The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Will Staples, John Woodrow Cox, and Dorothy Wickenden.
Screenwriter Staples, creator of the Disney+ drama series The Right Stuff, makes the tragedy of animal trafficking vivid in his impressive debut. South African Cobus Venter, a ranger who has lost colleagues in shoot-outs with rhino horn poachers, embarks on a perilous mission to Southeast Asia to try to stop the powerful criminals behind the slaughter of wildlife and people. Venter’s path eventually crosses that of American insurance investigator Randall Knight, who has found evidence that tiger breeding to create an exotic animal could cause a pandemic. Readers should be prepared for some shocking cruelty—at one point, poachers shoot a baby elephant in the stomach so that its terrified wails will lead adult elephants to gather and make them easier to kill. Staples skillfully weaves multiple plot strands, including CIA efforts to combat terrorism, with well-developed characters. His extensive research pays off in this moving, multifaceted tale.
Washington Post reporter Cox debuts with a hard-hitting report on the impact of gun violence on American children. Noting that, on average, a child is shot every hour in the U.S. and that 30,000 kids and teenagers have been killed by guns in the last 10 years, Cox argues that America is in the midst of a public health crisis. The story of pen pals Ava Olsen, who lost her friend and first-grade classmate in a school shooting in 2016, and Tyshaun McPhatter, whose father was killed in 2017, illuminates both the emotional trauma of gun violence and the healing power of friendship for its youngest victims. Cox also explains how the NRA pressures lawmakers to reject gun control measures that have broad public support, details the rise of a $3 billion school safety industry, and debunks myths about school shooters and the effectiveness of teaching gun safety to children. His solutions include universal background checks, increased funding for research into the causes of gun violence, and child access prevention laws. Balancing sound research with moving profiles of victims and activists, Cox makes an impeccable case for how to solve the problem and why it’s essential to do so now.
This wry genre-bending graphic novel from Goto (the Half World series) delves into aging, independence, lost love, and mortality with a whimsy that doesn’t undercut its literary heft. Kumiko Saito, an elderly Japanese Canadian woman, runs away from an assisted living facility to reclaim her autonomy and embrace a solitary—but not lonely—life. Putting off her overbearing daughter and living on the bare essentials, Kumiko relishes swimming, simple cooking, and shopping on her own. Soon, however, Kumiko senses a presence encroaching on her solitude—a shadowy being that wants to take her somewhere she’s not ready to go. With plucky ingenuity, she holds the being off, but the experience opens her eyes to a Miyazaki-esque parallel world of quirky spirits and mystic creatures. The loose black-and-white line art by Xu, including interspersed wordless panels, perfectly captures the progression of Kumiko’s emotions from serenity to revelation to distress to determined defiance, as well as the narrative’s fantastical and surreal turns. Quiet sensitivity and humor shine throughout, lighting the bright triumph in one woman’s twilight.
New Yorker executive editor Wickenden (Nothing Daunted) expertly weaves together the biographies of “co-conspirators and intimate friends” Harriet Tubman, Martha Wright, and Frances Seward in this novelistic history. When Wright, the younger sister of abolitionist Lucretia Mott, and Seward, the wife of U.S. senator and secretary of state William Henry Seward, got to know Tubman in the early 1850s, they were already “in the process of transforming themselves from conventional homemakers into insurgents.” Wright and Seward hosted fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad and helped Tubman to build and sustain a free Black community in Auburn, N.Y., where all three women lived from 1857 on. Wickenden details the links between the suffragist and abolitionist movements in the U.S., noting that women like Seward and Wright, by virtue of being in the private sphere, had a moral clarity about the evil of slavery that male politicians lacked, and describes how post-Civil War tensions over whether Black men or white women should get the vote first divided the suffragist movement. Through extensive research and fluid writing, Wickenden rescues Wright and Seward from obscurity and provides a new perspective on Tubman’s life and work. This is an essential addition to the history of American progressivism.
Filipino mythology beautifully intertwines a personal immigration story in this free verse novel. Half-Filipino, half-white Stella, nine, and her younger sister Luna request a bedtime story from their mother, Elsie Aguila. Elsie tells the Tagalog myth of Mayari, goddess of the moon, and her siblings, Apolaki and Tala—god and goddess of the sun and stars—who were raised on Earth until the death of their mother. There they learn their father is Bathala Maykapal, Great Creator God; they must leave Earth with only a few belongings to follow their father to Heaven, where they struggle to assimilate. Mirroring the myth, Elsie and her family are forced to leave their homeland during the violence of Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, “tak[ing] only what [they] can carry” to the U.S. in a 50-pound suitcase. Deeply poignant, at times involving trauma, the tales are relayed in blue and black type, picking up where the last leaves off in alternating chapters. Infusing the heart of Pinoy culture into a moving, accessible bedtime narrative, this “story of outsiders” will resonate with anyone who has felt estranged in the place they call home.
Former New Yorker staff writer Hiss (Long Road from Quito) takes an illuminating look at movements aiming to head off mass extinction by protecting 50% of the land in North America by 2050. “The science of Half Earth,” Hiss writes, began in the 1930s with an essay written by ecologists urging for protected buffer zones. In the ensuing decades, he notes, environmental activists and Indigenous communities have been working towards this goal. Hiss covers various approaches they’ve pursued, such as wildlife sanctuaries, Indigenous Protected Areas paid for by the government, and efforts to create a green reserve encircling Boston. One massive project, the Canadian Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, kicked off in 2003 and seeks to protect half of the Boreal Forest, a vast forest that stretches from the Yukon to Newfoundland. Hiss also highlights efforts to create wildlife corridors via a “network of sanctuaries” likeet hose that currently range down the Appalachian Trail, throughout Greater Yellowstone, and in Canada’s Banff National Park. Hiss creates a sense of hope with lyrical descriptions and immersive portrayals of various programs across the continent: “It’s our marvelous privilege to be participants in and guardians of an ancient community billions of years old, the continuousness of life itself.” This eye-opening survey will leave readers inspired.