From the Shelf
Audiobooks for a Trying Political Year
To say that 2020 has been trying is somewhat of an understatement; throw in the stress of the upcoming U.S. election, and I, for one, find myself too distracted to sit still with a book. Instead, I've been walking--and listening to audiobooks to help me make sense of this strange, uneven time:
Michelle Obama's Becoming (Random House Audio, $45) graced the top of many a bestseller list, and for good reason: it's a smart, impassioned tale of the First Lady's life, from growing up on the South Side of Chicago to her time in the White House alongside Barack Obama. Even if you, like so many others, have already read this one, I can't recommend the audio experience enough; narrated by the author, the memoir transforms into something more like a conversation between two old friends (albeit somewhat one-sided).
Similarly, Elijah Cummings's We're Better Than This (HarperCollins Audio, $39.99) makes for excellent headphone fodder, giving more recent political events additional context. The book was published posthumously, and Laurence Fishburne's narration of it does an excellent job of capturing Cummings's passion and heart; the audio also includes clips from the late congressman's eulogies.
I found some comfort in Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic (Random House Audio, $19.99, read by Paul Michael), an account of the (short) political career of James Garfield (who was nominated to the U.S. Presidency against his will, only to be shot four months after his inauguration). Though much has changed in the nearly 140 years since Garfield's assassination, it was oddly encouraging to me to realize how many times in U.S. history our democracy has felt unsustainable--and yet, here we are, ready to cast our ballots once more to decide the future of our country.
--Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
by Vijay Seshadri
A celebrated Indian American poet pays tribute to those he has lost while offering cerebral, wry observations on an age of persistent distraction.
by Christina Soontornvat
The riveting story of the Thai soccer team that survived 18 days trapped in a slowly flooding cave.
by Kevin Young, editor
Editor Kevin Young curates an extraordinary collection that spans from Phillis Wheatley, the first published African American poet, to the slam poetry of today.
Review by Subjects:
From Village Books
10/29/2020 - 8:00AM
First-Edition Covers as Artwork
Mental Floss invited book lovers to "see every detail of your favorite first-edition book cover with these high-quality art prints."
Merriam-Webster offered a "Forms of Government Quiz."
Open Culture featured a video of Cornel West's course on W.E.B. Du Bois, delivered in the summer of 2017 at Dartmouth.
Earth Island Journal checked in with Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, which had been flooded during last year's historic high tide.
The New York Public Library has acquired Arthur Miller's personal study library.
Atlas Obscura explained "how a tiny Indian publisher brings a world of comics to Tamil readers."
Rediscover: William Melvin Kelley
William Melvin Kelley (1937-2017) was an African American novelist and short story writer who was largely unknown by modern readers until a 2018 New Yorker profile brought him back to popular attention. Kelley was raised in the Bronx and graduated from Harvard University in 1960. His debut novel, A Different Drummer, published in 1962, takes place in a small town in the American South, where the entire Black population destroys their belongings and leaves. His next book was a short story collection, Dancers on the Shore (1964), followed by the novels A Drop of Patience (1965) and dem (1967). After the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Kelley and his wife moved their family to Jamaica and converted to Judaism. His final novel, Dunfords Travels Everywheres (1970), is an experimental work of dystopian fantasy. Kelley claimed to have two additional completed novels yet unpublished in a 2012 interview.
After Kelley's 2018 New Yorker profile, Anchor Books began reissuing all of his work with new cover art by his daughter Jessica. Anchor released the final two of these five new editions in late September: Dancers on the Shore ($16) and Dunfords Travels Everywheres ($16). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Vijay Seshadri: An Outsider's Consciousness
|photo: Lisa Pines|
Vijay Seshadri was born in Bangalore, India, and raised in the American Midwest. His fourth poetry collection, That Was Now, This Is Then (Graywolf Press; reviewed below), offers cerebral, wry observations on the passing of time and its impact on one's relationship to people and place, singed by the grief of loss. Seshadri's poem "The Disappearances" was published by the New Yorker after 9/11. He won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2013 for 3 Sections. Seshadri is poetry editor at the Paris Review and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. Shelf Awareness caught up with him while he was home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
You mentioned that your poems ooze out of you, rather than flow. What does that mean?
I think maybe a half-dozen times I've had a poem not just flow but flood out of me. Mostly, though, they arrive steadily but slowly, inchwise but sometimes faster. It feels like they ooze down the page because I don't write in drafts but write one line, or two lines, and then the next one or two. I have a conception in mind, but my first, fully oozed draft is very close to my final draft.
That Was Now, This Is Then is characterized by the grief expressed so powerfully in "Your Living Eyes" and "Collins Ferry Landing." Can you share the backstory to those pieces?
"Your Living Eyes" I wrote for my mother in her last months. She was dying, but was still alive when I finished the poem, and her living is what is emphasized at the poem's end. So it's not strictly speaking an elegy, and I think that's the way it should be because she was always very vibrant and full of life, replete with it.
When my father died, I wrote an elegy for him of about 20 lines, but it wasn't my idea to make this book as elegiac as it is. I wanted to write a book the underlying consideration of which was time, which this book is, but I didn't necessarily want to write a book so filled with the experience of loss. That happened because people I was very close to kept dying on me, and I was steeped throughout the writing of the poems in grief and loss, to which almost helplessly I responded with my utterances. So, for example, the initial, small elegy for my father became a big elegy, which became a representation of his inner life, of our relationship, of our experience of India, of America.
The second elegy is for the American poet Tom Lux. Were you friends?
I met Tom when I was 19. He was the leader of a very small poetry workshop that I was enrolled in in my last semester in college. He liked my work, encouraged it strongly, and I had from that moment a relationship with him that was uncanny, almost magical. Tom and I never hung out, really--we were different--and while I admired his poems tremendously, we didn't share the same aesthetic and cultural attitudes. But in the crucial moments of my life, in those times when I felt my back was to the wall, he was somehow always there to help me. He enabled my progress as a poet at every stage, even this one, because he is one of the balancing parts of the elegiac circumstances of the book. Like my parents, he was a structural element in the life I've had, which is why I needed to write something for him. His loss was unexpected for all of us who knew him, and a tremendous loss for us collectively, and for me.
Your family arrived in the U.S. in the '50s when there were few South Asian immigrants. What was it like growing up as the only brown child in the neighborhood?
Isolation was the experience of my childhood after we left India. I always think of myself as an accidental writer (I think many writers are), because that isolation was an accident of history and was also how I developed the outsider, observing consciousness that made--for me, anyway--writing inevitable. Otherwise, I think I would have become, happily, in India--hopefully, if I was capable enough--an Indian professional, an academic, a doctor, an engineer. It's a fantasy, but not an outrageous fantasy. Social and racial isolation was what schooled my imagination. (The racial issue sporadically becoming very intense and painful.). The isolation (which I think about a lot now, and for which I'm actually very grateful after all these years) was compounded both by the fact that I was chronologically isolated--I'd been skipped two grades when I was first going to school, and was also a late grower, so I was small and underdeveloped with respect to my peers--and by the fact that we were internally isolated as a family, isolated from normality (not in a traumatic way). My father was unusual cognitively, and really not capable--though he was a devoted father and husband and a good provider and a diligent scientist (he was a physical chemist)--of satisfying the received expectations of family life. A beautiful guy, but different, definitely, highly specialized, benign but nevertheless radically unlike others. We all revolved around that unlikeness. It was much more significant than the fact that we were Indians, though being strangers in a strange land didn't help.
In your everyday life, do you identify as an immigrant?
I think that's been a big change in my consciousness since 2016. Thinking of myself as a creature of the counterculture all those years (though I was one of its more sober and sedate members--a nature lover, basically), I tended to identify with a transcendental self, or, at least, a humanistic self. But the attack on immigrants in this era--poor or well-off, documented or not--has really coalesced my sense of at least my social self around the experience of migration.
It's always been a theme in my writing. Now it's a real allegiance. I identify as much with the migrant farmworker from Chiapas as I do with the graduate student in physics. Immigrants are scapegoated now, but it wasn't that way when I was growing up. Quite the opposite. The immigrant myth was one of America's durable myths then, durable to both the right and the left.
When you were 20, you ran off to the West Coast, and eventually became a salmon fisherman. How did you pivot to poetry?
I worked in the fishing industry on the Oregon coast for five years in my early and mid-20s, in the '70s into the early '80s, when there was still a robust ocean-going salmon fishery there. I gained sustenance by working on fishing boats and as a salmon buyer during silver-salmon seasons, and was actually thinking of getting a graduate education in fisheries biology.
But that narrative, rendered in that way, is probably a little misleading. I broke out of the isolation I just spoke of because of the American counterculture of the '60s and '70s. That was where I found a home, a politics, a community, a place in a social order. We were far more progressive in that counterculture than Americans are anywhere today (except, maybe, in the mind of Bernie Sanders--peace be upon him). I let myself be carried away by its currents and eddies, and they washed me up on the central Oregon coast, where the counterculture was strong.
A lot of shaggy, back-to-the-land types wound up as salmon fishermen. The fishing was an aspect of a lifestyle and a landscape I embraced. Also, I was always, from childhood on, crazy for the sea, and for sea stories. The moment I saw the Pacific I wanted to go out on it--so I stayed in Oregon, in Lincoln County. The writing was always there, though, the writing was the point--under the impetus that Tom Lux gave me when I was 19. When the counterculture finally melted away, at the beginning of the '80s, the writing was what remained.
Can you share details of the book of literary essays you are working on?
It mostly comprises the many essays I've written over the years but never collected--literary essays and essays about other arts, personal essays, introductions. I'm just putting it together, deciding what to include, etc., though I am writing a few new ones. A couple of them have to do with South Asia. I'm writing now about some time I spent in Bangladesh in 2016, and also working on an essay about Sadat Hasan Manto, the Pakistani short-story writer of the era of Partition and its aftermath. That's an intro to a selection of his stories that Archipelago Books is bringing out. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop
by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg's enduring Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café was published in 1987 (and made into a movie in 1992). The heartwarming novel explored the friendship between a disillusioned, middle-aged housewife and Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman living out her days in a nursing home. Ninny had astonishing tales to tell about a bustling railroad cafe in a small Alabama town east of Birmingham in the 1930s.
Flagg's long-awaited sequel focuses on Buddy Threadgoode, Jr., son of the late Ruth Jamison, who once ran the Whistle Stop Cafe with Imogene "Idgie" Threadgoode, an adventurous, rebellious tomboy. Through a patchwork quilt of scenes, Bud's history unfolds from the 1930s: how he managed life with a missing arm, an injury incurred in a train accident when he was six years old, and became a veterinarian; how Aunt Idgie became Bud's best friend and cheerleader, even after she sold the café and moved to Florida; how Bud fell in love with and married his childhood sweetheart, and they raised a daughter, Ruthie, a woman with her own story to tell.
As in Fried Green Tomatoes, Flagg infuses short chapter vignettes with cozy snippets of gossip about Whistle Stop townsfolk--memorable characters from the first book--who left town and set down roots elsewhere. Bud--now in his 80s, retired and widowed--looks back lovingly and longingly at his Whistle Stop days. The story blossoms in vintage Flagg style--folksy and feel-good. An abundance of Southern charm will delight both readers eager to journey back to beloved Whistle Stop and also those wanting to visit for the very first time. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Fannie Flagg delivers feel-good fun, revisiting stories about a small Alabama town--focusing on a beloved local--from her popular 1987 novel.
The Cookbook Club: A Novel of Food and Friendship
by Beth Harbison
Over the course of 13 novels, author Beth Harbison (Every Time You Go Away; Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger) has demonstrated that she knows what makes women tick--and what ticks them off. In The Cookbook Club, her 14th book, she dishes up an ensemble cast of richly drawn characters: three women, strangers from the Washington, D.C., area, who are each in the throes of a personal conflict and romantic dilemma.
When solid and sensible Margo throws out her philandering husband, she discovers an online cookbook club founded by Trista, a single, take-charge, former lawyer. Trista, fired from her job, ditches her legal career, invests in a bar and restaurant and forms the cookbook club in an effort to nurture her passion for trying out new recipes. Her solicitation for group members also draws the attention of jilted Margo and Aja, a loving, good-natured yoga instructor--single and pregnant with a child for whom the baby's very handsome, wealthy, ne'er-do-well father has no interest.
The three women--all near 30 years old and facing new beginnings--forge a friendship bonded by their culinary cravings. When the group gathers each month, they whip up and share a dish, along with recipes. The meetings allow the women to indulge their gastronomic appetites while supporting each other through respective challenges.
Harbison's storytelling is full-bodied and sharp. Wit and humor, along with delicious plot twists and a trove of included recipes, sweeten contemporary women's issues. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Three women--strangers facing new beginnings--bond over a communal love of food, cooking and sharing recipes.
Mystery & Thriller
by Lisa Jewell
Lisa Jewell's psychologically astute Invisible Girl opens with someone in a hoodie following a terrified woman--and the man stalking the woman. The hoodie wearer advances toward danger, and then the book cuts to "Before" to introduce the cast of characters.
The Fours family--child psychologist father Roan, mother Cate, and kids Georgia and Josh--is living in a temporary rental in Hampstead during renovations on the Fourses' permanent home. Across the street lives Owen, a quiet man Georgia thinks is creepy and who followed her too closely one night as she walked home from the nearby Tube station. There's also Saffyre, a teenage patient of Roan, who still suffers from something traumatic that happened to her when she was 10. Add to the mix a series of sexual assaults that have been happening in the area. When Saffyre goes missing, authorities discover she has ties to more than one person in the neighborhood, causing suspicions and accusations to mount.
Invisible Girl is more psychological study than thriller, but Jewell (I Found You) is so incisive with her insights, a more leisurely pace might not be noticed. Saffyre, the titular girl, is troubled and makes imprudent choices, but it's clear her actions arise from deep pain, and readers will want justice for her. With Owen, Jewell examines deep loneliness and public excoriation, causing him to wonder if "he'd be happier in prison than out in the world... having to deal with women looking at him as if he was going to rape them." Society might marginalize these kinds of people, but Jewell centers them and illuminates their plight. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: In this absorbing psychological study, neighbors suspect one another when a string of sexual assaults occurs and a teenage girl disappears.
Fortune Favors the Dead
by Stephen Spotswood
Willowjean Parker (who goes by Will) ran away from home at 15 to join the circus. She's working on the side, a security job at a construction site--the kind of job women get to do now that "the men who'd usually have taken them were overseas hoping for a shot at Hitler"--when she first meets Lillian Pentecost, the famous lady detective. A few clever deductions and a little knife-throwing skill later, and she finds herself in Ms. Pentecost's employ, apprentice to the aging lady detective. Stephen Spotswood's first novel, Fortune Favors the Dead, sparkles with the wit and personality of this bold, unconventional heroine. Will may revere her boss, but readers know that it's the intrepid younger woman who stars.
In Will's delightful first-person telling, peppered with vernacular asides, the major case she highlights is that of the Collins family: the patriarch dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, matriarch bludgeoned with a crystal ball following a séance--in a locked room--leaving twins Randolph and Rebecca to tease and manipulate their hired detectives, Ms. Pentecost and Will. The twins' godfather is now acting CEO of Collins Steelworks; his loyalties are unclear. And the medium and "spiritual advisor" whose crystal ball became a murder weapon is another wild card: she seems to have unusual power to intimidate Ms. Pentecost, which unnerves Will entirely.
This mystery plot has all the twists and surprises a fan of the genre could ask for, and Ms. Pentecost's expertise and no-nonsense attitude are appealing and entertaining, but gutsy Will, with her snappy, slangy narrative style, ultimately wins readers' hearts and carries the day. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This classic noir-style mystery recast with humor, female leads and superb style is both satisfying and great fun.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
To Hold Up the Sky
by Cixin Liu
To Hold Up the Sky by science fiction writer Cixin Liu (Supernova Era) is a stunning collection of short stories that represents Liu's writings from the early 2000s. In "The Village Teacher," a dying schoolteacher in rural China struggles to complete his final lesson as an alien race considers Earth's destruction from above. "2018-04-01" follows a man as he makes the life-altering decision to spend his life savings on an immortality procedure. Meanwhile, stand-out stories like "Contraction" and "The Thinker" link unimaginable conceptions of time with the emotional lives of both the most powerful and the most unnoticeable of people.
These stories excel at linking hard science fiction with global humanism and quiet moments of emotion. Liu's writing maintains a calm, matter-of-fact demeanor, even as it conveys inventive cruelty and beautiful imagery. While the science described in many of the stories is often dense, Liu crafts its explanation in such a way as to reimagine it through an artistic, emotionally sensitive gaze. When he describes "an intricate network of paths snak[ing] across the land like circuits etched into an infinitely wide, silver circuit board," readers are left not just envisioning the surface of the Earth seen from space, but the vulnerable, breath-taking connections that bind people together. Liu's expertise at crafting juxtapositions of science and emotion, brutality and beauty, the unimaginable and the human teaches readers, as the protagonist in "The Village Teacher" taught his students, that advanced knowledge can save us, but not in the ways we might expect. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: These stories are emotionally insightful thought experiments that will appeal to readers of literary fiction and classic science fiction alike.
In a Holidaze
by Christina Lauren
Christina Lauren, the author duo behind Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not-Dating and The Unhoneymooners, has created an entertaining romance that's a perfect cozy holiday read. In a Holidaze begins with 26-year-old Maelyn Jones, who is frustrated with everything this Christmas. The Joneses have always spent the holidays with her parents' college friends, gathering together at the Hollises' Utah cabin. Mae has had a crush on Andrew Hollis for more than a decade, but she's pretty sure he thinks of her as a cousin. Regretting a drunken decision to make out with Theo, Andrew's little brother, and devastated by the Hollis family's announcement that they're going to have to sell the cabin, Mae begs the universe on the way back to the airport, "Can you show me what will make me happy?"
The Joneses are almost immediately in a terrible car crash, and Mae wakes up six days earlier, on the flight to Utah. She's astonished to realize that she has a chance to do the holidays over. But can she get things right this time and show Andrew how she truly feels?
Sweet and hilarious, In a Holidaze is the story of a woman who is given another chance. Most people probably wish they could undo a romantic decision at some point in their lives and will surely root for Mae as she lives this Christmas over and over again. Christina Lauren's fans are sure to love this lighthearted novel, perfect for those who liked Groundhog Day or Life After Life. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: This funny Groundhog Day-esque romance gives a woman a chance to live the Christmas holiday over and over again as she tries to show her crush how much he means to her.
Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art
by Rebecca Wragg Sykes
Big discoveries about Neanderthals make the news in mainstream media and major science journals alike. In Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art, archeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes demonstrates that more is happening in the world of Neanderthal studies than what she terms "Neander-news."
Sykes shares her considerable knowledge about current Neanderthal studies in a style that is clear enough for the lay reader but never simplistic. She looks closely at long-held beliefs about Neanderthals and how they evolved, beginning with the assumption that they lived primarily during the Ice Age. She shows that archeologists are overturning many of those beliefs as a result of new discoveries and the application of advanced scientific technologies to sites that were first excavated decades earlier. Considering the ways in which Neanderthals are different from Homo sapiens physically, Sykes offers speculations for why. She introduces readers to the details of Neanderthals' tools, diet and shelters, pulling back the curtain to demonstrate how scientists know what they know. And she makes some fascinating, and controversial, leaps from what is already known about the physical world of the Neanderthals to what that knowledge might indicate about how they thought about that world.
At each step of the way, Sykes compares new knowledge about Neanderthals with knowledge about ancient Homo sapiens. She makes a persuasive case that Neanderthals were not a dead end on the path to us, but instead "enormously adaptable and even successful ancient relatives." In short, they were kindred. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Kindred is a book not only about who the Neanderthals were and how they lived, but about what it means to be human.
Art & Photography
Face to Face: The Photographs of Camilla McGrath
by Andrea Di Robilant
It's hard to say what's a stranger sight: notoriously peevish writer Fran Lebowitz smiling at model Jerry Hall's baby shower or B-list actress Eva Gabor sharing a laugh with journalist Mike Wallace and art world titan Robert Rauschenberg. Fortunately, Camilla McGrath (1925-2007) was there to capture these and other marvelously odd groupings. She kept photo albums from 1948 to 1999 but never exhibited her work; finally, several hundred pictures are on view in Andrea Di Robilant's Face to Face: The Photographs of Camilla McGrath.
McGrath (née Pecci-Blunt) was born into wealth in France, but it was her 1963 marriage to American bon vivant Earl McGrath that gave her entrée into the day's artistic circles: at different points, Earl ran a gallery and worked for Atlantic Records. In his introductory essay, Di Robilant (Chasing the Rose), who was a friend of the McGraths, describes the salon-like gatherings the couple hosted--most legendarily at their art-filled Manhattan apartment--for big-name artists, musicians, writers and others. Camilla kept her camera loaded and handy.
Among the company that the McGraths kept were Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner, Andy Warhol authority Vincent Fremont and actors Griffin Dunne and Harrison Ford, all of whom, along with Lebowitz, contribute reminiscences to the book that Di Robilant assembled from conversations. Nearly every photo radiates its subject's or subjects' apparent ease; Camilla could disarm anyone. Face to Face is the culmination of a life's work and of a life exuberantly and generously lived. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This collection is an invaluable photographic record of famous artists, musicians, writers and other fixtures of the 20th century's creatively ascendant second half.
That Was Now, This Is Then
by Vijay Seshadri
Delving deep into the American psyche, That Was Now, This Is Then by Vijay Seshadri explores the collapse of time and boundaries that accompany aging, the merging of roles of parent and child, poet and reader. The narrator is nostalgic for days gone by, relationships extinguished and shifting memories that are alternately comforting and unsettling.
India-born Seshadri is the poetry editor at the Paris Review and won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for 3 Sections. His Midwestern upbringing features more prominently than his birthplace in That Was Now, This Is Then, his fourth collection, grounded by a powerful, emotionally charged series of elegies to those loved and lost.
From robocalls that disturb his "quarantined thoughts" to being repeatedly rejected for jury duty, the beginning poems, shaped by the poet's signature urbane detachment and sharp wit, make room for inconsolable grief as he confronts the death of both parents and a close friend. The stunning, sentimental core is "Collins Ferry Landing," where the son ponders his depressed father's place on the spectrum of "neuro-cognitive homelessness."
Seshadri (The Long Meadow) is protective of nature, from bears catching salmon to the rhythmic movement of water, with physical space offering a consolation of sorts. In "Visiting San Francisco," a former lover refuses an invitation to meet, still nursing wounds from their relationship. The speaker visits San Francisco anyway, realizing that his affectionate remembrances were actually for the city and not the lover after all.
Seshadri's intellectually graceful poems offer refuge in emotionally turbulent times and invite readers to cross the sacred threshold typically separating the poet from his rapt audience. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A celebrated Indian American poet pays tribute to those he has lost while offering cerebral, wry observations on an age of persistent distraction.
African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song
by Kevin Young, editor
With 670 poems arranged into eight sections and a scholarly yet accessible introduction by editor Kevin Young (Brown: Poems; Book of Hours)--a National Book Award finalist (Blue Laws), the poetry editor of the New Yorker and newly named director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture--African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song is one impressive collection.
The "successive eras can give a sense of the steady march and percussive drum circle of poetry," Young writes. Indeed, to trace just one example of the complexity of Black experience in the U.S., one can begin with James M. Whitfield's 1853 poem "America" in the opening section ("America, it is to thee,/ Thou boasted land of liberty,--/ It is to thee I raise my song,/ Thou land of blood, and crime, and wrong"). His words reverberate with Carrie Williams Clifford's "America" in 1911 ("What has he done to merit your fierce hate?/ I charge you, speak the truth; for know, his fate/ Irrevocably is bound up with yours/ For good or ill, as long as time endures") and with Joshua Bennett's 2018 poem "America Will Be" (after Langston Hughes)--in which the poet's father "somehow still believes in this grand/ blood-stained experiment still votes still prays that his children might/ make a life unlike any he has ever seen."
Young includes poems to lovers, to children, to nature and home, poems celebrating "good times," poems of grief. "The African American experience," he writes, "is a central part of the nation's chorus." This is a book to be passed from hand to hand, generation to generation. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor
Discover: Editor Kevin Young curates an extraordinary collection that spans from Phillis Wheatley, the first published African American poet, to the slam poetry of today.
Children's & Young Adult
All Thirteen: The Incredible Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team
by Christina Soontornvat
In 2018, the world held its breath while a large international team gathered in Thailand to save a boys' soccer team trapped in a cave that was filling with water. Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark) thrillingly recounts this harrowing tale in All Thirteen.
One June afternoon, after the Wild Boars soccer team finished practice, some of the boys asked Coach Ek to accompany them on a hike to Tham Luang Nang Non, a local cave. Coach Ek agreed and the spirited young athletes wandered deep into the cave. Then came the unthinkable: rushing water appeared from nowhere, blocking their path. Over the next 18 days, world-renowned experts, local residents and the global community joined together in a herculean effort to defy the odds and rescue the team.
All Thirteen is a riveting exploration of a story readers may think they already know. Soontornvat does a brilliant job of balancing education (why and how the cave flooded, what made the rescue so difficult, etc.) with heart-pounding scenes of rescue attempts. She introduces the famous divers and planners outside the cave, alongside pivotal behind-the-scenes figures, while brilliantly keeping her focus on Thailand and the soccer team. In fantastic offset sections, she includes photos and diagrams and details about Thai culture, cave geography, diving lingo and the Buddhist meditation practices the group used while stuck. She also includes significant information that didn't make it to the media, such as how the boys were sedated and bound for the extraction and that the experts planning the rescue fully expected several of the boys to die in the rescue attempt. All Thirteen is a powerful testament to community and the strength of the human spirit and an exhilarating read for nonfiction fans of all ages. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Discover: The riveting story of the Thai soccer team that survived 18 days trapped in a slowly flooding cave.
Come On In: Fifteen Stories About Immigration and Finding Home
by Adi Alsaid, editor
For some teenagers, adding to the already heavy burden of leaving childhood behind is the complication of doing so in a new country or with parents who cleave to the old one. Come On In: Fifteen Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, edited by contributor Adi Alsaid (North of Happy), is a potent anthology of short fiction by YA writers who, as their biographical notes attest, have been there and done that.
For some of the stories' teenage protagonists, assimilation has unanticipated costs. In Sharon Morse's "Hard to Say," a 16-year-old who moved to the United States from Venezuela when she was five is jealous that her older sister remembers how to speak Spanish and can converse easily with their grandparents. Other stories make clear that total assimilation isn't an option. In Sona Charaipotra's "The Trip," the narrator, who emigrated from India with her family when she was two, is sidelined by airport security as the rest of her New Jersey high school's Model UN team boards a plane to Geneva. She knows about "the Muslim ban and stuff.... They think I'm a terrorist."
In several stories, ICE is an antagonizing force; in others, family is the heavy. As Maurene Goo's narrator puts it in "A Bigger Tent," "There was just so much bullshit wrapped up in being a good immigrant kid." Come On In will likely be a great comfort to readers who identify with its protagonists and an eye-opener for anyone who has been observing the immigrant experience without really seeing it. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: This mighty YA fiction anthology teems with teen protagonists who find that being immigrants or the children of immigrants can complicate the already difficult task of growing up.