As vivid and moving as the novel is, it’s not because Haslett strives to surprise but because he’s so mindful and expressive...

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IMAGINE ME GONE

This touching chronicle of love and pain traces half a century in a family of five from the parents’ engagement in 1963 through a father’s and son’s psychological torments and a final crisis.

Something has happened to Michael in the opening pages, which are told in the voice of his brother, Alec. The next chapter is narrated by Margaret, the mother of Michael, 12, Celia, 10, and Alec, 7, and the wife of John, as they prepare for a vacation in Maine. Soon, a flashback reveals that shortly before John and Margaret were to wed, she learned of his periodic mental illness, a “sort of hibernation” in which “the mind closes down.” She marries him anyway and comes to worry about the recurrence of his hibernations—which exacerbate their constant money problems—only to witness Michael bearing the awful legacy. Each chapter is told by one of the family’s five voices, shifting the point of view on shared troubles, showing how they grow away from one another without losing touch, how they cope with the loss of John and the challenge of Michael. Haslett (Union Atlantic, 2009, etc.) shapes these characters with such sympathy, detail, and skill that reading about them is akin to living among them. The portrait of Michael stands out: a clever, winning youth who becomes a kind of scholar of contemporary music with an empathy for black history and a wretched dependence on Klonopin and many other drugs to keep his anxiety at bay, to glimpse a “world unfettered by dread.”

As vivid and moving as the novel is, it’s not because Haslett strives to surprise but because he’s so mindful and expressive of how much precious life there is in both normalcy and anguish.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-26135-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

McGinniss covers familiar territory in the marketplace and marriage but injects it with an urgency, a sense of constant,...

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CAROUSEL COURT

A young couple’s plan to flip a house in Southern California goes awry and old wounds in their marriage reopen in this dark novel of unrelenting tension.

Nick and Phoebe are living in Boston when they notice other “young married professionals buying and selling houses for six-figure profits.” But it’s clear from the word “underwater” on the opening page that their dream is foundering. McGinniss (The Delivery Man, 2008) presents a smooth combination of present-time narrative and extensive flashbacks to reveal two lives wracked by more than just mortgage woes. Their marriage has been haunted by an affair Phoebe had with her mentor, JW, while on the fast track at a financial-services firm in Boston and an accident she had while “high on Klonopin” with their toddler in the car. Moving to California doesn’t improve matters. Nick learns on the eve of heading west that his new job there has evaporated. In their LA suburb, housing prices quickly go south after the couple takes out a heavy mortgage and plows all their money into renovations. Nick finds work as a kind of repo man with other underwater homes. Phoebe is a rep for a drug firm while maintaining a steady high with Klonopin and wine. Then JW resurfaces and Phoebe hopes to use him to get back on the fast track and somehow fix the family. Doomed and doughty, she’s a lexicon of contradictions, a kind of update on Maria Wyeth of Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays. McGinnis also recalls Nathanael West’s Day of the Locusts in depicting their road, Carousel Court, as a catalog of strangeness and dangers: from coyotes and marauding home invaders to weird neighbors and crying, screaming cicadas.

McGinniss covers familiar territory in the marketplace and marriage but injects it with an urgency, a sense of constant, inescapable threat that all adds up to a taut page-turner.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9127-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

Vaultingly ambitious, thrillingly well-written, charged with moral fervor and rueful compassion. How will this dazzling...

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THE SPORT OF KINGS

Morgan follows up her slim, keening debut (All the Living, 2009) with an epic novel steeped in American history and geography.

As a boy, Henry Forge determines to turn the land his aristocratic Kentucky family has planted with corn for generations into a farm for racehorses. Henry grows into an arrogant, hard man, imbued with the unthinking racism and sexism of his haughty father and unnaturally focused on his only child, Henrietta. Before she leaves him, wife Judith loudly voices the novel’s seething strain of bitterness about the lot of women in this world, but her anger is nothing compared to the rage of Allmon Shaughnessy, an African-American man who enters the story in the early 2000s, when Henrietta and he are both in their 20s. Backtracking to trace Allmon’s past, Morgan’s gothic tale of Southern decadence deepens into a searing investigation of racism’s enduring legacy. Allmon’s ailing, hard-pressed mother and her father, a storefront preacher and veteran civil rights activist, are notable among the teeming cast of brilliantly drawn secondary characters who populate the bleak saga of an intelligent, sensitive boy with zero prospects; by the time he’s 17, Allmon is in jail, where he discovers the knack with horses that gets him hired on the Forges’ farm. A few years go by, Henrietta and Allmon become lovers, but there’s little hope of a happy future for such damaged people. A series of five brilliant riffs called Interludes anchor this modern tale in a vast sweep of geological time and the grim particulars of Allmon’s ancestor, a runaway slave named Scipio. The consequences of the Forges’ brutality and pride come home to roost in an apocalyptic climax just after their extraordinary filly Hellsmouth runs the 2006 Kentucky Derby; it’s entirely appropriate to Morgan’s dark vision that it’s not the guiltiest who pay the highest price.

Vaultingly ambitious, thrillingly well-written, charged with moral fervor and rueful compassion. How will this dazzling writer astonish us next time?

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-28108-3

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

Another tremendous book from Proulx, sure to find and enthrall many readers.

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BARKSKINS

Renowned author Proulx (Bird Cloud: A Memoir, 2011, etc.) moves into Michener territory with a vast multigenerational story of the North Woods.

“How big is this forest?” So asks the overawed immigrant Charles Duquet, who, with his companion René Sel, has nowhere in the world to go but up—and up by way of New France, a land of dark forests and clannish Mi’kmaq people, most of whom would just as soon be left alone. The answer: the forest is endless. Finding work as indentured “barkskins,” or woodcutters, they wrestle a livelihood from the trees while divining that the woods might provide real wealth, kidnapping a missionary priest to teach Duquet how to read so that he might keep the books for a dreamed-of fortune. René founds a powerful local dynasty: “Here on the Gatineau,” Proulx writes, “the Sels were a different kind of people, neither Mi’kmaq nor the other, and certainly not both.” She drives quickly to two large themes, both centering on violence, the one the kind that people do to the land and to each other, the other the kind that the land itself can exact. In the end, over hundreds of pages, the land eventually loses, as Sels and their neighbors in the St. Lawrence River country fell the forests, sending timber to every continent; if they do not die in the bargain, her characters contribute to dynasties of their own: “He wanted next to find Josime on Manitoulin Island and count up more nieces and nephews. He had come out of the year of trial by fire wanting children.” As they move into our own time, though, those children come to see that other wealth can be drawn from the forest without the need for bloodshed or spilled sap. Part ecological fable à la Ursula K. Le Guin, part foundational saga along the lines of Brian Moore’s Black Robe and, yes, James Michener’s Centennial, Proulx’s story builds in depth and complication without becoming unduly tangled and is always told with the most beautiful language.

Another tremendous book from Proulx, sure to find and enthrall many readers.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7432-8878-1

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and...

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actual…underground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a “dilapidated box car” along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks?

For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with “real life,” both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves’ destiny reveal themselves. So it’s back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they’ve not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that “freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits.” Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53703-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

A fresh, invigorating look into complex minds and a unique time and place.

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AT THE EXISTENTIALIST CAFÉ

FREEDOM, BEING, AND APRICOT COCKTAILS WITH JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR, ALBERT CAMUS, MARTIN HEIDEGGER, MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY AND OTHERS

Days in the lives of influential philosophers.

In this brisk and perceptive intellectual history, Bakewell (Masters of Studies in Creative Writing/Kellogg Coll., Univ. of Oxford; How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, 2010, etc.) focuses on a diverse cast of men and women who, beginning in the 1930s, worried over questions of freedom, authenticity, anxiety, and commitment, creating the movement that came to be known as existentialism. Their antecedents were Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who “pioneered a mood of rebellion and dissatisfaction, created a new definition of existence as choice, action and self-assertion, and made a study of the anguish and difficulty of life.” Dominating Bakewell’s narrative are Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, lovers and “compulsive communicators” of every detail of their work. Sartre, appealingly fun-loving (he played piano and sang jazz hits) in his youth, became “monstrous” as he aged: “self-indulgent, demanding, bad-tempered. He was a sex addict who didn’t even enjoy sex, a man who would walk away from friendships saying he felt no regret.” Bakewell was surprised at how much affection she felt for him despite his faults. Certainly he was more likable than Martin Heidegger, who “set himself against the philosophy of humanism and…was rarely humane in his behaviour.” As the author reveals historical context for the philosophers’ work—prewar Paris; the Nazi occupation; postwar debates among internationalists, pro-Americans, and communists—she explains the significance of cafes: “they were the best places to keep warm” for those who lived in cheap, unheated hotel rooms. Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, Iris Murdoch (Britain’s first popularizer of existentialism), James Baldwin, actress Juliette Gréco, and Emmanuel Levinas are just a few featured in this well-populated book, whose hero, Bakewell writes, is phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “the happy philosopher of things as they are.”

A fresh, invigorating look into complex minds and a unique time and place.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59051-488-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience.

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EVICTED

POVERTY AND PROFIT IN THE AMERICAN CITY

A groundbreaking work on the central role of housing in the lives of the poor.

Based on two years (2008-2009) spent embedded with eight poor families in Milwaukee, Desmond (Sociology and Social Science/Harvard Univ.; On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, 2007, etc.) delivers a gripping, novelistic narrative exploring the ceaseless cycle of “making rent, delaying eviction, or finding another place to live when homeless” as experienced by adults and children, both black and white, surviving in trailer parks and ghettos. “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty,” writes the author. Once rare, eviction is now commonplace for millions of Americans each year, most often as a result of insufficient government support, rising rent and utility costs, and stagnant incomes. Having gained unusual access to these families, Desmond immerses us in the lives of Sherrena Tarver, a teacher-turned-landlord who rents inner-city units to the black poor; Tobin Charney, who nets more than $400,000 yearly on 131 poorly maintained trailers rented (at $550 a month) to poor whites; and disparate tenants who struggle to make rent for cramped, decrepit units plagued by poor plumbing, lack of heat, and code violations. The latter include Crystal, 18, raised in more than two dozen foster homes, who moved in with three garbage bags of clothes, and Arleen, a single mother, who contacted more than 80 apartment owners in her search for a new home. Their frantic experiences—they spend an astonishing 70 to 80 percent of their incomes on rent—make for harrowing reading, interspersed with moving moments revealing their resilience and humanity. “All this suffering is shameful and unnecessary,” writes Desmond, who bolsters his stories with important new survey findings. He argues that universal housing vouchers and publicly funded legal services for the evicted (90 percent lack attorneys in housing courts) would help alleviate this growing, often overlooked housing crisis.

This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-44743-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Dyson succeeds admirably in creating a base line for future interpretations of this historic presidency. His well-written...

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THE BLACK PRESIDENCY

BARACK OBAMA AND THE POLITICS OF RACE IN AMERICA

An early assessment of America’s first black presidency.

In this rich and nuanced book, Dyson (Sociology/Georgetown Univ.; Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson, 2009, etc.) writes with passion and understanding about Barack Obama’s “sad and disappointing” performance regarding race and black concerns in his two terms in office. While race has defined his tenure, Obama has been “reluctant to take charge” and speak out candidly about the nation’s racial woes, determined to remain “not a black leader but a leader who is black.” Ironically, as the first black president, Obama was expected by many to offer racial insight to the country, but instead, constrained by a “toxic environment” (criticism by birthers, etc.), he has sought to “keep racial peace, often at the expense of black interests.” Too often he “ignores race, denies white responsibility, or criticizes black culture.” Dyson cogently examines Obama’s speeches and statements on race, from his first presidential campaign through recent events—e.g., the Ferguson riots and the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston—noting that the president is careful not to raise the ire of whites and often chastises blacks for their moral failings. At his best, he spoke with “special urgency for black Americans” during the Ferguson crisis and was “at his blackest,” breaking free of constraints, in his “Amazing Grace” Charleston eulogy. Criticized in the past by the radical Cornel West for being an Obama cheerleader, Dyson writes here as a realistic, sometimes-angry supporter of the president. He notes that adoration of Obama has prevented many blacks from holding him accountable. His discussions of key issues and controversies—from Obama’s biracial identity to his relationships with older civil rights leaders—are insightful and absorbing.

Dyson succeeds admirably in creating a base line for future interpretations of this historic presidency. His well-written book thoroughly illuminates the challenges facing a black man elected to govern a society that is far from post-racial.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-38766-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

A moving and penetrating inquiry into manifold struggles for identity, community, and authenticity.

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IN THE DARKROOM

A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist investigates the “fluidity and binaries” of “modern transsexuality.”

In 2004, after hardly any contact with her father for 25 years, Faludi (The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post–9/11 America, 2007, etc.) received an email from her, announcing that she had undergone gender reassignment surgery in Thailand. Steven Faludi was now Stefánie. “I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside,” she explained. Aggression is what her daughter remembered: Steven had been an “imperious patriarch, overbearing and autocratic” during the author's childhood. Now she reached out to her, inviting the author to write her story. The author’s discoveries about her elusive, mysterious, dissembling father are central to this gripping exploration of sexual, national, and ethnic identity. Steven grew up in Hungary in a wealthy Jewish family that owned two apartment houses. After World War I, when the nation lost more than half of its population and landmass in a peace agreement, anti-Semitism surged, intensifying during World War II. To save his parents from extermination, Steven impersonated a member of the violent Arrow Cross and led them to safety. Moving to Brazil and later to the United States, he married and had two children. He was roiled when his wife sued for divorce. “As both European Jew and American Dad,” the author writes, “my father’s manhood had been doubted, distorted, and besmirched.” “Now, as a woman, women like me more,” she said. A professional photographer deft at manipulating images, Stefánie proved just as deft in revising her biography, challenging Faludi to ferret out truths from her many lies. The writer communicated with relatives, her father’s few friends, and surgeon; transgender females, in interviews and memoirs, share their often disturbing life stories.

A moving and penetrating inquiry into manifold struggles for identity, community, and authenticity.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8908-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

This first-rate journey into human trafficking, slavery, and familial bonding is an engrossing example of spirited,...

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TRUEVINE

TWO BROTHERS, A KIDNAPPING, AND A MOTHER'S QUEST: A TRUE STORY OF THE JIM CROW SOUTH

A consummate chronicler of the American South spotlights the extraordinary history of two kidnapped African-American brothers enslaved as a circus sideshow act.

Expanding on her 2001 co-authored article series in the Roanoke Times, journalist Macy (Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town, 2014) reconstructs the folkloric yet true story of brothers George and Willie Muse, who, in 1899, at ages 9 and 6, toiled on a sweltering tobacco farm in Virginia. As black albinos bearing golden dreadlocks, the boys were considered “genetic anomalies” yet visually ideal when spied by Candy Shelton, a white bounty hunter scouring the area for “freaks” to enslave in circus sideshow acts. As circus entertainment crested in popularity at the turn of the 20th century, Macy writes, much money was to be made by sideshow managers eager to exploit those with physical abnormalities. Despite being falsely told that their mother had died, the Muse brothers went on to become “among the top tier of sideshow headline grabbers,” internationally known to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey audiences as “Eko and Iko, the Ecuadorian Savages.” Macy vividly illustrates circus life during the 1920s, and she movingly depicts how the brothers’ protective, determined mother, Harriett, eventually discovered and rescued them almost a decade and a half later. She sued the circus only to have George and Willie (along with little brother Tom) inexplicably return to the big top under Shelton’s management with decidedly mixed results. The story draws on years of diligent, investigative research and personal investment on the author’s behalf, and it features numerous interviews with immediate family, neighbors, distant relatives, Truevine townsfolk, and associated friends, most notably Nancy Saunders, Willie’s fiercely outspoken primary caregiver. Macy absorbed their own individual (and often conflicting) interpretations of the Muse kidnappings, condensing and skillfully braiding them into a sturdy, passionate, and penetrating narrative.

This first-rate journey into human trafficking, slavery, and familial bonding is an engrossing example of spirited, determined reportage.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-33754-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in...

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HILLBILLY ELEGY

A MEMOIR OF A FAMILY AND CULTURE IN CRISIS

A Yale Law School graduate’s account of his traumatic hillbilly childhood and the plight of America’s angry white working class.

“Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash,” writes Vance, a biotech executive and National Review contributor. “I call them neighbors, friends, and family.” In this understated, engaging debut, the author reflects on his stormy journey from the coal-country Kentucky hollers of Appalachia to the declining Rust Belt to life among the Ivy League–educated elite. Born into a poor Scots-Irish family—with a pill-addicted mother and “revolving door of father figures”—Vance was raised in Ohio by his beloved and newly middle-class grandparents, hardworking believers in the American dream who married in their teens and never shook the trappings (abuse, addiction, and constant fighting and screaming) of their native Kentucky’s hillbilly culture. Mamaw, his grandmother, once set her husband on fire when he came home drunk; Papaw, a violent grouch, tossed a Christmas tree out the back door. In scenes at once harrowing and hilarious, we come to know these loud, rowdy gun-toters as the loyal and loving family whose encouragement helped the author endure “decades of chaos and heartbreak.” In the Marines and at Yale, Vance learned to make responsible adult choices and overcame the learned helplessness that characterizes many in the working class. Pointedly identifying the cynicism and willingness to blame others endemic among that class, he describes the complex malaise—involving sociology, psychology, community, culture, and faith—that has left so many bereft of connections and social support and unable to find high-quality work. The solution, he believes, is not government action but in people asking themselves “what we can do to make things better.” Declaring that he survived with the help of caring family and friends, he writes, “I am one lucky son of a bitch.”

An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in this election year.

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-230054-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

An expertly crafted, soulful, and humorous work that tenderly explores identity, culture, and the bond between father and...

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THUNDER BOY JR.

Thunder Boy Smith Jr. hates his name.

The Native American boy is named after his father, whose nickname is Big Thunder. Thunder Boy Jr. says his nickname, Little Thunder, makes him "sound like a burp or a fart." Little Thunder loves his dad, but he longs for a name that celebrates something special about him alone. He muses, “I love playing in the dirt, so maybe my name should be Mud in His Ears.…I love powwow dancing. I’m a grass dancer. So maybe my name should be Drums, Drums, and More Drums!” Little Thunder wonders how he can express these feelings to his towering father. However, he need not worry. Big Thunder knows that the time has come for his son to receive a new name, one as vibrant as his blossoming personality. Morales’ animated mixed-media illustrations, reminiscent of her Pura Belpré Award–winning work in Niño Wrestles the World (2013), masterfully use color and perspective to help readers see the world from Little Thunder’s point of view. His admiration of his dad is manifest in depictions of Big Thunder as a gentle giant of a man. The otherwise-muted palette bursts with color as Thunder Boy Jr. proudly enumerates the unique qualities and experiences that could inspire his new name.

An expertly crafted, soulful, and humorous work that tenderly explores identity, culture, and the bond between father and son. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-01372-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

Bryan makes real and palpable what chattel slavery meant and how it affected those who were enslaved; every child who...

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FREEDOM OVER ME

ELEVEN SLAVES, THEIR LIVES AND DREAMS BROUGHT TO LIFE BY ASHLEY BRYAN

Bryan gives voices to the voiceless and presents the dreams of slaves who went to the grave without living them.

Using historical slave documents from the 1820s to the 1860s, Bryan brings to life 11 slaves who once belonged to Cado Fairchilds. When Fairchilds dies, his British-born wife decides to sell off the slaves and move back to England. Each of the 11 is given two double-page spreads to speak in. Accompanied by a free-verse first-person narrative, an illustration of each slave’s portrait appears in a varied palette of warm browns against a backdrop of documents related to historical slave sales. On the page adjacent to this illustration, the slave tells of the special skill he or she possesses that enriches the Fairchilds plantation. But on the following two pages, that same person explains what he or she dreams of doing with that talent. In contrast to the dull initial portrait, the second set of pages for each slave appears in full color and shows the speaker fully immersed in a caring community. The speakers’ talents include carpentry, music, sewing, cooking, and more. After including the price under each slave’s picture, Bryan offers a final tally for the completed sale, humans, livestock, and goods: $3,476.05.

Bryan makes real and palpable what chattel slavery meant and how it affected those who were enslaved; every child who studies American slavery would benefit from experiencing this historically grounded web of narratives. (author’s note) (Picture book/poetry. 6-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5690-6

Page Count: 42

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

This cleverly layered fantasy leaves more questions than it answers, but fortunately, it’s only the first of what promises...

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THE READER

From the The Reader Trilogy series , Vol. 1

In her debut for teens, Chee takes readers on a heart-racing adventure.

In the land of Kelanna, Sefia and her aunt Nin have been on the run for years, avoiding detection and the people who murdered her father. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia knows what they want: the mysterious package she salvaged from the wreckage of her home all those years ago. Determined to stop running, Sefia opens the package and finds a book: a foreign object known to a dangerous few and possibly the key to her past and finding Nin. On her quest to uncover the truth, Sefia encounters a silent boy trained to kill, powers she never knew she had, and forces who will go to great lengths to acquire the book. Chee weaves Sefia’s story with multiple narratives, such as the book-within-the-book tale of the legendary Capt. Reed and his colorful crew and the story of Lon, a boy inducted into a secret world as Apprentice Librarian. Commanding storytelling and vivid details, particularly of the magical process of reading, bring the story to life. Also, tucked within the pages of the book are surprises like a blotted-out paragraph, a disappearing sentence, and ink splatters that sometimes resolve into fingerprints. Kelanna is a racially and ethnically diverse land; Sefia herself has East Asian features and coloring.

This cleverly layered fantasy leaves more questions than it answers, but fortunately, it’s only the first of what promises to be an enchanting series. (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-17677-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

A thorough and accessible introduction to the Holocaust and the students who dared to take a stand against evil.

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WE WILL NOT BE SILENT

THE WHITE ROSE STUDENT RESISTANCE MOVEMENT THAT DEFIED ADOLF HITLER

In the heart of Germany, a student resistance movement called the White Rose took a courageous stand to denounce the Nazis.

“They could have chosen to throw bombs,” but the young members of the White Rose chose to oppose Nazi Germany with printed words. The clandestine student activists, including Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, wrote leaflets decrying Nazi atrocities, urging German citizens to resist the Nazi government, and denouncing the Nazi “dictatorship of evil.” Cranking out thousands of mimeographed leaflets at night in a secret cellar, the students proclaimed to Nazi leaders, “We are your bad conscience,” imperiling their lives. Among the wealth of good Holocaust literature available, Freedman’s volume stands out for its focus and concision, effectively placing the White Rose in its historical context, telling the story of Nazi Germany without losing the focus on the White Rose, and doing so in just over 100 pages. Archival photographs are effectively integrated into the text, and the typeface at times resembles the typewriter’s text on mimeographed leaflets, a nice design choice. The selected bibliography includes volumes for young readers and the superb German-language film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005).

A thorough and accessible introduction to the Holocaust and the students who dared to take a stand against evil. (source notes, picture credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-22379-0

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

An important story of one of New York City’s most dangerous times

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BURN BABY BURN

A Cuban-American girl comes of age in Flushing, Queens, in 1977, against the backdrop of the Son of Sam murder spree.

It’s the summer after graduation, and Nora López and her family struggle to make ends meet. She works part time at a local deli, but her mom has her hours cut at the local factory where she works. Her ne’er-do-well brother, Hector, has stopped going to school and instead spends his time doped up selling drugs on the street. Readers can sense the danger growing around him with every menacing flick of his Zippo. Things change, however, when Pablo, a new guy in town, shows up at the deli where Nora works. Their romance makes the summer even hotter even as a serial killer stalks the neighborhoods of Queens, picking off teen girls and their dates in the middle of the night. Rooted firmly in historical events, Medina’s latest offers up a uniquely authentic slice-of-life experience set against a hazy, hot, and dangerous NYC backdrop. Rocky and Donna Summer and the thumping beats of disco, as well as other references from the time, capture the era, while break-ins, fires, shootings, and the infamous blackout bring a harrowing sense of danger and intensity. The story arc is simple, however: a teen girl, her family, her best friend, and her new boyfriend live through a summer of danger.

An important story of one of New York City’s most dangerous times . (Historical fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7467-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present

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AS BRAVE AS YOU

Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Genie has “worry issues,” so when he and his older brother, Ernie, are sent to Virginia to spend a month with their estranged grandparents while their parents “try to figure it all out,” he goes into overdrive.

First, he discovers that Grandpop is blind. Next, there’s no Internet, so the questions he keeps track of in his notebook (over 400 so far) will have to go un-Googled. Then, he breaks the model truck that’s one of the only things Grandma still has of his deceased uncle. And he and Ernie will have to do chores, like picking peas and scooping dog poop. What’s behind the “nunya bidness door”? And is that a gun sticking out from Grandpop’s waistband? Reynolds’ middle-grade debut meanders like the best kind of summer vacation but never loses sense of its throughline. The richly voiced third-person narrative, tightly focused through Genie’s point of view, introduces both brothers and readers to this rural African-American community and allows them to relax and explore even as it delves into the many mysteries that so bedevil Genie, ranging from "Grits? What exactly are they?" to, heartbreakingly, “Why am I so stupid?” Reynolds gives his readers uncommonly well-developed, complex characters, especially the completely believable Genie and Grandpop, whose stubborn self-sufficiency belies his vulnerability and whose flawed love both Genie and readers will cherish.

This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present . (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1590-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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