cover image In the Country of Queens

In the Country of Queens

Cari Best. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-37052-7

Picture book author Best (If I Could Drive, Mama) sets her first novel in Queens, N.Y., in 1961, where Shirley Burns is finishing sixth grade and struggling to speak up for herself. Shirley desperately wants to join her cousins on their family’s annual summer trip to Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, but she can’t find the courage to ask her mother. But things begin to shift when Shirley learns that the father she had been told was simply absent is actually dead, something her mother has lied to her about. After Shirley finds a dead mouse, she keeps it in the freezer and uses it to start to process her loss (“Maybe being dead isn’t so terrible, Shirley thought, studying the mouse. He looked as calm as if he were listening to music”). Talking to the mouse helps Shirley stand up to both her mother and a teacher who believes she plagiarized an essay. The Benson & Hedges cigarettes Shirley’s mother smokes, the Frank Sinatra they listen to, and other period details bring Shirley’s world to life. Shirley is an honest and relatable narrator in this languid slice-of-life story. Ages 10–12. [em](Nov.) [/em]