The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Charles Person, Elisa Shua Dusapin, and Joanne M. Harris.
Civil rights activist Person debuts with a striking personal history of the 1961 Freedom Rides in protest of the nonenforcement of Supreme Court rulings banning racial segregation on interstate transportation. The youngest participant at just 18 years old, Person describes vicious attacks by white supremacist mobs against the first two Freedom Rides. In Anniston, Ala., attackers held the doors of a Greyhound bus shut as they tried to burn its passengers alive; in Birmingham, Ala., public safety commissioner Bull Connor gave the Ku Klux Klan “fifteen uninterrupted minutes... to do whatever they wanted to the unwanted black bus riders and their white compatriots.” Person colorfully evokes his impoverished childhood in Atlanta’s Buttermilk Bottom neighborhood, his introduction to the civil rights movement at Morehouse College, and his shading of the truth (“It’s not going to be dangerous”) in order to get his father to sign a permission slip so he could participate in the inaugural Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. He also offers intimate sketches of his fellow Riders, including future congressman John Lewis. Shot through with vivid details of beatdowns, arrests, and awe-inspiring bravery, this inspirational account captures the magnitude of what the early civil rights movement was up against.
Dusapin’s luminous debut follows a young French Korean woman as she wrestles with desire, daughterhood, and identity. The narrator, 24, works as a receptionist at a guesthouse on the border of North and South Korea. Her boyfriend, Jun-Oh, a model who is away in Seoul, and her mother have pressured her to get plastic surgery to conform to the country’s beauty standard, but she refuses. During the wintry off-season, French comic book writer Yan Kerrand checks in. She is captivated and unnerved by Kerrand’s presence, and soon a flirtation develops. Kerrand is in search of inspiration for the final issue of his series, and the narrator agrees to teach him about the landscape and history of the area. As she contends with her mother’s sharp and constant criticism, along with anxiety over the volatile state of life along the border (“We’re on a knife-edge.... In a winter that never ends”), she falls in love with Kerrand, then worries he’ll be driven away after Jun-Oh returns. Dusapin’s precise sentences, expertly translated by Higgins, elicit cinematic images and strong emotions. This poignant, fully realized debut shouldn’t be missed.
Wife and husband Amber Ankowski, a psychology professor, and Andy Ankowski, a writer, follow up Think Like a Baby with a delightful guide to instilling a love of reading in children. All children have a “bookmonster” inside, the authors advise, and parents can bring it out by incorporating reading into everyday life and making it fun. Their advice comes in four sections that cover child development, reader-friendly environments (with books at eye level, or letting children take the lead at the library), a “grocery list of materials, activities, and talking points,” and guidance for advance practices such as writing. The authors write with humor and whimsy (“Cover yourself in khaki and throw on one of those big, round explorer hats. Because we’re about to go on an adventure... deep into the lair of the legendary, elusive creature known as the bookmonster”), but keep their advice practical, with suggestions, for instance, to talk to children and play word games early, read aloud with expression, and use books as a way to discuss family values. For parents looking to bolster literacy, these encouraging tips will feel like an easy-to-follow treasure map.
Tompkins, a spiritual life coach and TEDx speaker, debuts with a thoughtful guide to creating LGBTQ allies with “open and authentic conversations within families and classrooms.” Using the metaphor of a playground for society-at-large, Tompkins asks parents and teachers to join together and recognize their biases, shift the conversations around gender and relationships, and talk openly about homophobia, transphobia, and bullying. Then, he offers concrete steps for ways to “build new playgrounds for all children.” When dealing with a child who is a bully, for example, he recommends a process of acknowledging their behavior, challenging their negative messages, and helping them forgive themselves. He encourages incorporating same-sex couple examples in lessons and conversations, stocking classrooms with LGBTQ-affirming books and resources, and having open, vulnerable conversations with children that involve asking questions about their relationships and interests. Along the way, Tompkins writes movingly of his closeted teen years, history of substance abuse, and how he made peace with who he is, adding a trenchant personal framework to the well-reasoned advice. Complete with discussion questions, meditations, and practical actions, this guide is a powerful treatise on creating a more accepting world.
Across 14 short pieces, Robson (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach) demonstrates a dizzying versatility, dipping into both science fiction and fantasy—and sometimes blurring the line between the two. Whether historical fantasies like “Waters of Versailles” and “What Gentle Women Dare,” or far-flung future explorations like “We Who Live in the Heart” and “Intervention,” her disparate stories are subtly tied together by recurring themes. Many share a strong sense of family, both found and biological, as in “Two-Year-Man” and “Two Watersheds.” Robson’s work also frequently touches on feminism, gender, and queerness, as in her three-story Toronto cycle, comprising “The Desperate Flesh,” “Skin City,” and the title story. Meanwhile, with the Nebula Award–winning “A Human Stain” and the terrifying “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill,” Robson delves into horror to explore violence against women. Some of these stories are uncomfortable, even disturbing, in their raw emotion and uncompromising vision, and even the more reassuring tales still challenge preconceptions and the status quo. This is a superb showcase of Robson’s talents.
Floating somewhere between story collection and novel, this extraordinary work from Harris (Chocolat) transports readers to the enchanting, dreamlike Nine Worlds. Most of these bite-size fairy tales chronicle the life of the Lacewing King, the leader of the Silken Folk, “who live in the shadows and cast none themselves,” beginning with his birth in “The Midwife,” and tracking his heartless actions as ruler in “The Lacewing King and the Spider Queen.” “Penance of the Lacewing King” and “Travels of the Lacewing King,” reveal his moving change of heart, and his story culminates in the kingdom of death in the title story. He is aided in his many misadventures by his mother, the Honeycomb Queen; a nameless builder of boats; and others he meets along the way. But he is also hunted by both the Spider Queen and the Harlequin. Some stories run parallel to this central narrative, allowing readers glimpses into a farm of troublesome animals (“The Bull and the Snail”) and showing the actions of the other leaders of this dark, magical world (“The Prince”). Several also feature caged singers, both birds (“The Sparrow”) and women (“The King’s Canary”). The effect is magical, poignant, and wholly transporting. Supplemented by evocative line drawings, this strange, wondrous mosaic is sure to delight any lover of fairy tales.
The real-life case of British serial killer Mary Ann Cotton, who was hanged in 1873 for murdering her stepson and was suspected of multiple other murders, provides the backdrop for this chilling psychological crime novel from DeLuca (Lilah). When Clara Blackstone gives birth to a stillborn and malformed child, Clara attacks the doctor after he tosses the small corpse into a slop bucket as if it were trash. She also partially blinds a nurse by stabbing her with a scalpel. Clara’s husband, Henry, has her confined to London’s Bethlem Hospital, where she’s force-fed and lives with other violent women. Following her release from a year’s confinement in 1872, Clara, who finds her reunion with Henry awkward, gets unexpected help after a charitable prison visit to Mary Ann, who’s imprisoned for allegedly killing 20 people over a dozen years. Mary Ann, who seems unscathed by whatever misdeeds she committed, becomes a mentor for Clara, who’s trying to figure out Henry’s intentions and an appropriate response to them. DeLuca keeps readers guessing, while cleverly using the Mary Ann Cotton case to advance her plot. Minette Walters fans will be pleased.
Wade continues her Misty River Romance series (after Stay with Me) with this enjoyable story about identity and opening one’s heart after trauma. When high school math teacher Leah Montgomery takes a genetic test, she discovers she is not biologically related to her family. After talking to her mom, she concludes she must have been accidentally switched at birth. Meanwhile, heart surgeon Sebastian Grant had stopped looking for the woman who kept him conscious after his car accident the year before, but immediately recognizes Leah at the farmer’s market where he is helping his best friend, Ben. Sebastian is smitten—until he discovers she is the same Leah that Ben has been pining for the last two years. Even though Sebastian has vowed to avoid her, the two become friends when Leah reaches out to enlist his help investigating hospital records about her switched at birth theory. The more time they spend together, the stronger their attraction grows, and Leah prays on whether to open up her heart to Sebastian. Sebastian, meanwhile, with Ben’s support and blessing, releases his own anger at God for the death of his mother at a young age. Leah’s logical, solutions-oriented mind and Sebastian’s guarded, moody personality make for a quirky and exciting match. This is Wade’s most powerful work yet.