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Kirkus Indie Books of the Month - April 2015

A must-read for policymakers at all levels and recommended for anyone who wants to understand housing problems while working...

REBUILDING A DREAM

AMERICA’S NEW URBAN CRISIS, THE HOUSING COST EXPLOSION, AND HOW WE CAN REINVENT THE AMERICAN DREAM FOR ALL

A passionate but well-reasoned call to reinvigorate federal support for affordable housing.

In this tour de force debut, Shashaty, a journalist-turned-advocate who has covered housing and urban policy since 1979, combines encyclopedic knowledge, real-life stories, and a point of view that’s equal parts data-driven pragmatism and enlightened moral outrage. His central thrust: the lack of affordable, safe, and decent places to live imperils the American dream of generational upward mobility. The book examines the successes and failures of federal housing programs since the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. Shashaty unleashes a virtual fire hose of statistics and examples of successful multi-income, multifamily communities across the country to counter the stereotype of failed, crime-ridden, high-rise public housing projects. Erosion of political support at the national level and federal budget cuts have reversed previous gains in reducing segregation and concentrated poverty. These shortsighted cuts hinder low-wage workers from saving for down payments and becoming homeowners. Worse, poor housing conditions drive up federal costs elsewhere, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. As federal funding evaporates, the surviving tax credits cannot bridge the gap. At the local level, affordable housing initiatives are often stymied by other municipal policies, like exclusionary zoning. Shashaty warns that stagnant incomes and rising housing costs now set the stage for a new housing crisis in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the recent foreclosure debacle. His nimble prose keeps the narrative from drowning in a flood of numbers. Color charts visualize data, sidebars expand key concepts, a bibliography offers further reading, and an appendix outlines practical actions for individuals or groups. Ideologues who reject any federal role in affordable housing will dismiss the book out of hand, but thoughtful readers will be hard-pressed to challenge the facts, figures, and logic. Housing and urban development issues are complicated, and Shashaty doesn’t pretend they can be made simple. But by articulating the many interconnected components and identifying concrete, proven approaches, he offers a blueprint for converting retreat into progress.

A must-read for policymakers at all levels and recommended for anyone who wants to understand housing problems while working toward solutions.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0990518709

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Partnership for Sustainable Communities

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

Deftly unorthodox and wickedly delectable; not so much a story as an experience.

Godkiller, Vol. 1

WALK AMONG US, PART 1

In Pizzolo’s stellar graphic novel—the first three issues of his debut comic-book series—an orphan boy braves a desolate, post-apocalyptic land in search of a heart for his sister.

Tommy Stark and his 14-year-old comatose sister, Lucy, live in an orphanage in a world that’s barely survived a nuclear holy war. The markets for clean blood and fresh organs are thriving, and Dr. West is ready to give up on Lucy to harvest her organs for profit. Tommy hopes to save Lucy by finding her a new heart, but tracking a couple of organ thieves takes him to Outer City, a savage region where undesirables crave his exceptionally clean blood. Dr. Mulciber, who has the power of insight, sees something special in the boy and enlists prostitute Halfpipe to help save Tommy from the likes of Beezal, a vicious pimp. There’s a lot going on in Pizzolo’s wonderfully bizarre story, but its most distinctive feature is a barren, nearly dead world. The outside world is filled with decrepit, abandoned buildings, and even characters’ bodies are in disrepair, adorned in lacerations and stitches. The people, too, are lost souls: Tommy defies the reputedly civilized Republic in Silver City and swears an oath to the Burnt, an order he’s only read about in comic books (he took a hot iron to the face, the corresponding bandage serving as a constant reminder of his want for independence). The decidedly adult novel features a good amount of sex and violence, though never in a typical fashion. Characters tend to walk away from bloody assaults, and sex isn’t always for personal gratification: Angelfuck, an organ thief, claims her orgasms are weaponized, and sexual indulgence for Mulciber unlocks his extraordinary gift. Wieszczyk and Templesmith’s artwork is enchanting and a true visual companion to Pizzolo’s story. Characters are etched in chaotic scratches as if carved in stone, and pages are saturated in a rusty hue, like the soot and dirt corroding the atmosphere. The ending, of course, saves plenty for the second volume.

Deftly unorthodox and wickedly delectable; not so much a story as an experience.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1628750546

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Black Mask Comics

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Beautiful, heartbreaking, and deceptive; this fine novel taps into real mystery.

CARE GIVER

In this deeply affecting short novel, a nursing home’s paperboy becomes intertwined with a dying old man and his memories of a lost love.

As narrator John Fulton explains to the reader, he was 17 when he delivered newspapers and magazines to residents of the Spring Lake Home and discovered that an old man there, Bob Brown, left him an album and journal filled with unmailed letters. John presents these to the reader interspersed with his own comments, memories, and investigations. Bob’s letters are addressed to someone named Margo (whom John later cannot track down), admitting to her, “It’s hard for me to concentrate on one thing at a time….I’m every age I’ve ever been.” The sentences often seesaw between past and present, between memory and dream or nightmare, but always come back to rest on a set of images and phrases: a dark-eyed girl, her white blouse, the mint tea her mother made, a high meadow in spring with a trail to snowfields. John becomes Bob’s helper and, in more ways than one, his heir. Blanchard (The High Traverse, 2000) works alchemy in these pages, achieving an almost unbearable tenderness. Bob’s memories of the girl—so few!—are infinitely dear. His dreams are full of sorrow and anxiety. But much more is going on here than grappling with loss. The paperboy (at first so straightforward) seems spiritually linked to Bob, almost his living reincarnation, adopting the old man’s dreams. We are, it seems, in the realm of the numinous; the paperboy can be seen as a divine messenger, Bob’s psychopomp, as well as his heir. Yet Blanchard provides “evidence” that the account is real, with photos and news clippings. Paradoxically, the more Blanchard insists on authenticating his story, the more he underlines its fictiveness, but why? Maybe because Hermes is also a trickster. Blanchard’s work is the kind of literary fiction that rewards rereading and will keep readers thinking and feeling long after closing its covers.

Beautiful, heartbreaking, and deceptive; this fine novel taps into real mystery.

Pub Date: May 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-1604891126

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

A genuine, upbeat bildungsroman of African-American high school life.

Jamaal's Journey

A debut YA novel of high school drama that’s just as rambunctious as its narrator.

Jamaal is a senior at Spring Valley High School, a veritable rainbow of ethnic diversity that he describes more than once as a colorful garden salad. He’s two months away from graduation and the adult responsibilities that loom beyond the school’s safe walls. He’s spent the last several years navigating his high school world, which is rich in social constructs and all the pitfalls they offer. It’s a place where one fights for identity in hallways and classrooms, where one defends one’s rank with physical force or a clever insult. Jamaal finds himself enamored of the gorgeous Taneeka, and he comforts her when he discovers how much she’s suffered since her mother’s suicide due to her father’s abuse. However, he also gets involved with Sandra, a Haitian girl whose straight-laced veneer covers up her smart, snappy personality, and he must determine with whom his heart lies. Meanwhile, he also tries to help his friend Steven, who’s dealing with poverty and addiction in his own family. McCormack’s novel moves at the pace of adolescent life, leaping from one event to the next in quick, anecdotal spurts. This verisimilitude will draw readers into the tumultuous, dramatic current of the characters’ social lives. The book occasionally slips into jokiness and repetition, but Jamaal’s wide-eyed earnestness redeems it. Although the story has a lighthearted tone throughout, it successfully takes up a number of difficult themes in oblique and direct ways, including the disparities of student performance due to socio-economic inequality, the pressure to act differently among teachers and among one’s peers, and the ethics of romantic obligations. These are by no means insignificant matters, and their appearances lend credence to the author’s apparent desire to capture what a subset of American high schoolers goes through every day.

A genuine, upbeat bildungsroman of African-American high school life.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500920180

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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