hello hello books Issue for Tuesday, January 30, 2018

From the Shelf

Welcome to Barbary Lane

Generally speaking, I steer clear of books that come in series. The truth is that they intimidate me. I feel like there is no way to catch up, what with their cult followings and all that. If I didn't climb aboard the train before the third installment launches--and, honey, I rarely do--I bid bon voyage and move along. It still fills my heart with joy to hear others rave and obsess over books, even when I can't necessarily relate.

But sometimes a series persists. The recommendations turn up in the most unexpected places and provide compelling, heartfelt reasons to give it a whirl. So I take a deep breath and dig in.

Most recently this happened when my boyfriend's great aunt--a librarian we call Bubbe--gave me two omnibus volumes of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City as a generous and unexpected gift: 28 Barbary Lane and Back to Barbary Lane (Harper Perennial, $19.99). Each contains three books in the series, and though they are imposing in size, I've found them a very appealing entrée into Maupin's classics.

As a result, I have started Tales of the City more than 40 years since its first serialization in the San Francisco Chronicle. After nine novels, Maupin ended his Bay Area adventure in 2014. With all that off his plate, he delivered his much-anticipated memoir, Logical Family, late last year.

In our review, Shelf Awareness said, "This beautifully written and evocative coming-out memoir is audaciously funny, reflective and wistful--and, like Maupin's novels, impossible to put down."

With such stellar commentary from one of our reviewers, these two omnibuses from Bubbe, and pervasive word-of-mouth from many of my friends, I couldn't resist any longer. Don't expect me to blaze through them all at once. The Tales of the City were decades in the making; I deserve at least half as long to read them. How else are they supposed to be savored? --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Sterling: John McCain: American Maverick by Elaine S. Povich

Lion Forge: Oothar the Blue by Brandon Reese

In this Issue...

Reviews

Returning to India after many years living in New York City, Shoba Narayan studies the culture surrounding the sacred cow.

Read this review >>

This posthumous collection of five stories showcases National Book Award winner Denis Johnson's gift for exploring some of the darker corners of our world.

Read this review >>

Melba Patillo Beals chronicles her early life, up to becoming one of the Little Rock Nine, for young readers.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Food & Wine Biography & Memoir Social Science Essays & Criticism Children's & Young Adult

Bitter Lemon Press: Beside the Syrian Sea by James Wolff

Book Candy

Writing Lessons from the Late Ursula K. Le Guin

"Write what you want to write. Add as many dragons as you like." Author Karen Joy Fowler shared "10 Things I Learned from Ursula K. Le Guin" with the Paris Review Daily.

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For copy editing fan(atic)s, Mental Floss checked the archives and revisited "10 of the most expensive typos in history."

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"How a library handles a rare and deadly book of wallpaper samples" was examined by Atlas Obscura.

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Author Emma Glass chose her "top 10 books about the body" for the Guardian.

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"If you love books and can get through these 14 photos without cringing, you're stronger than me," Buzzfeed noted.

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Nitzan Cohen's Nan-15 bookends bookshelf resolves "the frustration that bookshelves almost always fail to do what its name suggest, and keep the books without the help of extra elements or bookends."

St. Martin's Press: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci

Great Reads

Rediscover: Carrie Fisher

This Rediscover originally ran last January. We are running it again in light of Carrie Fisher's posthumous win at last night's Grammy Awards for The Princess Diarist, narrated by the author and her daughter, Billie Lourd (Penguin Audio), for Best Spoken Word Album.

Carrie Fisher's death dims the many hopes of Star Wars fans eager to see her continued portrayal of Princess Leia in the Disney-revived franchise. Fisher's passing also marks the loss of a talented author, screenwriter and humorist, whose work includes candid depictions of her struggles with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. She died a week after suffering medical complications on a flight home from the European leg of her book tour for The Princess Diarist (Blue Rider Press), a memoir chronicling the making of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, including her affair with married co-star Harrison Ford.

Wishful Drinking (2008), based on her one-woman play of the same name, and Shockaholic (2011) were the first of Fisher's humorous nonfiction memoirs, but not the first time she shined a lighthearted light on her sometimes dark past. Published by Simon & Schuster in 1987, Postcards from the Edge is a semi-autobiographical novel about an actress trying to remain sober after a drug overdose. It tells the tale of Suzanne Vale (played by Meryl Streep in the 1990 film adaptation) through epistolary postcards and letters, monologues and, finally, in third-person narration as the actress exits rehab and navigates new relationships and professional pitfalls. It was last published in 2010 ($16, 9781439194003). --Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Laurie Gwen Shapiro: An Antarctic Adventure

photo: Franco Vogt

Laurie Gwen Shapiro is a fiction writer, award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist whose writing has appeared in New York magazine, Slate, the Forward and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among others. In The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica (just published by Simon & Schuster), her first foray into book-length nonfiction, Shapiro recounts the true story of Billy Gawronski, a scrappy and determined teenager growing up in 1920s New York who sneaks onto a ship bound for the southernmost continent.

How did you discover Billy's story, and what made you decide to turn his story into a book?

I've always loved deeply reported nonfiction books that read like novels--some of my favorites are by David Grann and Susan Orlean. My New Year's resolution in 2013 was to find the right story for just such a book. Doing some research online, I saw mention of 500 children who'd paraded in the 1920s to City Hall to celebrate the return of a young man named Billy Gawronski, who'd stowed away to Antarctica. I started looking everywhere for this improbable kid, but it was only when I spelled his name a few different ways that a larger story racked into focus. (Newspapers had trouble with ethnic names back then.)

I knew I'd need a descendant to fill in the gaps in what the papers could tell me. You should have seen my sad, earnest Excel chart with over 100 names of possible relatives! I spent over a day calling Gawronskis up and down the Eastern seaboard to laughable results--so many hang-ups! Magic can happen though. Just when I was about to give up, I reached an elderly lady who had an Eastern European accent. I knew Billy Gawronski was American-born, so this couldn't be her kid. I was about to politely get off the phone, when I heard her say, "That was my husband!" I knew right then I had a book on my hands.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is how it captures the feel of a nation as the 1920s come to a close and the Great Depression begins. Who or what did you consult to get a sense of the times?

I researched the book for a year before I did a word of writing. I read dozens of books and hundreds of newspaper articles from the era, including harrowing stories of those plunged into poverty. My nonagenarian father became a trusted source, explaining to me what it was like for families to live off handouts--the shame and the hunger.

The most meaningful window to that time was a folder of desperate letters Billy wrote to Admiral Richard Byrd; he was eager for the expedition leader to help him get a job now that he'd returned to America. Unbeknownst to Billy, his mother was also writing pleading letters to Byrd. I found those tucked away in the Ohio State University's polar archives in Columbus, a treasure trove of American polar history. I spent several days there poring through correspondence and other amazing documents.

The scenes that moved me the most were those of Billy struggling to meet his immigrant parents' expectations. At what point did you realize that this adventure story was also a story of American immigration, and to an extent, generational differences?

I was fortunate to make contact with Billy's widow early on, so I was privy to the challenges his family faced, and their dreams and expectations for him.

I also relied on old newspaper accounts from beat reporters of the Jazz Age who did a great job of turning Billy's parents into a part of the story. Readers wanted to check in with the rapscallion stowaway's folks from time to time. Billy started his journey as a truant who'd run away from what he figured would be a dreary life in his father's upholstery business. How was he shaping up at sea? Was his father proud of him now?

I also understood his roots. Billy grew up in the neighborhood where I was raised and still live, New York's Lower East Side, where dreams for so many new Americans began. All four of my grandparents lived on the Lower East Side after they arrived at Ellis Island, and my parents and their siblings grew up with similarly high parental expectations. My grandparents worked long hours so my parents could go to college. There was no time to find oneself or go off on an adventure.

It's amazing to read how Antarctica was a symbol of adventure and mystery in the 1920s, because in many ways, it still symbolizes those things. Why has the continent evoked such romantic feelings of adventure for so long?

Even 90 years after Byrd set up Little America, the first village on Antarctic ice, we're still learning about this mysterious land. On my own trip to Antarctica, I felt completely disconnected from civilization--for the first time in her life, this New York City girl could hear the sound of silence. And of course the nature is magnificent: the whales and the penguins and the gargantuan icebergs. I met people on my expedition who'd spent a lifetime reading and rereading classics like Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World. That's what piqued Billy Gawronski's interest: all the adventure novels he'd been reading at his local library. They don't tell you how dangerous books can be! --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories

by Denis Johnson

With the death of National Book Award-winner Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke) in May 2017, one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary American fiction was silenced. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, a collection of five short stories that showcases his memorable style, will delight his fans and should attract new readers to his work.

Drug addiction, alcoholism and other aberrant behaviors plague Johnson's characters. Indeed, two of the stories are set in a rehabilitation center and a county lockup, neither of whose residents appear to be on the path to recovery or redemption. Illness, murder, suicide and death in other forms are recurring events, and yet the stories are more noteworthy for their smart, bleak humor than for their grimness. Representative of these qualities is "The Starlight on Idaho." In it, Mark Cassandra, relying principally on letters to relatives, friends, Pope John Paul II and Satan, describes his "third time in rehab"--but "first time to make it past four days"--at the Starlight Recovery Center, a converted motel in Ukiah, Calif.: "a salvage yard for people who totaled their souls." Bill Whitman, an ad man in the twilight of his career, narrates the collection's title story. He is in New York City to collect an award for his work when the story delivers an edgy assortment of incidents involving a death row inmate, the suicide of a prominent painter and the confusion engendered by a phone call from Bill's dying ex-wife, their first conversation in 40 years.

Denis Johnson's world isn't necessarily one in which anyone would want to live, but, as these vivid stories illustrate, it's a most entertaining place to visit. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: This posthumous collection of five stories showcases National Book Award winner Denis Johnson's gift for exploring some of the darker corners of our world.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 224p., 9780812988635

Oliver Loving

by Stefan Merrill Block

Set in a wasted West Texas township between artsy Marfa and sleepy Marathon, Stefan Merrill Block's third novel (after The Storm at the Door and The Story of Forgetting), Oliver Loving, ruminates on the consequences of a seemingly random shooting at a high school homecoming dance. Sixteen-year-old Oliver Loving took a bullet during the bloodshed. For 10 vegetative years he has been on life support in "Bed Four" at Crockett Assisted Living Care Facility, among the aged and Alzheimer's victims.

Broken but still hopeful, his fragile mother, Eve, visits vigilantly. She shoplifts Tolkien novels and Dylan music to try to reach him with familiar pleasures. His father, Jed, a failed artist and former high school art teacher, moved to a garage shack in Marfa to sculpt desert trash and drink George Dickel. His younger brother, Charlie, escaped Presidio County for Brooklyn, where he cruises gay bars and half-heartedly scribbles a journal about Oliver that he hopes to sell. Conscious or unconscious, Oliver is at the center of Block's narrative, but the real story is the Loving family's dissolution and buried resentments swirling among the landscape's raw emptiness.

With pinpoint accuracy and rich metaphor, Block's prose equally captures the psychological nuances of loss. The driving mystery of Oliver Loving may be the why of the shooting, but Block's story gets its powerful depth from his eloquent exploration of what he frequently refers to as the before and after of it. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Stefan Merrill Block combines a what-happened mystery with a what-do-we-do-now study of a family dealing with a high school shooting.

Flatiron, $26.99, hardcover, 400p., 9781250169730

Mystery & Thriller

In the Shadow of Agatha Christie: Classic Crime Fiction by Forgotten Female Authors 1850-1917

by Leslie S. Klinger, editor

In the Shadow of Agatha Christie: Classic Crime Fiction by Forgotten Female Authors 1850-1917, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, is a thoughtfully selected, entertaining collection of 16 Victorian- and Edwardian-era short fiction pieces by female authors who "paved the way" for Agatha Christie's entry into the genre. Their stories feature an inspiring cast of female heroines, including a spirited female detective outsmarting her male counterpart and a courageous private investigator undercover as a lady's maid. There's even a debutante detective, Violet Strange, who leaves a ball mid-dance and races to the scene of a crime while still wearing her exquisite gown.

Klinger (In the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes) is well practiced in the art of exposing worthy but mostly unremembered contributors to early crime and mystery fiction. With In the Shadow of Agatha Christie, he offers the reader a colorful selection of stories by British, Irish, European, American and Australian authors, including the Hungarian-born Baroness Orczy (The Scarlet Pimpernel). In her short story "The Regent's Park Murder," Orczy conjures a cozy murder mystery set against the backdrop of foggy Victorian London, with all the clever elements of a successful Agatha Christie drama.

Set primarily in domestic and social settings evoking the preoccupations of their time, stories such as "Mrs Todhetley's Earrings," "The Case of the Registered Letter," "The Adventure of the Clothes-Line'" and "The Ghost of Fountain Lane" contribute in the most delightful way to the dawning of critical literary success for female writers of crime and mystery fiction. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: These talented female authors wrote short stories of crime and mystery before Agatha Christie's appearance on the crime fiction circuit.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 356p., 9781681776309

Don't Look for Me

by Mason Cross

While Don't Look for Me is the fourth book in Mason Cross's high-octane thriller series featuring former black-ops manhunter Carter Blake, it's the perfect point to start for those who haven't read the earlier novels. This volume answers a lot of questions about Blake's history and, unlike the previous mysteries, this new case involves him personally.

In 2010, Blake tells his partner Carol Langford to disappear for her own safety after the assassination of her boss, a U.S. senator. She leaves him a note: "Don't look for me." Six years later, former news reporter Sarah Blackwell is intrigued by her new neighbors, Rebecca and Dominic Freel. She slowly befriends Rebecca, but before she can figure them out, they suddenly vanish. After witnessing some men sneaking into the Freels' home and leaving with a laptop, Blackwell investigates and finds a notebook containing Carter Blake's e-mail address. When she contacts him, he agrees to help. A few cities away, three men hire trained killer Trenton Gage to track down Dominic Freel, who has something they want. Who will find the Freels first?

Cross ratchets up the tension with brief chapters and shifting POVs. Blake narrates his portions; the actions of Blackwell and Gage are in third-person. While Blake withholds information, readers can enjoy sorting through clues with Blackwell as she pieces things together. All three characters are smart and pleasingly complicated. Don't Look for Me is enjoyable and action-packed, with violent twists and clever plotting. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Mason Cross's fourth Carter Blake thriller works well as a stand-alone and a terrific introduction to this high-octane, cleverly plotted whodunit series.

Pegasus Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781681776286

Science Fiction & Fantasy

NightSun

by Dan Vining

Thriller writer Dan Vining (Among the Living) deftly combines mystery and dystopia in NightSun. Set in 2025 Los Angeles, this world features a severe drought, cheap energy and traffic so bad that emergency personnel have taken to the sky.

L.A. cop Nate Cole flies across the city every night in his lightweight personal helicopter, accompanied by a young gunner and a virtual assistant. The official explanation for a recent spate of senseless murders is gang violence, but Nate begins to suspect there might be more to it, including drug sales, human trafficking and maybe even a bad cop or two.

Although he lives a relatively isolated existence, he sometimes crosses paths with Ava, a private investigator who is just as much of a loner. The two occasionally help each other with cases. Ava is trying to untangle what started as a simple case: a heartbroken man looking for his missing lover. In this new L.A., though, nothing is as it seems, and Ava's investigation takes her to Vivid, a pop star with a cult-like following.

This is not your typical detective novel. Vining uses Nate and Ava and the cases they are investigating to delve into the details of life in this strange near future, with its loneliness and isolation. As in life, there are no neat answers here, but the combination of intriguing mysteries and the near-future world make NightSun a gripping read. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: NightSun combines mystery and dystopia to delve into the complexities of 2025 Los Angeles.

Rare Bird Books, $24.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781945572647

Food & Wine

Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat

by Jonathan Kauffman

Where did all this kale come from? Food writer Jonathan Kauffman knows all too well--tofu and lentils defined his 1970s Indiana childhood dinners. Hippie Food is Kaufmann's affectionate history of the U.S. food revolution and how it infiltrated the mainstream.

The cultural shifts of the late 1960s reflected a sense of broken trust on the part of the boomer generation, who had been raised in post-World War II prosperity and then been shocked out of their complacency by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Distrust of institutions and mainstream culture festered, and what were once radical fringe ideas about diet spread in a rebellion against "plastic" mainstream food. Kaufmann tells the interconnecting stories of influential groups, farmers, performance artists, food writers and restaurants. Occasional inset boxes define ingredients such as alfalfa sprouts, granola and carob, "the ersatz chocolate with the waxy, insipid taste that traumatized so many children in the 1970s (ahem)." He breaks his story into three eras: the "prehistory" reaching back into the 19th century; the "revolutionary era" 1968-1974; and post-Vietnam War, when "revolution gave way to lifestyle changes." Macrobiotics was one of the first of many movements to promote the idea that diet could create flawless health and a perfect society. Adherents founded food-buying clubs, held meetings and published books and pamphlets. They also chain-smoked, and a few died of malnutrition. Kaufmann explains how the alternative farm-to-table economy failed in many ways but also persists today. "It may have become harder to be a food revolutionary, but it has become a hell of a lot easier to shop like one." --Sara Catterall

Discover: In this entertaining history, a food writer traces the roots of the U.S. health food revolution and tells the stories of those who were there.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062437303

Biography & Memoir

The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure

by Shoba Narayan

When Shoba Narayan moved with her family from New York City to Bangalore, India, the last thing she expected to see, wedged sideways on the elevator in her new apartment building, was a cow. Yet, the sight of it brought a smile to her face; after 20 years of living in the U.S., the cow's presence made her realize she was home again.

The cow belonged to Sarala, the milk lady who sold fresh milk across the street, and it was needed for a housewarming ceremony on the third floor. Good luck would be assured by having the cow in the apartment and even better luck if the cow pooped in the apartment. Hoping for the same auspicious beginnings, Narayan managed to have the cow walk through her new apartment, too, and was soon on a journey into the milk and cow culture of India.

She began buying fresh, raw milk from Sarala, a business arrangement that grew into a deep friendship. Narayan learned to see cows and the culture of cows in India in a new light. And when Sarala approached Narayan with the idea of buying a cow to increase her herd in exchange for free milk, their bond grew stronger.

Using humor and charm, Narayan blends her tale of learning about cows from Sarala and her family with the cultural, religious and historical importance of cows in India. Anyone with the slightest interest in India or cows will find The Milk Lady of Bangalore a delight. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Returning to India after many years living in New York City, Shoba Narayan studies the culture surrounding the sacred cow.

Algonquin, $24.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781616206154

Here Is Real Magic

by Nate Staniforth

Since childhood, Nate Staniforth has been captivated by magic: he was the kid practicing tricks in front of the bathroom mirror and wowing his classmates by making coins vanish on the playground. After college, he built a successful career as a professional magician, crisscrossing the U.S. on tour. But after years of bouncing between cities, worn down by the grueling schedule and the cynicism he sometimes encountered, Staniforth found himself disillusioned and burned out. Desperate to recapture his sense of wonder, Staniforth headed to India with a friend and only the barest outline of a plan. He recounts his journey--not just to India, but back to a place of awe and delight--in his memoir, Here Is Real Magic.

Staniforth explores the range of human responses to magic: pure awe, outright fear, questions about tricks and techniques. "They didn't just want the answer," he says of his curious audiences. "They wanted the mystery, too." Even amid burnout, Staniforth believed that wonder and mystery do exist in the world, and that he could find them again. In India, he met street magicians whose feats amazed him, but he found equal wonder in his conversations with strangers, which often began with magic tricks but went far beyond that.

Plainspoken, honest and often self-deprecating, Staniforth's memoir is a highly enjoyable exploration of magic and wonder. He invites readers to share in the invitation he receives from a man on a train: "Here is knowledge.... The rest is mystery. There is so much yet to be discovered." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Magician Nate Staniforth's memoir is a frank and enjoyable exploration of his quest to recapture a sense of wonder.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9781632864246

Social Science

Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence

by Patrick Sharkey

According to Crime Lab New York scientific director Patrick Sharkey, there was an uptick in homicides in the United States beginning in the second half of the 1960s. In the 1990s, criminologists were prophesying doom. Then something unexpected happened: the nation's homicide rate started to decline. In fact, 2014--the year Sharkey began to write Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence--was "not only the safest year of the past five decades, it was one of the safest years in U.S. history."

What happened? Gentrification played a part, but Sharkey admits an inconvenient truth for social liberals: mass incarceration was a big factor in the reduction in crime. It wasn't just that more lockups meant less danger to residents of poor urban neighborhoods: less "predator stress" in children's lives led to, for example, measuredly better academic performance. But it's also true that racially biased police strategies had a hand in the crime drop.

Sharkey, a social scientist who wrote a previous book on neighborhood inequality, argues for proven methods to reduce violence that don't infringe on civil rights: collecting and working from data, establishing "urban guardians," and reshaping the relationship between the police and those they serve. Painstakingly researched and deeply compassionate, Uneasy Peace is a natural companion to Matt Taibbi's I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street--about Eric Garner, the black man who died during an overzealous application of broken-windows-theory policing--a devastating example of the "uneasy" in Sharkey's title. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author

Discover: Social scientist Patrick Sharkey lays out a plan to reduce violence in a way that doesn't come at the expense of civil rights.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780393609608

Essays & Criticism

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America

by Morgan Jerkins

In a confident voice, 20-something Catapult contributing editor Morgan Jerkins shares her experiences as a black, female feminist in the United States. This debut collection "is not a one-size-fits-all tale about black womanhood," Jerkins points out. "The particular experience of the black woman in modern America needs to be addressed. But there isn't just one; there are many. Millions to be exact." Jerkins's alone is the subject of This Will Be My Undoing, and the book allows readers to peer into the lens through which she has viewed the first three-plus decades of her life.

The opening piece, "Monkeys Like You," takes the audience back to Jerkins's suburban New Jersey elementary school, where she tries out for the cheerleading squad unsuccessfully. The description of her disappointment is heartbreaking, and anyone who's failed to make a team or achieve a goal will connect with that feeling of dejection and worthlessness. But the added element of discrimination causes Jerkins to look back later and decide, "It wasn't simply because I wasn't good enough to make the team. I couldn't make the team because I was not human.... And maybe that was what I was really trying out for, not a cheerleading squad, a chance to be a person."

Jerkins's essays present many issues faced by black women, and This Will Be My Undoing is likely just the beginning of her influence on the role of black women in the United States. As she is careful to point out, she is just one voice and her story doesn't speak for all black women, but with any luck her one voice will inspire other voices to add to the chorus of change. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A millennial writer makes her debut with a collection of essays about her experiences growing up black and female in 21st-century America.

Harper Perennial, $15.99, paperback, 272p., 9780062666154

Children's & Young Adult

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine

by Melba Patillo Beals , illust. by Frank Morrison

Journalist and activist Melba Patillo Beals begins her account of her early life for school-age readers by describing the atmosphere of terror in which black Americans lived under Jim Crow laws: "The first thing I remember about being a person living in Little Rock, Arkansas... is the gut-wrenching fear in my heart and in my tummy that I was in danger." At only three years of age, she realized that the culture of her small town was such that "the color of [her] skin framed the entire scope of [her] life." She felt this injustice deeply, even before she had learned the word "segregation."

Nighttime was when her fear was the greatest. "Mother and Grandma would begin the ritual I watched for my entire childhood," she writes. "They would close the windows, draw all the curtains... dim the lights, and silence the radio" in hopes of keeping their home off the Ku Klux Klan's radar. Still, Melba had more than one horrifying experience with the Klan, who terrorized her small town with impunity. In one instance, a black man was lynched in her church as the parishioners gathered for service; in another, she just barely escaped rape and likely murder at a Klan rally.

March Forward, Girl tells Beals's story in a direct, open way that young readers are sure to appreciate. Her writing is approachable and she pulls no punches: the reader is given a clear view of what growing up in the Jim Crow South entailed. Beals ends her narrative right before she became one of the Little Rock Nine, including the very briefest of reports on her high school experience in an epilogue. This is perhaps a perfect way to invite readers to further explore her--and the United States'--history. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Melba Patillo Beals chronicles her early life, up to becoming one of the Little Rock Nine, for young readers.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 10-up, 9781328882127

The Word Collector

by Peter H. Reynolds

"Some people collect coins. Others collect rocks.... And Jerome?" Jerome collects words. Like a reporter going after a story, young Jerome jots down words while conversing with a friend; when he spies a juicy one in an advertisement; and, of course, while he's reading. Like any collector, he sees beauty in his conquests. Even when he doesn't know what a particular word means, it's still "marvelous to say."

One day, while Jerome is carrying a towering stack of scrapbooks containing words catalogued by theme ("Weather," "French," Whispery" and so on), he trips, and the books go flying. His collection of words scatter: "Big words next to little words. Sad words next to dreamy words." Jerome begins "stringing words together" and discovers poetry. It all sounds rather abstract, but throughout The Word Collector, Peter H. Reynolds has hand-lettered each of Jerome's words on a yellow rectangle representing a slip of paper, giving the boy's treasures a look as concrete and enticing as candy bars.

We've come to expect ebullience from Reynolds, the author-illustrator of books like The Dot, Sky Color and Happy Dreamer, and The Word Collector doesn't disappoint. After Jerome pulls his collection by wagon up a hill so that he can release it into the wind, he has "no words to describe how happy" it makes him to see kids scrambling to pick up the words as if they are dollar bills. Of course, by this point there's a good chance that Reynolds has convinced readers that words have more value than cash. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In Peter H. Reynolds's latest picture book, a child hoards words, recognizing their limitless value.

Orchard Books, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780545865029

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