Reeks (Love Hurts, 2015, etc.) and debut editor Richardson assemble a series of tales centered on superheroes’ constant struggles with saving the world and maintaining secret identities.
In Cat Rambo’s opening “Ms. Liberty Gets a Haircut,” the titular character’s all-female band of superheroes adds new members and debates a group name. But everyone has issues with self-identity, from cybernetic Ms. Liberty to shapeless, human-created X. The stories in this book wisely eschew parody, opting instead for characters with special abilities counterbalanced by all-too familiar obstacles. Superhero Alice’s incognito trip to the supermarket, for one, in Seanan McGuire’s “Pedestal,” is ruined by a nosy blogger. Likewise, Mary of Carrie Vaughn’s delightful “Origin Story” spots her high school crush at the bank, only now it seems he’s supervillain Techhunter, in the process of a robbery. Narration and dialogue in the tales follow suit: characters often experience something fascinating that may, rather amusingly, have become routine. Mary, for example, notes Techhunter entering the bank with “a swarm of hovering metallic balls zooming down the hole in the ceiling with him,” adding a somewhat indifferent observation: “They probably shot lasers or tranquilizer darts.” Some of the characters are born into superhero families: Oliver’s fiery ability may be courtesy of his estranged father in Michael Milne’s “Inheritance,” while rumors that rock musician Atlas’ dad was an alien could be true in Nathan Crowder’s “Madjack.” It’s nevertheless possible that superpowers are not a necessity, as in the other “Origin Story,” by Kelly Link; even if Bunnatine’s mom is just a waitress, her daughter may see her as a superhero. Sympathetic supervillains crop up as well: in Keith Frady’s “Fool,” Dr. Entropy isn’t quite ready to go through with his plan to eradicate all life. The tales cater to traditions of comic-book champions, including cities known for frequent superhero appearances (Vaughn’s Commerce City or Crowder’s Cobalt City). But there’s always a twist on the conventional, not so much satire as it is, like any superb comic-book story, an opportunity to dig deeper into characters’ lives. For example, Aimee Ogden (“As I Fall Asleep”) drops readers into recognizable action, with superhero Cerebrelle squaring off against a villain. Cerebrelle’s hazy recollections, however, ultimately lead to a more intimate and rewarding approach—indicative of this vital anthology as a whole.
A momentous, readable collection, its sole downside being that there are only 20 superhero stories.
Carriker evokes comic-book action and disturbing current events in this debut novel.
Rusty longs more than most for the heady early days of superheroes. When he was a child, a mysterious event called the Shift granted some people superpowers, and unaffected Rusty was fascinated by them. But as years went by, things changed. The new heroes were outlawed by a fearful public who deemed superpowers (and vigilante activities) to be a net detriment to society. But echoes of the Shift were still felt in the post-hero world; soon, Rusty’s own superabilities appeared—the power to manipulate magnetic fields—but they seemed to cost him more than they gave him. Growing up gay and superpowered in north Texas, Rusty faced bigotry, but he was mostly happy, and even now, he still believes in heroes. So when a friend named Kosma—whom he was just starting to get to know online—disappears in Odessa, Ukraine, Rusty can’t let it lie. He also tracks down his idol, the hero known as Sentinel, to help him in his search. It feels like an unlikely partnership, at times, but people who fall through the cracks need heroes to band together to pull them out. This novel’s effective, understated worldbuilding is a treat, and the action is tight and fast-paced, but it’s the characters that really make the story exceptional. Rusty’s bright, colorful disposition is a welcome change from the grim, brooding countenances that often dominate modern superhero tales. That optimism makes the story’s harsher realities even more affecting. Readers also get to know a diverse ensemble cast, such as Rusty’s best friend, Deosil, including their hopes and fears. The alchemy between the characters’ chemistry, the story’s action, and the world’s pressing—and sometimes painful—similarities to our own make the book nearly impossible to put down.
An engaging story that punches, kicks, and takes flight, just like its heroes.
A mother recovering from the death of her newborn child experiences both hope and intense anxiety as she embarks on another pregnancy in this debut memoir.
Chute, a photographer and artist, lost her second child, Zachary, just moments after his birth when he died of an inoperable heart tumor caused by a genetic abnormality called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. After a period of anguish that included an episode in which she pounded her head against a wall and stabbed her palm with a golf tee, she immersed herself in a “Year of Distraction” through frenetic work. Then, after being reassured that Zachary’s illness was not inherited, she became pregnant again—and began a new ordeal, chronicled here in 40 week-by-week chapters. Chute’s worry that the new pregnancy would also end in tragedy preoccupied her and made every doctor’s appointment, ultrasound scan, and bodily twinge an agony of apprehension. Meanwhile, she tried to process the unfinished business of Zachary’s death in a church-run mourning group where she found mainly a gruel of unhelpful platitudes; mothered her rambunctious 2-year-old daughter, Hannah; and tussled and bonded with her husband, Aaron, who was supportive but sometimes wounded her with his determination to get on with life. In this sometimes-fraught, sometimes-luminous work, Chute’s narrative brings together in a roiling, deeply felt tangle maternal experiences that are usually separated, as the exhilaration of pregnancy and the exhausting happiness of raising a toddler are overshadowed by lingering grief and dread. It’s an emotional roller coaster, with giddy anticipation turning on a dime into fretful, claustrophobic brooding and self-laceration. Chute’s prose conveys the full force of her turmoil with powerful imagery—“I felt that I would be like uncooked ground beef, bloody and grated, for the rest of my life”—but keeps enough distance to probe and interrogate her feelings and gain a deeper understanding of them.
A moving saga of motherhood in extremis that earns its moments of certainty and bliss through an honest grappling with pain and doubt.
A recently widowed college professor looks back on her marriage and the death of her husband.
In 2015, Reid (Tillie Olsen, 2011, etc.) experienced “a loss that nearly destroyed my mind and life” when her husband, John Fischer, died after a four-month battle with a mysterious respiratory illness. She turned to writing about their marriage as a way of coping with her loss, and the result is worthy of comparison with classic memoirs of grief. The author, a professor of English, met Fischer on a visit to Louisiana State University in 1974, and they were married the following year. They were a devoted couple who shared a similar sense of humor and a passion for literature; Fischer was a leading scholar on the satirist Jonathan Swift. They would read the poems of Theocritus to their daughter and enjoy research assignments in England. The idyll ended after Fischer experienced spasms in his chest while shopping in January 2015. “Sat there until my lungs quit quivering,” he told her. Fischer’s death just four months later left the author “ravaged by guilt” and wrestling with a litany of things that she thinks she could have done to save him. But she found solace through writing the memoir and going on an African safari with her daughter, where their adventures “brought us close to nature, to each other, and to John’s spirit.” Throughout this book, Reid charts her spouse’s rapid physical decline with agonizing clarity—“John’s skin looked like a larger man’s hand-me-down bodysuit”—and she also makes convincing assertions that he was a victim of neglect by his doctors: “alarm bells should go off when doctors just keep offering the same hypotheses despite declining health,” she says. The author also points out that the best grief memoirs “provide both a powerful feel of the person lost and sharp insight into the writer herself.” Her own book passes that test with flying colors.
Reid vividly depicts both her husband’s sickness and her own feelings of loss and guilt in this memoir.
In this novel for older elementary school children, a fifth-grader’s determination to shine at roller skating becomes entangled in her concerns about her height, family, and best friend’s shifting loyalties.
Ten-year-old Tillie Watkins worries about her absent mother, short stature, and peculiar home with her eccentric uncle in a piano factory–turned–artists’ colony (it accommodates “ten artists plus one kid”). Her insecurities over being different are magnified when her best friend, Shanelle, deserts her for Glory Peterson, a cool new girl in school. If Tillie can only prove herself in an upcoming roller skating skate-a-thon, maybe Mama will come back and everything else will fall into place. (Tillie’s “guilty wish” is“that I could have a regular car and a regular house with a mom and a dad and a dog sleeping on the porch.”) Author and poet Atkinson (Owl Girl, 2016, etc.) gives the book’s setting and characters notable authenticity.Readers gradually understand that Tillie’s mother has been in and out of treatment due to substance abuse and largely absent from her daughter’s life. Yet Tillie hangs on to an idealized portrait of Mama, imagining loving conversations with her and wanting to make her proud so that she will come back to stay. Tillie’s realization that others—including a brilliant little second-grader whom she tutors and even Glory—may live with difficult challenges, too, emerges gradually and without preachiness.Tillie’s pride in her odd home and the people in it also develops slowly and effectively.When her affectionate and protective Uncle Fred helps her understand that she has nothing to do with Mama’s unreliability, it is a moving moment of truth. Atkinson’s message of reassurance and confidence-building—children aren’t responsible for their parents’ flaws; they are worthy of being loved for who they are—is an organic part of a warm and lively narrative told through a young girl’s thoughts, actions, and growing comprehension of her world and those around her.
An outstanding tale that approaches issues of self-doubt, rejection, and acceptance with sensitivity, warmth, and an engagingly realistic voice.
A niece sets out on a quest to better understand an enigmatic aunt in this novel.
When readers first encounter Franniemarie Hanks, she is plagued with problems and uncertainties. For one, she’s engaged in a combustible relationship with her husband, Cricket. “I could kill him,” she muses, “might be worth it to never hear another country western whine.” Her one source of sanity is drawn from staring out into Nebraska’s prairie—an uncluttered expanse of possibility. When Franniemarie receives a call from the Oakland Welfare Department regarding her Aunt Dorien, who has been branded as “strictly loony tunes” and is living in a house worthy of being condemned, it appears like yet more bad news. What in fact transpires is a journey of self-discovery. Franniemarie grabs the car keys and heads “pedal to metal” into the Nebraska landscape, eager to learn more about her aunt, her family, and herself. She quickly discovers that Aunt Dorien has been committed but also that she was a prolific writer, albeit never published. Filling a wheelbarrow with notebooks from her aunt’s dilapidated bungalow, Franniemarie is delighted to discover Aunt Dorien’s undiscovered talent and begins piecing together family memories. Many classic road novels, like Kerouac’s On the Road, employ a male protagonist. Here, a daring heroine seizes the trajectory of the road, and the refreshing result is a tender exploration of the self. On her heart-rending odyssey, Franniemarie faces up to her own fraught past; yet finding solace in a creative endeavor, namely the art of writing, also becomes a key theme. Elliott (Songs of Bernie Bjorn, 2016, etc.), who’s also an accomplished poet, appears to have effortless access to a wealth of rich, beautiful imagery: “In the park, the flowering acacia bleeds scarlet, thru every break in foliage, a scarlet banner raised especially for me.” She also displays a shrewd understanding of the role of writing in catharsis and memory. The result is a rare thing: a clever, well-crafted novel that has both an absorbing storyline and the artful poignancy of an elegantly composed collection of poetry.
An emotionally intuitive and impeccably written tale focusing on a female adventurer.