A gem of a tale about facing death: wise, wry, and moving.

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The Death of Death

In this short book for readers ages 12 and up, a masked figure in black comes to prepare a girl for her upcoming death.

As this fablelike tale begins, a mysterious entity appears one night in the bedroom of Tabitha Wilkinson. Though sweet and pretty, Tabitha looks ill and is also nearly hairless but for a few strands and a little fuzz. As for the black-clad figure, she’s about Tabitha’s size, but her face “strongly resembled a mask, complete with red string tied around the back,” with a crack on it like a contusion. The figure explains that she’s here to inform Tabitha of her impending death and serve as her guide. Tabitha takes this news well, asking many curious questions about the guide and her work. Back in her realm until she returns for Tabitha, the guide begins pondering the questions she couldn’t answer when the sick girl asked them: her name and how she died. She talks to other guides, who do remember these things about themselves, and then to Death himself, where she learns how guides are chosen. When it’s time to collect Tabitha, the guide learns the secret of her name, how she died, and why she’s the girl’s escort, redeeming the tragedy of her own death. Parker (Autonomously Yours, 2015) has a wonderful ear for tone in this lovely, spooky tale. A young girl’s death could easily become subject to the cheap macabre or cheaper sentimentalizing, but Tabitha is more robust than that. When the guide advises keeping the visit secret, lest loved ones be caused unnecessary distress, Tabitha replies: “Cause them distress? I’m the one who’s perishing.” She’s also intelligent, discovering through research that the guide can be called a psychopomp: “ ‘And my question to you is which do you prefer? Psycho or Pomp?’ said Tabitha, and she sweetly laughed, then not quite so sweetly wheezed.” That’s amusing, raw, and poignant in perfect balance. Finally, the author brings out the connection between girl and guide in a way that makes beautiful sense. One could only wish for more illustrations (beyond the cover) to capture Parker’s well-described images.

A gem of a tale about facing death: wise, wry, and moving.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4841-6382-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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