Earlier this morning, the National Book Foundation announced the Longlist of titles for the National Book Award for Fiction. This is the fourth Longlist announced this week, the others being Young People’s Literature, Poetry and Nonfiction. This is also the first time in the history of the award that the Foundation has offered Longlists in each category. All titles are available here. Start reading now and see if your winners match the Foundation's. The finalists will be announced on October 16th and the winners will be announced on November 20th.
If you’re looking for a bold new page-turner, Koren Zailckas, memoirist of Smashed and Fury, delivers with her shocking fiction debut Mother, Mother. This physiological thriller provides two alternating narrators: that of the volatile younger sister, Violet, and the delicate yet determined mamma’s boy, William.
The plot has already thickened at the beginning of the novel when it’s revealed that the eldest and most cherished child, Rose, has fled the family for an undisclosed location. The remaining and less “perfect” children, Violet and Will, are left under the calculated and cunning reign of the matriarch, Josephine. And then there’s distracted and weak-willed father.
From an outsider’s view, the Hurst family has achieved all upper middle class aspirations. However, when an unexpected act of violence takes place in the picturesque home, the secrets surrounding the absentee Rose steadily unravel through Violet and Will’s dueling accounts; the effects of which rival the circular layers of an onion being stripped away. As tensions build, the book gets creepier and creepier. As Josephine’s tight control begins to slip, small daily activities at home prove that her and William’s relationship makes for one of the most unnerving mother and son pairs in recent history.
For those who cannot get enough of the current trope of Mother as Narcissist, as seen in Wendy Lawless’ Chanel Bonfire: A Memoir and in Cate Blanchett’s performance in the film Blue Jasmine. When you start this book, make sure you have enough time to finish it because you won’t be able to put it down.
Imagination runs wild in James Preller’s A Pirate’s Guide to Recess, illustrated by Greg Ruth. Cap’n Red and his merry crew are off on an adventure to find treasure when the lookout spies Molly and her mates. When Red calls for Molly’s surrender, his crew turns mutinous. Will Red be marooned on the open seas or will he be saved by the recess bell? Ruth’s illustrations easily delineate between full color reality and the line drawings in sepia and blue of the imaginary world. A homework section at the end of the book will help the reader expand their piratical vocabulary. This book is a follow up to Preller’s A Pirates Guide to First Grade.
Dave Horowitz takes us on a rhyming journey through the alphabet in Twenty-six Pirates. A call has gone out to assemble the crew of the Sea Princess, and 26 boys arrive in the hopes of joining the frog captain’s crew. From Arty to Zach, each boy’s name represents a letter of the alphabet. The illustrations are colorful and comical. Your little buccaneer will enjoy looking for the letters on each page.
Younger mateys will be delighted reading Peek-a-Boo Pirates by Charles Reasoner. The cardboard pages, simple dialogue and sweet illustrations are appealing to the wee rapscallions. Toddlers can identify each of the different animals of the pirate crew as they follow the treasure map to where X marks the spot.
What would you do if someone caused your best friend to attempt suicide? Josin L. McQuein’s upcoming novel Premeditated describes just how far one devastated teen goes to exact revenge for her comatose best friend. Claire is more than Dinah’s best friend; she is her 14-year-old cousin too. Claire attempts to kill herself leaving her best friend and close family wondering why. Though her attempt was unsuccessful, she unfortunately hits her head on the sink as she passes out and is living in a coma, teetering on the brink.
Dinah is devastated when she hears about her cousin and she searches Claire’s room to find her diary and discover what caused her to feel like she needed to commit suicide. After reading the diary, Dinah uncovers that it was because of a 17-year-old prep school boy she’d been spending time with. Upon learning this, Dinah decides that she is going to destroy his life like he destroyed Claire’s. Before she can set her plan in motion, she must transform her edgy and alternative persona into a prep school Barbie doll for the covert mission.
This book follows Dinah in her efforts to find retribution and solace in bringing her own special kind of justice. The novel unfolds the story of Dinah’s transformation as well as Claire’s secret past and how she came to feel that suicide was her best option. Readers who enjoy Premeditated, may also enjoy Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak, which unfolds much like Claire’s story.
In the eyes of society, five young women were lost even before they went physically missing and found dead. In Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, Robert Kolker vividly details not only a modern-day true crime case but also the stories of these women who slipped through the cracks of American society. Melissa Barthelemy. Maureen Brainard-Barnes. Shannan Gilbert. Amber Lynn Overstreet Costello. Megan Waterman. None of these became household names like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway did when they were reported missing. In fact, for several of them, their relatives had trouble being taken seriously by law enforcement. Yet all five women had personal histories, albeit with many common threads. They all grew up in towns without a lot of economic opportunities, they all had troubled family backgrounds, and several had children of their own they struggled to support. They all turned to prostitution as a way to make ends meet. And all of their bodies were discovered in the Oak Beach, NY area, a sparsely populated strip of land off the coast of Long Island.
Kolker masterfully interweaves the histories of these five women with suspenseful and frustrating elements of the crime investigation, including questionable detective work and an uncooperative beach town with secrets of its own. Ultimately, this is still a cold case, with speculation about whether all five died at the hands of the same person(s). Kolker also traces the evolution of prostitution, with women now being able to find clients through sites like Craigslist. This Internet business model belies the dangers that still exist in this line of work and has made it all the easier for those in desperate situations to sell themselves. For true crime fans, this is a book to read not only for the unsolved murders but for what it reveals about overlooked pockets of American life today.
National Book Award-finalist Sara Zarr is known for her spot-on portrayals of contemporary American teens. In The Lucy Variations, Zarr once again writes teen characters with pitch-perfect voices and concerns. While in her previous work she dealt mostly with middle-class families, this novel is a bit of a departure, looking at the rarefied world of a family of classical music prodigies. As a child and young teen, Lucy was a top concert pianist who was known among this elite group of musicians. But suddenly everything changed, and Lucy stopped playing altogether. Now, will her younger brother Augustus (“Gus”), a pianist prodigy himself, take up the family mantle?
Zarr is a master of plotting and examining family dynamics. Lucy’s grandfather, the patriarch of this musical family, shows utter disappointment and disbelief that his granddaughter with so much promise throws it all away when faced with adversity. Meanwhile, Lucy’s father has to recalibrate his life after having been her de facto manager for so many years. And Lucy and Gus have a supportive, intelligent sibling relationship, a nice change from the often-adversarial portrayal of siblings in books for teens.
Glamorous whirlwind tours of European concert halls, backstage intrigue and grand parties contrast with Lucy's desire to simply be a normal teen. Her friendship with down-to-earth Reyna provides grounding. The possibility of reclaiming her former glory comes in the appearance of Gus’ new piano teacher, who encourages Lucy to sit behind the keys again. Readers will be drawn in to the often unfamiliar world of a teen whose love of classical music is lost and regained.
For most Jewish boys, the event they must prepare for is the Bar Mitzvah at age 13. For 12-year-old Yanek Gruener, his greatest concern is where his next meal is coming from and whether he will live to see another day. In Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz, young Yanek’s life is forever changed when the Nazis invade Krakow, Poland, and force him and his family to live in a ghetto. They face incredible deprivations and the constant threat of deportation to concentration camps, or being shot for no reason. It is a harrowing existence that stretches Yanek to the limits of human endurance as he plays a cat and mouse game of survival with the Nazis.
Based on the true story of Holocaust survivor Jack Gruener, Prisoner B-3087 relates in graphic detail the horrors that Yanek witnesses as he is sent from the ghetto in Krakow to work in such concentration camps as Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Dachau, and even the salt mine at Wieliczka. His family disappears one day when he is coming home from his work detail, and Yanek never hears from them again. Separated from all those he loves, Yanek spends nearly nine years as a captive trying to make sense of why the Nazis treated the Jews and the other ‘undesirables’ (ex., Gypsies, homosexuals) with such unthinkable cruelty. While Yanek’s story is a powerful one, this frank depiction of life in the ghetto and concentration camps may be disturbing to younger or sensitive readers.
Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project is an irresistible, laugh-out-loud funny love story that begs to be read aloud and shared with friends. Don Tillman is a brilliant geneticist whose life is built around logic and order. The story is told from his perspective, and it quickly becomes clear to the reader that Don doesn’t process the world in quite the same way that most of us do. Don decides that he wants to find his perfect mate, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. He designs a questionnaire that he believes will help him weed out unsuitable candidates as efficiently as possible. His criteria are very specific, and he won’t consider a woman who doesn’t meet them. Don begins trying to meet women at parties, on dating websites and on one memorable occasion, at a speed-dating event. He asks the women he meets to complete his survey and return it at their convenience, a request that produces mixed results because of his inability to read social cues.
Don’s best friend Gene sends a woman named Rosie to Don’s office as a joke. Don misunderstands and thinks that she is a wife candidate. Rosie is immediately eliminated because of her obvious incompatibility. She smokes and drinks. She works as a bartender and is chronically tardy. In other words, everything about Rosie is contrary to Don’s requirements. Don eventually agrees to help Rosie search for her biological father, and he soon finds himself spending more time on the Father Project than the Wife Project. As he and Rosie track down the potential candidates and obtain DNA samples to test, he finds himself in some unexpected and amusing circumstances.
Although Don often fails to understand the social subtext of the situation, the reader does not, and Simsion’s use of humor is pitch-perfect. Fans of The Big Bang Theory’s Dr. Sheldon Cooper will love seeing the world through Don’s eyes. The Rosie Project is my favorite book being published this Fall. Don’t miss this charming and hilarious new novel!
Yoshiki Tonogai’s acclaimed manga horror series Judge has made its way to this side of the Pacific. In the first volume, the time-honored story of unrequited love gets a twisted twist. Longtime platonic friends Hiro and Hikari are Christmas shopping together with Hiro’s older brother Atsuya, who is also Hikari’s boyfriend. But Hiro has a crush on Hikari, and when he attempts to derail Hikari and Atsuya’s date, an unexpected tragedy occurs. Two years later, Hiro wakes up chained in an unfamiliar place. He is wracked with guilt over causing the tragic incident, but even more incredulous of his fate.
Tonogai’s art is as integral to Judge as the fascinating story line. Those facing judgment like Hiro are caricatured with giant animal heads that insinuate the deadly sin for which they have received their castigation. The quick pace of the story is mimicked in the line art that is both page-turning and sometimes jarring. Scenes that are meant to put the reader ill at ease are drawn with the same effectiveness as unsteady camerawork in film. How each of the sinners finds his or her judgment is reminiscent of how contestants are culled on reality shows, but with a much more harrowing end. Those who enjoyed the Saw film series will likely find Judge appealing.
New to the library shelves are two memoirs, both written by young and accomplished African-American authors, which reflect on the challenges of growing up black in the United States. MK Asante draws on his experiences as a child and teen in urban Philadelphia in his book Buck. Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward, recounts her family life based mainly in the poor rural South. Each writer, however, portrays the same pain and difficulty of coming of age in communities which are reeling from the dual legacies of racism and the drug culture.
For generations, Ward’s extended family has lived along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and it is “home” for her no matter where she currently resides. Men We Reaped refers to her brother and four friends, all of whom died within a span of a few years from what Ward originally thinks are disparate causes: drug overdose, suicide, car accident, murder. Instead, as she tells each of their stories she finds the common thread is the desperation of being a young black male living in a region meting out race-based criminal justice, few economic prospects and the attendant breakdown of a once strong family and neighborhood structure. Ward, a 2011 National Book Award winner, is a gifted writer whose graceful style shines throughout her narrative of tragedy.
Asante’s Buck starts at a different place. Asante’s family is well-educated and middle-class. His father is a prominent professor, and he has an older brother whom he adores. By Asante’s teen years, his rebellious brother is incarcerated in Arizona, his parents’ marriage is in tatters and his mother is severely depressed. Asante finds a substitute family on the streets of North Philadelphia and begins a downward spiral. His mother enrolls him in an alternative school, which another student characterizes as “the island of misfit toys,” where Asante thrives. It is here where he determines he wants to write. Laced with quotes from Tupac to Orwell to Asante’s own hip-hop work and including excerpts from his mother’s journal, Buck is edgy, literary and blunt. Asante, a professor at Morgan State University, is also a filmmaker who previews his book here.