Just a dude hangin' out.
In one of the most original stories I've ever read, Akwaeke Emezi explores the fractured self - mental illness - through the lens of several gods that live within Ada. Born in Nigeria, a troubled childhood leads to troubled adulthood when she departs for America to go to college. As she grows, different gods take turns "protecting her," using her body to fulfill their own (often selfish) needs. Ada's struggle is to find and maintain a sense of her human self among all these different characters living within her. Refreshing and new, this is one of the most unique takes on mental illness I've ever come across and really raises the bar for contemporary fiction.
Francisco Cantu served as a US Border Patrol agent for four years, putting him at odds with his Mexican American mother and heritage. An International Studies major in college, Cantu wanted to truly understand the border conflict between the US and Mexico from the ground. But he begins to realize that government work can have ill effects on the identity of a person, and some of his best learning will occur off the job, rather than by it. Cantu depicts life in the desert with such empathy (for migrants and agents alike) that is truly lacking in much of the political discourse that takes place today in an age of xenophobia and border wall talk. This memoir is so critical at a time like now and should be an essential read for any opinion on immigration policy.
HINT: If your Spanish is as poor as mine, use a translating site or app when reading this. Some of the most poignant moments happen in Spanish. Don’t be lazy, it is very worth it!
Jamie Quatro’s debut novel (she has previously released a collection of short stories) is a conflict of following your heart's desire versus your responsibility to the life you’ve already chosen. Something that’s been done many, many times, but perhaps not from this kind of angle and certainly not with this much punch. A religious scholar and writer, Maggie, becomes engrossed in a love affair with a poet, James, and uses her Christianity to defend their actions as well as her reason for remaining loyal to her husband of twenty years and two children. Told in a variety of formats, with no quotations for dialogue, and in a non-linear chronology, I found that this didn’t annoy me but in fact was the most effective way to tell this story. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a story with as much emotional intensity in such a small space as this. Uncomfortable, sensual, provocative, profound, intense, riveting and I think most importantly, relatable. As “human” as it gets. I read it in one sitting.
We're all aware of the old adages on living life to the fullest, but this memoir is proof that they hold up. Depicting her life through a series of Near-Death Experiences (17 in fact!), O'Farrell reminds us how fleeting life can be, all it takes is a step in the wrong direction, a late morning, cloudy judgement, poor health, some bad luck. I realized I've been in situations that could have ended up worse (though not nearly as numerous or intense as hers!). Brilliantly written, I promise you will appreciate life more after reading this book.
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame? I was SHOCKED (and I'm the history nerd)! Steve Sheinkin is one of my favorite writers of history for young people, and he continues his ascent into the realms of The Magic Tree House series (which he even pays homage to!) with this hilariously written, fun little book that is also packed with historically accurate information, as well as dull jokes from Mr. Lincoln himself. Lincoln is on a quest to prove that history is not in fact boring, and Sheinkin does him justice with this book, a perfect introduction to the Great Emancipator for elementary age humans.
Sometimes I pigeonhole myself by only reading about things that I can relate to, stories that are familiar, people that I "know." I put this book off for a long time because of this. Finally starting it, I quickly devoured it, my narrow focus totally blown open. Xiaolu Guo's memoir proves that she has mastered the intricacies of the language that was once foreign to her, saying a lot about who she is. A story about identity, Guo has always sought out the new, and now I feel inspired to do the same.
There were times while reading this that I felt sick to my stomach, it was just too real. Cree LeFavour’s memoir focuses on her relationship with her therapist, with whom she becomes infatuated…to the point of self-inflicting third-degree cigarette burns on herself to continue seeing him…to the point of violating a contract with him to stop. Faced with a choice to get a new therapist or go to a hospital, she chooses to be institutionalized. This is a very intelligent memoir from a very intelligent writer.
A town on the Underground Railroad secedes from the Union after it becomes fractured by the politics of the American Civil War. Being a huge geek on the subject, I’m often skeptical of historical fiction relating to it. Although Wang’s tale benefits from being based on truth, that really is a moot point. His well-developed, very “real” characters and masterful writing are all that’s needed for an incredible debut. A novel of the home front, it’s nonetheless a war novel focusing on how conflict brings out the best and worst in people. It is one of the best works of historical fiction on the Civil War that I’ve ever read, and even perhaps that exists in recent memory.
Just in time for the spookiest season, this book is hilarious, snarky, and very cute! I might be a little biased since I have this tremendous love of bats, but I dare you to read it without cracking up. Seriously, you won't be able to resist. I showed it to Kelly at the end of a very difficult day and I watched the weight lift off her shoulders in front of me. You will be a hit at story time. The kids will call for this one again and again (or at least I will!).
My favorite memoirs are ones in which I find a lot of myself through the words of someone else. Even when my life doesn’t have much in common with the author in question (and my dad never robbed banks so I can mostly say there's not much overlap here). But Molly Brodak has somehow managed to make a situation that doesn‘t seem to be very relatable…relatable. I want to say it’s beautifully written, but it isn’t really. It’s tragic. And I mean that in the best way possible. It’s poignant, it’s meticulous, it’s fascinating, it’s thought provoking. It's honest. I can’t stop thinking about it. I even folded pages down and made notes in the margins and I NEVER DO THAT!
This book is...so...COOL! Maybe I'm just a macabre soul, but Caitlin Doughty argues that much of Western culture has grown too apart from death by avoiding it as much as possible. This prevents us from grieving in proper ways. She takes us around the world studying a variety of different death practices that may leave some of you more squeamish types squirming, but the result is very profound and beautiful and whimsical. It certainly has me thinking about how I would like to go, and now I have so many more ideas (again...macabre)!
One of my favorite characters of the Civil War, "Rebel Yell" goes in depth with the well-respected soldier, feared opponent, loving husband and doting father (something his opponents on the field would not experience)! This is a great book for Civil War nerds.