers; all resented the notion that the terms of the transition to this new world order were dictated by the upstart United States. Interesting, too, is the author’s interpretation of America’s artful use of soft power, favoring political and economic influence over direct military intervention whenever possible. One negative consequence was Wilson’s negotiation of a “peace without victory” at the end of the war that promoted a subsequent instability made lethal with the worldwide economic collapse a decade later. In discussing what he calls “the fiasco of Wilsonism,” Tooze sometimes drifts into highly technical economic matters such as the mechanics of hyperinflation, but his narrative is gripping—and sobering, since readers well know the tragedies that followed.A lucid, first-rate history of the results of a war whose beginning a century ago we are busily commemorating.
Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2014
Page Count: 640
Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014
by Simon Winchester ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 27, 2015
The preternaturally curious writer about everything from the Oxford English Dictionary to volcanoes to the Atlantic Ocean (Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, 2010, etc.) returns with a series of high-resolution literary snapshots of the Pacific Ocean.
Winchester, who now lives in Massachusetts, does not do the expected: there is no chapter about the geological history of the ocean, followed by a slow chronology. Instead, realizing the difficulty of his own task, the author focuses on 10 aspects of the ocean and its inhabitants—islanders, those on the shores—and uses them to illustrate some historical points. He issues dire warnings about the damage we’re doing to the natural world and about the geopolitical forces—especially the military rise of China—that threaten us all. Occasionally, Winchester makes what seem to be odd pairings (a chapter on both a volcano in the Philippines and the rise of China) and narrative choices (a chapter on the rise of Japan accelerated by manufacturing transistor radios), and he also looks at the international nightmare caused by the 1968 case of the USS Pueblo and North Korea. No matter what the putative subject of the chapter, though, we learn a lot about the ocean: its challenged wildlife, the swirling areas of plastic debris, the Pacific Plate, El Niño, and the Pacific’s vast dimensions. As we’ve come to expect from Winchester, there are plenty of delights. A chapter on surfing has guest appearances by both Jack London and the Beach Boys; and the author examines America’s egregious abuse of islanders during aboveground nuclear testing. Deep worries abound, as well: the dying coral reefs, climate change, and military posturing of the superpowers. The author ends with a hopeful but probably doomed wish for international fraternity.Winchester’s passionate research—on sea and land—undergirds this superb analysis of a world wonder that we seem hellbent on damaging.
Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015
Page Count: 480
Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015
by Andrea Wulf ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 8, 2015
Engrossing biography of “a visionary, a thinker far ahead of his time,” who “revolutionized the way we see the natural world.”
For most of his life, explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a household name. Never just a simple collector or adventurer, he poured out his ideas in lectures, conversations, and books that made him the public face of science during his era. In this fine account of an unbelievably energetic life, British commentator and historian Wulf (Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens, 2012, etc.) emphasizes that his insights marked the end of the universal view (at least among scientists) of animals as soulless automatons and the belief that humans were lords of the Earth. He ushered in the modern era of natural science, including—although he usually gets little credit—environmentalism. Humboldt, writes the author “saw the earth as a great living organism where everything was connected, conceiving a bold new vision of nature that still affects how we understand the world.” The son of a wealthy Prussian aristocrat, he used his money to finance his iconic, grueling 1799-1804 expedition through the jungles and mountains of Latin America, ending with a long visit to President Thomas Jefferson, a lifelong correspondent. He eventually returned to Europe, wrote of his experiences in 34 bestselling volumes, and continued to travel, lecture, write, and excite artists, poets, scholars, and scientists for the remainder of a very long life. Wulf pauses regularly for chapters on other great men who acknowledged Humboldt’s immense influence, including Goethe, Simón Bolívar, Charles Darwin, Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.Humboldt was the Einstein of the 19th century but far more widely read, and Wulf successfully combines a biography with an intoxicating history of his times.
Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015
Page Count: 496
Review Posted Online: June 30, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015
A familiar theme—a big brother feels displaced by a new baby—seems fresh in Child’s latest.
“Elmore Green started off life as an only child, as many children do,” opens the wry text. Accompanying art depicts a brown-skinned boy with tousled black hair, wearing photo-collaged knitwear and grasping his bedroom doorknob. At first, his room remains his own, even when “the new small person” arrives, and Elmore’s upset arises not from sharing either space or things, but from insecurity. He worries that his parents and others might like the baby “a little bit MORE than they liked Elmore Green.” Such concerns don’t foster affection, and Elmore sees even more reasons to remain leery when his brother begins copying him, following him around, interfering with his things and (horrors!) sharing his bedroom. This last development, however, provokes brotherly love when Elmore has a nightmare and his brother crawls into his bed to soothe him. It’s a pleasing twist on typical stories about sibling rivalry, in that the little brother’s actions change the dynamic rather than vice versa. Shared activities and playthings strengthen their bond, resulting in a happy ending for Elmore and Albert, whose name is finally revealed upon his big brother’s change of heart.How nice to see a familiar story made new with a family of color and a little brother as hero. (Picture book. 3-7)
Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015
Page Count: 32
Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014
In a book commemorating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, readers are introduced to 100-year-old black Alabaman Lillian, who recalls her long-delayed journey to exercise her American right to vote 50 years ago.
As Lillian climbs the “very steep hill” to the courthouse to vote, she reminisces about the struggles that African-Americans faced and overcame on the way to the passage of the historic law that dismantled the widespread exclusionary practices that African-Americans encountered to that point and guaranteed their right to vote. She’s reminded of the legacy of slavery that her great-grandparents Edmund and Ida survived and of the 19th Amendment, which allowed women to vote, yet angry mobs of white locals forced her parents to back away, holding little Lillian by the hand. She pauses to recall the actions in Selma, 1965. She arrives at the voting booth and presses the lever. In Evans’ mixed-media illustrations, a stooped Lillian makes her slow way up the hill as the tableaux of history play out on the page. She is dressed in vibrant colors, contrasting with the faded, translucent historical images. A burning cross figures in one powerful spread; another joins 100-year-old Lillian to her 50-years-younger self at the gutter, emphasizing her determination to claim her rights.A much-needed picture book that will enlighten a new generation about battles won and a timely call to uphold these victories in the present. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)
Pub Date: July 14, 2015
Page Count: 40
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random
Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015
A multilayered novel set in turbulent times explores music’s healing power.
Sweeping across years and place, Ryan’s full-bodied story is actually five stories that take readers from an enchanted forest to Germany, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and finally New York City. Linking the stories is an ethereal-sounding harmonica first introduced in the fairy-tale beginning of the book and marked with a mysterious M. In Nazi Germany, 12-year-old Friedrich finds the harmonica in an abandoned building; playing it fills him with the courage to attempt to free his father from Dachau. Next, the harmonica reaches two brothers in an orphanage in Depression-era Pennsylvania, from which they are adopted by a mysterious wealthy woman who doesn’t seem to want them. Just after the United States enters World War II, the harmonica then makes its way to Southern California in a box of used instruments for poor children; as fifth-grader Ivy Lopez learns to play, she discovers she has exceptional musical ability. Ryan weaves these stories together, first, with the theme of music—symbolized by the harmonica—and its ability to empower the disadvantaged and discriminated-against, and then, at the novel’s conclusion, as readers learn the intertwined fate of each story’s protagonist.A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s worth every moment of readers’ time. (Historical fiction. 9-14)
Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015
Page Count: 592
Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014
Tonatiuh’s Mixtec-influenced illustrations make an apt complement to this picture-book biography of one of Mexico’s most beloved artists, José Guadalupe Posada.
Don Lupe, as he was called, used the printing techniques of lithography, engraving, and etching. Each technique is summarized in four-panel layouts, and sample images of his calaveras and calacas (skulls and skeletons) are liberally incorporated into the illustrations. Many of the iconic images associated with Día de los Muertos were created by Posada as integral elements of his world-renowned political satire, particularly during the Mexican Revolution. Tonatiuh skillfully blends his own distinctive style of digital collage and hand drawings not only to highlight events in Posada’s life, but also to add whimsical elements by introducing contemporary calaveras. He incorporates amusing, thoughtful exercises for young readers into the narrative, prompting them to interpret the messages behind Posada’s artwork. Also included is an in-depth author’s note on the history of the Day of the Dead and an extensive glossary. In addition, a bibliography, list of art credits, and venues where Posada’s art is displayed are provided for further exploration of Posada’s life and work. Phonetic pronunciation is, unfortunately, only sporadically and unevenly sprinkled throughout the story.Following on his Sibert Honor–winning Separate Is Never Equal (2014), Tonatiuh further marks himself as a major nonfiction talent with this artistically beautiful and factually accessible offering that effectively blends artistic and political content for young readers. (Picture book/biography. 7-13)
Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015
Page Count: 40
Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015
by Martha Brockenbrough ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 28, 2015
A lovingly realized Depression-era Seattle becomes the field of play for the latest round in the titular, age-old game.
In February 1920, Love and Death choose their newest pawns as infants: Love’s is Henry, a white boy of privilege (though influenza and grief rob him of much of it); Death’s is Flora, the soon-to-be-orphaned daughter of African-American jazz musicians. In spring of 1937, the game begins. Flora sings in—and actually owns part of—the family’s nightclub, but her heart is in the skies, where she flies a borrowed biplane and dreams of owning her own. Henry, a talented bass player, is poised to graduate from the tony private school he attends on scholarship with his best friend, Ethan, whose family took him in upon his father’s suicide. They meet when Henry and Ethan visit the airstrip where Flora works; the boys are in pursuit of a story for Ethan’s newspaper-magnate father. Brockenbrough’s precise, luscious prose cuts back and forth among the four protagonists, according each character equal depth, with Ethan playing a heartbreaking supporting role. The contrast between the youthful excitement of ardent Henry and pragmatic Flora and the ageless, apparent ennui of the immortals gains nuance as readers come to understand that Love and Death are not without their own complicated feelings.Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s haunting and masterfully orchestrated narrative. (Magical realism. 12 & up)
Pub Date: April 28, 2015
Page Count: 336
Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015
by Daniel José Older ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 30, 2015
When walking corpses—and worse—show up in the city, a teen discovers family secrets and ancestral powers.
Sierra’s summer plan is to paint an enormous mural on an abandoned, unfinished five-story building. On an older mural nearby, unnervingly, a painted face changes expression and weeps a tear that glistens and drops. Grandpa Lázaro, mostly speechless from a stroke, grasps a lucid moment to warn Sierra, “They are coming for us….the shadowshapers.” Abuelo can’t or won’t explain further, and Sierra has no idea what shadowshapers are. Her regular world explodes into a “mystical Brooklyn labyrinth” shimmering with beauty but deadly dangerous. Walking corpses with icy grips and foul smells chase her, and a throng haint—a shadowy phantom with mouths all over—almost kills her. In Bed-Stuy, Prospect Park, and Coney Island in the middle of the night, Sierra fights to stay alive and to decipher her role in this chaos. This story about ancestors, ghosts, power, and community has art and music at its core; Sierra’s drawing and painting turn out to be tools for spirit work. Sierra’s Puerto Rican with African and Taíno ancestors; her community is black and brown, young and old, Latin and Caribbean and American. Sometimes funny and sometimes striking, Older’s comfortable prose seamlessly blends English and Spanish.Warm, strong, vernacular, dynamic—a must. (Urban fantasy. 14-18)
Pub Date: June 30, 2015
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015
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