Cities are constantly abuzz with activity in every direction. But how much of what goes on around a person is seen? And how much noticed? In her book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz gets to the bottom of how people can do their best to take note of the world around them. The author starts by taking her dog around a large city block in Manhattan. As Horowitz is a dog behaviorist by training, she is well aware that the things a dog notices on a walk are not the same as those a human does. (Dog walkers, of course, notice more of the same things as dogs than do other humans.)
After this control walk, Horowitz then invites others to take similar walks with her. She takes along a sound designer, who notices much more of the clatter of the city, things that Horowitz herself had largely tuned out. She realizes, however, that along with the noise of traffic and construction she has also come to ignore pleasant sounds such as birds, and children playing. Another walk is with a child, whose perception and interests are considerably different from the author’s. Additionally, Horowitz accompanies a geologist, an artist, and a number of others, all of which expand her own horizons of what she can discover on a walk around the block. She urges all of us to simply pay attention, and the rewards of looking can be marvelous.
Gingersnap, by Patricia Reilly Giff, introduces Jayna and her brother, Rob, who are living in upstate New York in 1944. Their parents were killed in a car accident, and Rob, a Navy man, was able to remove Jayna from foster care to create their little family. Both are wonderful cooks, with Jayna specializing in soups, and they dream of owning a restaurant of their own one day.
But World War II is still raging in the Pacific and Rob gets called to duty, leaving Jayna in the care of their landlady, Celine. Between Celine’s falling hairpieces and constant harping on good manners, Jayna can’t imagine a worse guardian. When a telegram arrives informing her that Rob’s ship has sunk and he is missing, a distraught Jayna decides to run away. She needs to get to Brooklyn to find a woman named Elise, who may just be her grandmother. Elise operates a bakery named Gingersnap--which is coincidentally Jayna’s nickname. Jayna packs her bag, an old recipe book, and her turtle named Theresa. She is guided on the journey by the helping hand of a partially visible girl ghost who first appeared when Rob shipped out.
Jayna meets Elise and becomes part of the fabric of her Brooklyn neighborhood. As Jayna gets to know Elise, she longs for this wonderful, gentle woman to be her grandmother. The two work together and Jayna’s soups become a popular fixture at the bakery. These simple, yet yummy sounding soup recipes appear between each chapter and reflect Jayna’s mood and situation. Jayna’s voice is real and while the setting is historical, the separation of families and feelings of displacement are easily understood today. As Jayna struggles to maintain hope for her brother and find a family, readers rooting for this spirited little girl will be delighted with the last recipe in the book - Welcome Home Soup.
A deadly allergy to the sun, and a sport which involves jumping off skyscrapers - what at first glance may appear to be a work of science fiction, is actually Jacquelyn Mitchard's new teen novel What We Saw at Night. Allie Kim and her two best friends, Rob and Juliet, have a rare disease known as Xeroderma Pigmentosum. This is an inherited genetic disorder which manifests as an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light, and in some cases neurological complications. The three teens must spend their waking hours at night because exposure to the sun can be lethal. It is an isolated kind of existence that fosters a tight bind between the friends. When Juliet, the most adventurous of the trio decides to take up Parkour, her friends join her in learning this extreme sport which involves climbing, jumping, and tumbling between buildings. A dangerous sport during normal daylight hours, it takes on a new level of risk as they work to master the techniques at night.
During one evening of building jumping, the friends see something that changes everything. After landing a particularly difficult jump onto the balcony of an apartment building, they see what appears to be a murder. Tension develops as Allie and her friends have different ideas regarding what was actually witnessed. The tone of the novel takes on a sinister feeling as Allie tries to uncover if a young woman was actually killed at the hands of a man in the vacant apartment. Her inquiries have attracted the attention of someone who could prove to be even more deadly than her disease. Learn what life is like with Xeroderma, discover the exciting sport of Parkour, and relish What We Saw at Night.
Heading out on a lifetime of adventures is considered in two new books for young readers. Flight 1-2-3, written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout, is an ultra-clear counting book featuring the people and activities found at an airport. Intentionally using a typeface that is used in airport signage worldwide, the sleek, digitally-created images allow for first-time flyers to experience this new setting calmly and without fear. Perfect as an introduction to this often unfamiliar place, it covers elevators, security agents, and the gates, along with other concepts that a young child will encounter in the terminal and concourses.
Barbara Kerley’s The World is Waiting for You, full of incredible National Geographic photos, is truly a young explorer’s dream. This photo essay encourages the young and young-at-heart to follow whatever path they might choose. While many books focus on inner journeys, this is one that strongly pushes for literal treks. The text presses the reader to tackle apathy and laziness, and push forward to “climb”, “soar”, or even “poke around for a while”. Kerley, author of other National Geographic titles such as One World, One Day and A Cool Drink of Water, is a former Peace Corps volunteer whose belief in sharing the world with kids shines through. Photo credits and inspirational quotes complete the book, which will likely inspire young readers to see the featured places themselves.
Prolific author Chris Crutcher turns the old adage "appearances can be deceiving" upside down in his latest novel Period 8. For many teenagers, lies come easily. Bruce “Logs” Logsdon, a teacher at Heller High School, does his best to counteract this fact by running Period 8—a lunchtime class open to students each year. The rules of Period 8 are simple: Talk about anything, do not hurt others, and tell the truth. It becomes a sanctuary for many kids as the one place they can share their thoughts and feelings without fear. When one of the Period 8 kids goes missing, the group dynamic is threatened. It turns out that everyone has something to hide, even the seemingly perfect ones, and the truth soon turns ugly.
On his website, Crutcher labels himself "Author and Loudmouth", so it is no surprise that his writing is often controversial. Period 8 is full of rough, blunt language and the idea of sexuality as a biological imperative rather than a choice drives much of the action. His writing is introspective and revelatory in a slow, deliberate way. Ultimately, the crux is that truth lives outside of the black and white, balancing precariously atop places that often cannot be talked about.
The disappearance of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Amity Gaige’s latest book, Schroder, is a kidnapping tale with a twist: it’s told from the perspective of the kidnapper, who is also the child’s father. Eric Kennedy is writing to his estranged wife from prison, explaining why he abducted their daughter Meadow and chronicling the time he spent on the run with her. His story becomes a broader reflection of his life and his misguided decisions and deceptions.
When Eric feels he’s being unfairly treated in divorce proceedings, he drives off with his daughter during one of his custody visits. Through the course of the story, the reader learns the history of Eric, who was born Erik Schroder in East Berlin. He and his father emigrated to the United States under murky circumstances, and Erik originally used the name Eric Kennedy to gain admission to a summer camp. The name sticks, staying with him into adulthood, although modern technology and identity tracking make it increasingly difficult for him to maintain a false persona. Gaige does an excellent job building two contrasting main characters: Meadow is an incredibly perceptive yet wholly innocent six-year-old, while Eric is a deeply flawed adult who puts his daughter’s safety at risk multiple times. There is a train wreck feel to the story as he makes one poor decision after another.
Gaige drew inspiration for this story from the famous case of Clark Rockefeller, whose multiple false identities were discovered after he kidnapped his daughter in 2008. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal is an account of that story. In Schroder, Gaige manages to show that Eric is not a terrible person, just a “bad choicer”, as she refers to him in an interview with NPR.
Jennie Shortridge’s contemporary novel, Love Water Memory, takes the reader into the unsettled and uncomfortable mind of a woman suffering from dissociative fugue. In this uncommon condition, often caused by a traumatic experience, a person instantly develops a complete amnesia. As the book opens, Lucie is found wading in the waters of San Francisco Bay, hundreds of miles from the Seattle home she shares with her fiancé Grady.
Short chapters using the alternating narrations of Lucie, Grady, and Lucie’s estranged aunt Helen make for a compelling read. Grady, an engineer at Boeing with a dark past of his own tries his best to understand Lucie’s condition. With the help of his large Native American family, Lucie attempts to reconnect with the world that she has utterly forgotten. There are no easy answers; Lucie and Grady are only weeks from their planned wedding, but no longer truly know each other. Helen is the only family Lucie has, and the story of her connection and estrangement from Lucie ties many threads together. Grady’s point of view, as a person trying to understand an amnesiac, provides a good counterpoint to Lucie’s own thoughts. The theme of water flows through the book from the initial rescue of the wading Lucie, Grady’s connection to swimming and his own childhood tragedy, and the surfeit of tears shed during the reconnection process. Successful in taking a baffling medical condition and making it the focus of the novel, Love Water Memory is a look into a world few people ever experience.
Kimberly McCreight’s engrossing debut novel Reconstructing Amelia takes on the hidden life of a teenager. Kate Baron, a single mom and busy attorney, is in a meeting when she receives a call from her 15-year-old daughter’s school. Amelia is being suspended, and the school wants Kate to pick her up immediately. Kate leaves work and hurries to the school to find out what could have possibly caused her good girl daughter to be suspended, but when she reaches the school, there are emergency vehicles outside. She is stunned when they tell her that her daughter has fallen from the roof of the school and is dead. After an investigation, Amelia’s death is ruled a suicide. Weeks later, as a devastated Kate returns to work, she receives an anonymous text message that stops her in her tracks. “She didn't jump.” Could there be another explanation for this unimaginable tragedy?
Slowly, Kate begins to uncover the truth about the last months of Amelia’s life. Through text messages, emails, and social media posts, Kate unearths the secrets that Amelia kept, including a pile of notes in Amelia’s bedroom that say “I hate you.” How could there be so much about her daughter’s life that Kate never knew? McCreight intersperses chapters from Amelia’s perspective among those about Kate’s investigation to give readers a better understanding of what was really happening in Amelia’s life and at her exclusive private school. The story is both suspenseful and heartbreaking as Kate learns the reality of Amelia’s world and the truth about how she died. Reconstructing Amelia will appeal to readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult’s novels or William Landay’s recent bestseller Defending Jacob. Reconstructing Amelia’s emotional depth and exploration of current social issues make this a great pick for your next book club discussion.
Set in New Orleans circa 1920s-50s, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is an original family drama that mixes matters of the heart with elements of magical realism. Dancy, a waitress at the local diner, and William, a young lawyer, fall in love. Tragedy is destined to strike, but not before an extraordinary new life is created.
Meet Bonaventure Arrow and you will discover that he is as exceptional as his name. Although his vocal cords are healthy, he is born without a cry. Denied conventional speech, Bonaventure discovers that he possesses a supernatural sense of hearing. From the sound of dust falling from a moth’s wing to his mother’s cigarette smoke floating to the ceiling, he can hear what no one else can. However, this unworldly gift comes with great responsibility. When he hears a small sadness held inside a small box in a chapel wall and the painful secret hidden in his mother’s closet, he knows he can bring comfort and hopefully closure to his family, who are still plagued by the secrets of the past.
Inspired by the work of Flannery O’Conner and Ann Patchett, Leganski has created an earnest Southern hometown and populated it with mysterious characters. There’s the disfigured man only known as “The Wanderer,” Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole woman who has her own mystic ability, and Brother Harley John Eacomb, a sham preacher who has a feverous following. Faith, love, and providence are all tested in this tale of charm, love and forgiveness.
When the average Joe hears the word “Scientology,” Joe might think of celebrity devotees like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Perhaps Joe thinks of founder L. Ron Hubbard and remembers the vast array of sci-fi pulp fiction stories authored by Hubbard. Does Joe, however, know what Scientology is? Is it a religion, a philosophy, a science or a cult? Lawrence Wright, in his book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief takes an in-depth look at Scientology’s founder, Hubbard, and his successor, David Miscavige, the history of the organization, and its beliefs. Miscavige’s niece, Jenna Miscavige Hill, has a turn telling her story in Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, which she co-authors with Lisa Pulitzer.
In Going Clear, Wright begins with an overview of Hubbard’s erratic early life, which includes stories of bigamy, psychological disturbances, and the near-death experience in the dentist’s chair which led to his formulation of the Scientology doctrine and the publication of what may be its bible, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Wright explores the growth of the movement, its appeal to the Hollywood crowd, and especially looks at the elite, highly committed and rigidly controlled Sea Org corps members.
Hill opens Beyond Belief by describing how she, at seven years old, signed a contract binding herself to “the Sea Organization for the next billion years...” As a Thetan, a sort of immortal soul, she would continue to inhabit bodies to fulfill the contract terms. Living on a ranch with other Sea Org children, she saw her parents only on Saturday nights. Her dedication to Scientology remained strong but as the demands of the group worked to increasingly both isolate and punish Hill, she broke ties with the community, as did her parents. Hill’s book is a very personal account of her Scientology experience, while Wright’s take is more scholarly, but both books examine the dichotomy of an organization espousing independent thought as essential to enlightenment while using coercive and intimidating tactics to maintain its membership base.