Tag Archives: secrets

In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien

In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien. June 27, 2017. Arthur A. Levine Books, 336 p. ISBN: 9780545905749.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.0; Lexile: 700.

North Korea is known as the most repressive country on Earth, with a dictatorial leader, a starving population, and harsh punishment for rebellion.

Not the best place for a family vacation.

Yet that’s exactly where Mia Andrews finds herself, on a tour with her aid-worker father and fractious older brother, Simon. Mia was adopted from South Korea as a baby, and the trip raises tough questions about where she really belongs. Then her dad is arrested for spying, just as forbidden photographs of North Korean slave-labor camps fall into Mia’s hands. The only way to save Dad: get the pictures out of the country. Thus Mia and Simon set off on a harrowing journey to the border, without food, money, or shelter, in a land where anyone who sees them might turn them in, and getting caught could mean prison — or worse.

An exciting adventure that offers a rare glimpse into a compelling, complicated nation, In the Shadow of the Sun is an unforgettable novel of courage and survival.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Harsh realities of life under the North Korean regime

 

Reviews

Booklist (May 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 18))
Grades 5-8. Mia and her brother, Simon, are on the run in North Korea. That’s dangerous enough on its own, but they’re also in possession of a cell phone containing pictures of atrocities in a North Korean labor camp. They’re not sure where it came from, or why their father was taken by North Korean police, but they know they must get out of the country, fast. Relying on their own quick thinking, Mia’s knowledge of Korean language and culture, and a handful of kind strangers, they embark on a harrowing journey from Pyongyang through the mountainous forests to the China border. O’Brien weaves plenty of information about the country through the story, and interspersed sections describing the experiences of some of the North Koreans they meet on their trip add depth. Mia, who was adopted from South Korea by a white American family, offers some thought-provoking insight into the experience of interracial adoption. This fast-paced and tense survivalist thriller, made all the more compelling for its fascinating setting, should find broad appeal.

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2017)
A family holiday goes badly awry, leaving two siblings racing for freedom in a totalitarian nation armed with little more than an outdated guidebook and a few packets of airline peanuts. Adopted from South Korea as an infant by a white Connecticut family, 12-year-old Mia has grown up feeling conspicuously different from her family and peers. To help heal the rift from a serious fight with her older brother, Simon, and to encourage Mia to connect with her cultural roots, the teens travel with their father to North Korea, a country he knows well as a foreign aid worker. Mundane sightseeing gives way to danger following Mia’s discovery of a cellphone containing shocking photos from a prison camp and her father’s abduction by authorities. Simon and Mia embark on a daring cross-country journey in an effort to reach safety and alert authorities to their father’s plight. The action is punctuated by short profiles of individual (fictional) North Koreans, tantalizingly pulling back the veil of secrecy, but readers are soon plunged back into a thrilling and immersive experience reminiscent of the best spy and wilderness adventure stories. Character development is not sacrificed to action, as the siblings mature in their relationship, gaining insight into family and racial dynamics, culture, and identity. Opening information from the fictional tour agency gives readers enough background about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fully understand the peril the family is in. An author’s note illuminates O’Brien’s strong personal ties to Korea and gives suggestions for further reading. A riveting work that will appeal to a wide range of readers. (Thriller. 9-13)

About the Author

Anne Sibley O’Brien grew up in South Korea as the bilingual and bicultural daughter of medical missionaries. She has written or illustrated thirty-five picture books, and frequently speaks in classrooms across the country and in international schools around the world. In the Shadow of the Sun is her first novel. Anne lives on Peaks Island in Maine.

Her website is www.annesibleyobrien.com

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Grit by Gillian French

Grit by Gillian French. May 16, 2017. HarperTeen, 304  p. ISBN: 9780062642554.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.

His presence beside me is like heat, like weight, something I’ve carried around on my back too long.

It’s summer in rural Maine; when seventeen-year-old Darcy Prentiss isn’t raking berries with her sister, Mags, and cousin, Nell, during the day, she’s drinking and swimming with the boys in the quarry by night. She knows how to have a good time, just like anyone else, but when you’ve been designated the town slut, every move you make seems to further solidify your “trashy girl” reputation.

But the fun is what’s been keeping Darcy’s mind off the things she can’t forget: a disturbing secret she shares with Nell, the mysterious disappearance of her ex-best friend, and that hazy Fourth of July party that ended with Darcy drunk, on her back, wondering how she let it get this far.

Then someone in town anonymously nominates Darcy to be in the running for Bay Festival Princess—a cruel, almost laughable gesture that can only be the work of someone with a score to settle. Everything Darcy has been trying to keep down comes bubbling to the surface in ways she wasn’t prepared to handle…and isn’t sure if she can.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Racial slur, Inappropriate student-teacher relationship

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 9-12. Feisty Darcy Prentiss is drawn to wild times. She’ll grab at any kind of dare, chug any kind of liquor, and kiss any kind of boy just to alleviate the tedium of small-town life. The summer before her senior year, Darcy joins her sister, Mags, and her cousin, Nell, raking blueberries on a local farm. There’s plenty of tension in the air, as Darcy keeps an eye on her nemesis, Shea Gaines. Only Darcy and Shea know what actually went down between them, and Darcy’s not telling. Then there’s renewed interest in Darcy’s ex–best friend, Rhiannon, missing without a trace since the summer before. Is Darcy keeping mute on something she knows about this as well? And there’s something else Darcy is hiding to protect Nell, who is beautiful but simple-minded. Any of these secrets could explode and rip Darcy’s life apart, but debut novelist French reveals them slowly, stretching the suspense to the very end. French sets the story in a palpably stifling small town, and her unapologetic main character is resplendent with her untamed sharp tongue, an overdose of stubborn courage, and a taste for hot sex. Keen plotting, evocative writing, and dynamic characterization make French a writer to watch.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 15, 2017)
A girl with a reputation grapples with the secrets of last summer.The summer before her senior year, white teen Darcy Prentiss, her sister Mags, and their cognitively disabled cousin Nell harvest blueberries alongside the seasonal Latino migrants in the eastern Maine heat, working hard to save money. But trouble keeps finding Darcy; she has a reputation, and she’s used to rumors swirling around her. It’s not just rumors about boys, although a white boy named Shea needles endlessly about a mistake she made with him last Fourth of July—there’s also Rhiannon, her ex-friend, who went missing last summer. A police officer starts coming around, suspicious of Darcy’s every move. Though Darcy doesn’t know what happened to Rhiannon, she harbors a different secret about the night the girl went missing, one that could tear apart her family if it got out. Darcy juggles her self-appointed task of defending her cousin, the watchful eye of the law, and Shea’s escalating harassment, all while falling for a fellow white blueberry harvester and begrudgingly participating in the town’s Bay Festival pageant. She’s tough and a fierce protector of what she holds dear, but something has to give. Small-town claustrophobia makes it difficult to define who she is for herself, but rumors, secrets, and even trauma are no match for Darcy’s grit. The mysteries of the previous summer weave together beautifully, and the fallout is achingly real. Gorgeously written and helmed by a protagonist with an indelibly fierce heart. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Gillian French is the author of three novels for teens: Grit, The Door to January, and The Lies They Tell. Her short fiction has appeared in Odd Tree Press Quarterly, EMP Publishing’s anthology Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups): Tales of Extreme Horror, Sanitarium Magazine, and The Realm Beyond. She holds a BA in English from the University of Maine, and lives in her native state of Maine with her husband and sons, where she’s perpetually at work on her next novel.

Her website is gillianfrench.com

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A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. May 9, 2017. Harry N. Abrams, 489 p. ISBN: 9781419724848.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 920.

In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price.

Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell’s expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 7-10. Published in Britain in 2012, this makes its American debut on the heels of Hardinge’s acclaimed The Lie Tree (2016). Eschewing the horror-tinged darkness of the latter, this story embraces fantasy, whimsical detail, political intrigue of epic proportions, and cheese—yes, cheese. Twelve-year-old Neverfell has been the apprentice of Cheesemaster Grandible since he found her hiding in his tunnels seven years ago. Paranoid from his years at court, he’s sealed their home off from the rest of Caverna, the underground city where they dwell. When Neverfell stumbles upon a passage out of her master’s tunnels, she’s plunged into a mad world where facial expressions are crafted and sold, and families are locked in a high-stakes game of politics and power, constantly scheming to gain the upper hand, whether through deceit or assassination. Neverfell, whose face shows her every emotion, is immediately marked as an outsider and swept into the deadly machinations of Caverna’s elite. Though wide-eyed, she’s a fast learner who refuses to be their pawn; and as Neverfell devises her escape, she uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her past and Caverna itself. Using beautiful prose, Hardinge builds a richly imagined world that twists as much as the carefully orchestrated plot. Readers will eagerly follow noble Neverfell through its tunnels, marveling at the extraordinary sights and catching their breath at her daring escapades.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
In this fantasy (first published in the UK in 2012), Hardinge (The Lie Tree, rev. 5/16) imagines Caverna, an underground city that thrives through its production of magical luxuries: mind-altering cheeses, wines that erase memories with surgical precision, and perfumes that influence attitudes. Perhaps these consciousness-influencing items make up for the inhabitants’ shared disability: they’re incapable of making facial expressions naturally. Into Caverna’s highly artificial court lands apprentice cheese-maker Neverfell, whose unique facial mobility and transparent feelings are so dangerous she must wear a mask. First threatened, then adopted by powerful courtiers, Neverfell penetrates the heart of Caverna’s secrets and disrupts its very underpinnings with her plan for social justice (“I want you to help me topple Master Childersin, break hundreds of laws and save as many people as will trust me”). Hardinge’s imagination here is—as ever—ebullient, lavish, and original. Whether she’s anatomizing expression as fashion accessory, describing the effects of certain wines, or likening human maturation to that of cheeses, she needles into some of our dearest desires and foibles with sharp psychological insight. Her enthusiasm for language play brightens dark Caverna with the sparkle of wit; but most notably, she suggests how fundamental to human interaction our facial expressions are. deirdre f. baker

About the Author

Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.

Her website is www.franceshardinge.com

 

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Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy

Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy. March 28, 2017. Algonquin Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781616206291.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

“Ever wish that you could just fly away?”

When fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows discovers that her father has a child from a brief affair, a eight-year-old boy who lives in her own suburban New Jersey town, she begins to question everything she thinks she knows about her home and her life. How could Lucy’s father have betrayed the entire family? How could her mother forgive him? And why isn’t her sister rocked by the news the way Lucy is?

As her father’s secret becomes her own, Lucy grows more and more isolated from her friends, her family, and even her boyfriend, Simon, the one person she thought understood her. When Lucy escapes to Maine, the home of her mysteriously estranged grandfather, she finally begins to get to the bottom of her family’s secrets and lies.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Drugs

 

Author Interview

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 7-10. When Lucy learns about Thomas, her half brother, she feels betrayed by her dad’s infidelity and her parents’ secrecy. Lucy finds solace in a new relationship with her friend’s older brother, Simon. Meanwhile, her curiosity about Thomas—who lives mere blocks away in her New Jersey town—motivates her to cross paths with him. She freaks out after meeting him, and takes an impromptu trip to visit her grandfather (who is estranged from Lucy’s dad) in Maine. They enjoy several days together before he suffers a ministroke and Lucy’s dad arrives. The first-person narration emphasizes Lucy’s intense reaction to finding out about her father’s other child. This YA debut suffers from an overload of story—a family drama, a romance, a road trip, and a renewed intergenerational relationship. Other flaws include occasional awkward phrasing, a random musing about race that doesn’t fit the overall tone, and a road trip that drags the pace. Strengths of the book include Lucy’s realistic response to her dad’s revelation, as well as other personal connections, and McCarthy’s fame as an actor will add interest.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2017)
Fifteen-year-old Lucy’s world is rocked when her father confesses to her and her sister that they have a half brother, the result of a brief affair. Though their mother has been aware of the existence of Thomas, who’s 8 and lives in their same New Jersey town, for many years and has made her peace with her husband’s infidelity, Lucy reels when she learns about him. Her realistically described reaction of fury and indignation builds until she finally embarks on an impulsive road trip without telling her parents, ending up at her larger-than-life grandfather’s house in Maine. This family drama is appealingly narrated in Lucy’s wry, confessional voice, and a romance she stumbles into with her friend’s stoner brother is sweetly fumbling and awkward. All the major characters seem to be white; musings about the ethnicities of various people Lucy encounters while on her clandestine trip, including a passage in which she wonders whether her own implicit bias might be at play in an interaction she has with a black man, underscore her new determination to seek out answers to questions that have gone unasked in her sheltered upbringing. A poignant, character-driven coming-of-age novel that, despite a too-tidy ending, will appeal broadly to teen readers. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Andrew McCarthy is the author of the New York Times bestselling travel memoir, The Longest Way Home. He is an editor at large at National Geographic Traveler magazine. He is also an actor and director. He lives in New York City with his wife, three children, two fish, and one dog. Just Fly Away is his first novel.

His website is www.andrewmccarthy.com.

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Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke. March 22, 2016. Dial Books, 247 p. ISBN: 9780803740488.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 840.

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes; Bullying

 

Book Trailer

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 12))
Grades 10-12. Poppy is the villain: the beautiful, cruel queen of the neighborhood. Midnight is the hero: the thoughtful boy next door who has loved Poppy most of his life, until moving two miles down the road breaks her spell on him. And Wink is the mystery: the odd, unreadable girl who talks in riddles and is obsessed with fairy tales (or so it seems). But there’s more going on here than meets the eye, and the three teenagers’ fates—and the roles they play in one another’s stories—are far more entwined and complicated than they seem at first glance. In airy, atmospheric prose, Tucholke has constructed an ethereal story where nothing ever feels quite real. Eerie, dark, and unusually sensual, this mystery–love story is similar in tone to E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (2014) and will appeal especially to older readers who are looking for surprising plot twists, a creepy fairy-tale vibe, ambiguous narrators, and a world where nothing is ever really what it seems.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2016)
Balancing between possibly paranormal and just plain disturbing, Tucholke walks a fine, spine-chilling line. Dark-haired, awkward (but soon to be gorgeous) Midnight is in love with Poppy, the beautiful, blonde, high school queen with a cruel streak a mile wide. Poppy is in love with Leaf Bell, an older boy who can see “right through the pretty” to the “ugly on the inside.” A self-described bully, Poppy is “built for winning and getting what I wanted and not for trying to be better.” Determined that, if her life is to be one of “desperation, then it would be loud, not quiet,” she is frustrated by Leaf’s indifference. Dreamy Wink is Leaf’s younger sister and a neighborhood oddball–the girl with the tarot card- and tea leaf-reading mother, a freckled dreamer who maybe reads a little too much. But Wink knows every story needs a Hero and a Villain and revolves around three essentials: revenge, justice, and love. Populating her gothic narrative with a mostly white cast, Tucholke writes in three alternating voices, presenting an eerie, tangled story with plenty of questions: Who can be trusted? Who–or what–pulls the strings? High on teen drama and with plenty of trauma–mostly emotional, with a little physical thrown in–the book keeps readers wondering. Nicely constructed and planned, with unexpected twists to intrigue and entertain. Bottom line? Beware of girls who read books…. (Suspense. 12 & up)

About the Author

April Genevieve Tucholke is the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Between the Spark and the Burn, and Wink Poppy Midnight. She also curated the horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. She has received five starred reviews and her novels have been chosen for the Junior Library Guild, Kids’ Indie Next picks, and YALSA Teens Top Ten. When she’s not writing, April likes walking in the woods with her two cheerful dogs, exploring abandoned houses, and drinking expensive coffee. She has lived in many places around the world, and currently resides in Oregon with her husband.

Her website is www.apriltucholke.com.

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Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. September 2, 2016. Candlewick, 400 p. ISBN: 978763688035.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.1; Lexile: 850.

Noah Keller’s ordinary, everyday American life is smashed to smithereens the day his parents tell him his name isn’t really Noah, his birthday isn’t really in March, and his new home is going to be East Berlin, on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It’s 1989, and everywhere all around countries are remaking themselves, but in East Germany the air is full of coal smoke, secrets, and lies. It’s not safe to say anything out loud in the apartment. It’s not safe to think too much about where you came from or who you used to be.

It’s also about the least likely place in the world for a kid from America with a lot of secrets of his own (and an Astonishing Stutter) to make a friend.

But then Noah meets Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives one floor down with her terrifying grandmother. Something has happened to her parents—but what?

Armed with a half-imaginary map and a shared fondness for codes and puzzles, Noah and Cloud-Claudia have to find their way in a world where walls—and the Wall—are closing in.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination; Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 1))
Grades 5-8. Life just got really weird for fifth-grader Noah Keller. In fact, he just got a brand new life—including a new home (East Berlin), name (Jonah Brown), and age (10)—and he’s not happy about any of it, though a severe stutter makes it difficult for him to express his dismay. His parents lay all this on him after school one day while driving straight for the airport. In 1989, few people are allowed extended visits to East Germany, but Mrs. Keller’s research into speech pathology has granted them a six-month stay. A long list of rules accompanies this bewildering trip, including “don’t draw attention to yourself” and not to forget that “they will always be listening.” Nesbet gives readers a glimpse into life behind the Iron Curtain, but her intriguing premise soon languishes from the frequent intrusion of “Secret Files,” which feel like mini history lessons. Noah’s friendship with his neighbor Claudia is genuinely touching, and some truly tense scenes unfold as secrets are revealed and readers witness events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2016)
A sudden adventure to East Germany changes Noah’s life forever—literally, as he assumes a new name and family history.Swooped up by his parents after school one day, fifth-grade stutterer Noah must dump his backpack on the way to the airport and learn his “real” name and history so that his mother can take a sudden opportunity to conduct research in East Berlin. The white American boy becomes “Jonah” and experiences the world behind the Iron Curtain in 1989 with the help of a new German friend, Claudia, also white. Nesbet (The Wrinkled Crown, 2015, etc.) ventures from fantasy into a new genre and unpacks her story slowly, sometimes ponderously, by inserting “secret files” from an omniscient narrator who explains much of the context required to appreciate the history in the fiction. There is intrigue involving the reported death of Claudia’s parents and Noah’s suspicions about his own mother’s story, but the suspense and character development are bogged down by slow pacing. Noah’s stutter effectively portrays him as the misunderstood outsider, but his photographic memory becomes purely plot device as Nesbet unravels a belatedly thrilling ending. Her author’s note reveals the personal history behind the novel, suggesting a labor of love that does show in the carefully crafted details and effective scene-setting. While not fully absorbing, Nesbet’s detail-rich novel offers tenacious readers an interesting window into the fall of the Iron Curtain. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Anne Nesbet is the author of the novels The Cabinet of Earths, A Box of Gargoyles, and The Wrinkled Crown. Her books have received starred reviews and have been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best list, and the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year list. An associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Her website is www.annenesbet.com.

Teacher Resources

Cloud and Wallfish Discussion Guide

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Cloud and Wallfish on Amazon

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Cloud and Wallfish on Goodreads

 

The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix: A Novel by Nathan Hill. August 30, 2016. Knopf, 640 p. ISBN: 9781101946619.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the suburban Midwest to New York City to the 1968 riots that rocked Chicago and beyond, The Nix explores—with sharp humor and a fierce tenderness—the resilience of love and home, even in times of radical change.

It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson—college professor, stalled writer—has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s re-appeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.

To save her, Samuel will have to embark on his own journey, uncovering long-buried secrets about the woman he thought he knew, secrets that stretch across generations and have their origin all the way back in Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. As he does so, Samuel will confront not only Faye’s losses but also his own lost love, and will relearn everything he thought he knew about his mother, and himself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Drugs; Alcohol; Criminal culture; Description of sexual abuse

 

Author Interviews

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 21))
Growing up in a small, watchful Iowa town, Faye endures her brooding Norwegian immigrant father’s frightening ghost stories, especially one about a spirit known as the nix, which can haunt a family for eons. This is the kernel from which Hill’s accomplished, many-limbed debut novel germinates. Cartwheeling among multiple narrators, it spins the galvanizing stories of three generations derailed in unexpected ways by WWII, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. Faye inflicts the chilling tale of the nix on her hypersensitive son, Samuel, and then abandons him and his father. Twenty-three years later, in 2011, Samuel, a failed writer and English professor so disheartened by his cell-phone-addicted students and litigation-phobic administration that he routinely retreats into a multiplayer video game, is dragged back into the real world when his long-estranged mother is arrested for assaulting a right-wing presidential candidate. This precipitates a leap back to 1968 and Faye’s wounding experiences during the infamous Democratic convention in Chicago. As more subplots build, including the mesmerizing tale of young Samuel’s relationships with twins fearless Bishop and violin prodigy Bethany, Hill takes aim at hypocrisy, greed, misogyny, addiction, and vengeance with edgy humor and deep empathy in a whiplashing mix of literary artistry and compulsive readability. Place Hill’s engrossing, skewering, and preternaturally timely tale beside the novels of Tom Wolfe, John Irving, Donna Tartt, and Michael Chabon.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2016)
Sparkling, sweeping debut novel that takes in a large swath of recent American history and pop culture and turns them on their sides.The reader will be forgiven for a certain sinking feeling on knowing that the protagonist of Hill’s long yarn is–yes–a writer, and worse, a writer teaching at a college, though far happier playing online role-playing games involving elves and orcs and such than doling out wisdom on the classics of Western literature. Samuel Andresen-Anderson–there’s a reason for that doubled-up last name–owes his publisher a manuscript, and now the publisher is backing out with the excuse, “Primarily, you’re not famous anymore,” and suing to get back the advance in the bargain. What’s a fellow to do? Well, it just happens that Samuel’s mother, who has been absent for decades, having apparently run off in the hippie days to follow her bliss, is back on the scene, having become famous herself for chucking a rock at a rising right-wing demagogue, the virulent Gov. Sheldon Packer. Hill opens by running through the permutations of journalism that promote her from back to front page, with a run of ever more breathless headlines until a “clever copywriter” arrives at the sobriquet “Packer Attacker,” “which is promptly adopted by all the networks and incorporated into the special logos they make for the coverage.” Where did mom run off to? Why? What has she been up to? Andresen-Anderson is too busy asking questions to feel too sorry for what his editor calls “your total failure to become a famous writer.” There are hints of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys as Hill, by way of his narrative lead, wrestles alternately converging and fugitive stories onto the page, stories that range from the fjords of Norway to the streets of “Czechago” in the heady summer of 1968. There are also hints of Pynchon, though, as Hill gently lampoons advertising culture, publishing, academia, politics, and everything in between. A grand entertainment, smart and well-paced, and a book that promises good work to come.

About the Author

Nathan Hill’s short fiction has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, AGNI, The Gettysburg Review, and Fiction, where he was awarded the annual Fiction Prize. A native Iowan, he lives with his wife in Naples, Florida. The Nix is his first novel.

His website is nathanhill.net.

Teacher Resources

The Nix Discussion Questions

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The Nix on Amazon

The Nix on JLG

The Nix on Goodreads

 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. September 13, 2016. Harper, 336 p. ISBN: 9780399550492.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Alcohol; Arson; Misuse of over-the-counter drugs

 

Author Interviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 21))
Patchett’s seventh novel (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013) begins with the opening of a door. Fix Keating expected all the guests, including many fellow cops, who are crowded into his modest Los Angeles home to celebrate his younger daughter Franny’s christening, but why is deputy district attorney Bert Cousins, a near-stranger, standing at the threshold clutching a big bottle of gin? As soon as Bert, married and the father of three, with a fourth on the way, meets Fix’s stunningly beautiful wife, Beverly, the foundations of both households undergo a tectonic shift. As Patchett’s consummately crafted and delectably involving novel unfolds, full measure is subtly taken of the repercussions of the breaking asunder and reassembling of the two families. Anchored in California and Virginia, and slipping gracefully forward in time, the complexly suspenseful plot evolves exponentially as the six kids, thrown into the blender of custody logistics and ignored by the adults, grow close, “like a pack of feral dogs,” leading to a resounding catastrophe. The survivors grow up and improvise intriguingly unconventional lives, including Franny’s involvement with a writer, which raises thorny questions about a novelist’s right to expose family secrets. Indeed, this is Patchett’s most autobiographical novel, a sharply funny, chilling, entrancing, and profoundly affecting look into one family’s “commonwealth,” its shared affinities, conflicts, loss, and love.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2016)
Two families are fused, atomized, and reconfigured by a stolen kiss, a child’s death, and a bestselling novel.In her seventh work of fiction, Patchett (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013, etc.) turns from the exotic locales and premises of Bel Canto (2001) and State of Wonder (2011) to a subject closer to home: the evolution of an American family over five decades. The story begins on a very hot day in Southern California at a christening party for Beverly and Fix Keating’s second daughter, Franny. A lawyer named Bert Cousins shows up uninvited, carrying a bottle of gin. With its help, the instant infatuation he conceives for his stunning hostess becomes “the start of his life.” After Bert and Beverly marry and move to Virginia, the six newly minted stepsiblings are dragged unhappily into new relationships and settings. On another hot afternoon, one of the children dies from a bee sting–a tragedy compounded by long-kept secrets and lies. Jumping ahead, we find Franny in her late 20s, having an affair with a Saul Bellow-type novelist 32 years her senior. “Other than the difference in their ages, and the fact that he had an estranged wife, and had written a novel about her family which in its final form made her want to retch even though she had found it nothing less than thrilling when he was working on it, Franny and Leo were great.” Since Patchett comes from a blended family with the same outlines as the one in this book, the problems created by Leo’s fictionalized family history, also called Commonwealth, are particularly intriguing. The prose is lean and inviting, but the constant shifts in point of view, the peripatetic chronology, and the ever growing cast of characters will keep you on your toes.A satisfying meat-and-potatoes domestic novel from one of our finest writers.

About the Author

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In 1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Patchett’s second novel, Taft, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third novel, The Magician’s Assistant, was short-listed for England’s Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship.Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006. Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times magazine, Harper’s, The Atlantic,The Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender.

Her website is www.annpatchett.com

Teacher Resources

Commonwealth Reading Group Guide

Commonwealth Discussion Questions

Around the Web

Commonwealth on Amazon

Commonwealth on JLG

Commonwealth on Goodreads

 

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. October 4, 2016. A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin, 288 p. ISBN: 9781250058669.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Racial discrimination

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Sam and Miel have always been inseparable. Pakistani Samir and his mother moved to town first, painting ornamental moons and carrying secrets, but Miel appeared out of the water tower, with roses growing out of her wrists. As they grow, their friendship deepens into something more; after all, it’s Miel who’s the keeper of Sam’s secret, who realizes he used to be different, and who understands why he is drawn to bacha posh, a Pakistani practice where families without sons allow a daughter to live as a boy. But Sam and Miel have caught the eye of the four Bonner sisters, whom people say are witches, and Miel knows their attention could destroy everything. This is a careful, close look not only at gender identity but at what it is to possess a body—for Sam, of course, but also for Miel (whose roses are viewed with suspicion) and for the almost mythical, red-haired Bonner girls as well. Love, family history, and things unsaid are forces to be reckoned with: Miel’s guardian cures lovesickness, and people believe Miel’s roses cast a love spell. With luminous prose infused with Latino folklore and magical realism, this mixes fairy-tale ingredients with the elegance of a love story, with all of it rooted in a deeply real sense of humanity. Lovely, necessary, and true.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2016)
McLemore (The Weight of Feathers, 2015) mesmerizes once again with a lush narrative set at the thresholds of identity, family, and devotion.No one thinks twice about the friendship between Miel, the Latina teen who fears pumpkins and grows roses from her wrist, and Samir, the Italian-Pakistani boy who hangs his painted moons all around town and brought Miel home when she appeared from inside a water tower as a child. They are linked by their strangeness and bound to each other by their secrets—those that transgender Sam shares about his body and his name and those that Miel keeps about her family and her past. But just as the pair’s bond expands to passion, the Bonner girls, who are rumored to have the power to make anyone fall in love with them, decide that Miel’s roses are the only thing that will repair their weakening influence over others, and the four white sisters will leverage every secret that haunts Miel and that could destroy Sam to get what they want. Luxurious language infused with Spanish phrases, Latin lunar geography, and Pakistani traditions is so rich it lingers on the tongue, and the presence of magic is effortlessly woven into a web of prose that languidly unfolds to reveal the complexities of gender, culture, family, and self. Readers will be ensnared in this ethereal narrative long before they even realize the net has been cast. (Magical realism. 13-17)

About the Author

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. Her debut novel THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book, and a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award.

Her website is author.annamariemclemore.com.

 

Around the Web

When the Moon Was Ours on Amazon

When the Moon Was Ours on JLG

When the Moon Was Ours on Goodreads