Take to the Sky

It’s impossible to keep up with all of the incredible comics that come out each week. There is a constant stream of exciting new projects from industry heavyweights and emerging talents re-imagining beloved characters or creating entirely new stories, from the fantastical to the deeply personal. Whenever I talk about comics with another reader, I walk away with far more recommendations than I can hope to get through, leaving me with a “to-read” list a mile long. Recently I happened to enjoy two debut volumes, both about young women who can fly, that I’m quite eager to push into the hands of my friends and colleagues who love comics as much as I do. 

Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, is the comic book successor to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, but she is also so much more than that. Sure, she has the rad suit, the scientific brilliance, the loner instincts, and the quick quips, but that’s where the similarities with Tony end. Riri is a young woman from Chicago with some serious trauma in her recent past – she lost both her step-father and her best friend to violent crime. She also built her suit with far more limited resources than Tony had at his disposal. Riri managed to create her armor while a student at MIT, basically using supplies that she could discreetly pilfer from the school. 

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Eve Ewing’s Ironheart vol. 1: Those With Courage picks up after this origin story. Riri is now a graduate student at MIT and an ascending super hero, trying to maintain her privileged lab access while also preserving some semblance of control over her work and avoiding the intrusive meddling of school officials. She is clearly grieving the losses in her personal life and struggling to process the trauma she has experienced, while often refusing the help and counsel of those who care about her. And these are just Riri’s “small” problems. A new and mysterious threat has emerged that jeopardizes both the greater world and some of the people closest to her. 

I was thrilled when I found out that Ewing would be writing Ironheart. Ewing is, among other things, a brilliant playwright and poet. Electric Arches, her collection of visual art, prose, and verse about the city of Chicago, identity, and much more, is a stunning and beautiful work. I appreciate that Marvel has hired more black writers who bring new and important perspectives to these comics, but who also come from different writing styles and traditions. This of course includes Ta-Nehisi Coates, who did incredible work on Black Panther and is now writing Captain America, but also Roxanne Gay’s work on World of Wakanda and Nnedi Okorafor’s Shuri comic. 

PrintJoe Henderson’s Skyward is not quite as new – the first volume, My Low-G Life, came out a little over a year ago. Willa Fowler was born shortly before G-Day, the day on which Earth’s gravity abruptly and drastically reduced. This day was tragic for many people who were caught outside and floated off, never to be seen again, including Willa’s mother. But Willa, and many others her age, embrace life in a low gravity world. Rather than suffer through life as an earth-bound being, they are able to soar from building to building, enjoying a life without the constraints of gravity. 

 Yet all is not perfect in Willa’s life. She is disastrously awkward around her crush, she is desperate to see more of the world but is stuck in Chicago, and – worst of all – her father is agoraphobic. He has refused to leave their house in the twenty years since G-Day. Then, in an instant, everything changes. Her father reveals a secret that threatens to completely upend the only world Willa has ever known, a secret that puts Willa and the people she cares about in immediate and grave danger. 

I’ve only read the first of Skyward’s three volumes, but I was immediately taken by the world Henderson builds. There is an interesting treatment of class and corporate greed – the rich all wear gravity boots that allow them to live as if G-Day never happened, for a price. And the new threats and challenges that emerge from this world, such as growing food and preventing people from floating off to their deaths, are interesting and creatively presented. While I’m unsure of the scientific soundness, I also love the way that rainstorms are presented as a new, strange, and terrifying threat that I don’t want to spoil with more details. I can’t wait to continue Willa’s adventure and dive deeper into the weightless, yet menacing world that Skyward has built. 

Even as I write this, new comics are hitting our shelves, demanding attention. I’m eagerly awaiting Simon Says, a Nazi-hunting revenge story, Star Wars: Tie Fighter, which follows a group of the Empire’s elite pilots as they begin to question the Empire’s methods, and Wynonna Earp, following a descendant of the famous Wyatt Earp as she takes on new threats of the paranormal variety. I’d love to hear what comics other fans are excited about right now. Leave a comment and help me make my reading list impossibly long!    

Soon by Lois Murphy

One day, in the novel Soon by Lois Murphy, a mist comes to the little town of Nebulah…. The birds and animals are gone. The town residents try to go on with their lives as usual, until it begins to get dark; everyone runs to the safety of being indoors with every window and door locked, the shades drawn and music or TV turned up loud. Pete, Milly and Li are our three main characters and they all gather to spend the long nights together, and keep each other distracted from the things that come out in the mist.

People in the surrounding towns think that the residents of Nebulah are all crazy, and they don’t believe the things they have been told about the mist. Still, none of them will come to the town at night to try and disprove the rumors either.

When something happens to Li, one of her relatives, Alice, comes to take care of her things. She insists on staying, and when Pete and Milly are unable to convince her to leave, things really get interesting. Alice has an unusual experience with the mist and they can’t persuade her it was a trick.

I think anyone who enjoys suspense will love this book. It was quite a page turner by the end, and the ending was my favorite kind – – one you never saw coming!

I’ll Give You $3.50 For Your Soul

One of the drawbacks of being an avid reader is that I sometimes don’t retain much of a book in my head. I might remember specific scenes or characters. I might not remember the entire book, but I do remember if I liked the book or hated it.

I read Peter Staub’s The Hellfire Club over 20 years ago. I had already read the two books he collaborated on with Stephen King: The Talisman and it’s follow up Black House. Already a King reader, those two books urged me to seek out more Peter Straub books. And I did, starting with The Hellfire Club.

Nora Chancel is married to Davey Chancel, the son of a man whose father built a publishing house in the early 1900s. Nora, a former combat nurse in Vietnam, is haunted by her service in the war. Her sleep is often broken by nightmares that send her digging under her pillow for a gun she used to keep there.

Someone is murdering women in the small Connecticut town where Nora and Davey live. The killer’s latest victim is the real estate agent who sold the Chancels their home. Like many women in town terrified of being the next victim, Nora has had an alarm system put in.

Meanwhile, her husband, who has always been obsessed with an author published by his family’s publishing house, seems to have become almost unhinged in his obsession. His father is a blowhard who likes to keep Davey under his thumb. Davey’s mother is a more often than not drunk who spends her days in her study ‘writing.’ Davey’s father has always thought that Nora (10 years older than Davey) was too old for his son and likes to insult her under the guise of flirting.

One day on the drive home from a tense lunch with Davey’s parents, he and Nora drive by their real estate agent’s house. Crime scene tape still scars the front door. Police roam the house. Davey and Nora go to the front door where they’re met by a detective who asks them to come inside since they knew the missing woman and might have answers to his questions. He observes them as they walk through the house.

The woman’s bedroom is a blood bath, blood spatter on the walls, the bed soaked. Nora doesn’t think the real estate agent is dead, but with all the blood in her bedroom it’d be a miracle if the woman was alive. When they get home, Nora sees that Davey is almost manic about something. He stole a couple of paperbacks from the real estate agent’s bedroom, books published by his family and written by the author Davey is obsessed with. He begins to tell her a bizarre story about a woman from his past who was equally obsessed with the writer. She introduced him to The Hellfire Club, an unusual place where time and memory seem to be skewed.

He gives Nora a couple of paperbacks with a scribbled message inside. The same paperbacks the missing and presumed dead real estate agent had on her shelf in her bedroom. But it turns out that Nora was right, the woman is not dead and has been found. The police want Nora and Davey to positively ID the woman.

It is indeed the real estate agent, but she explodes into hysterics when she sees Nora. The killer is caught: a man identified as one of Davey’s former classmates as well as a lawyer for the publishing house. And this is where Nora’s nightmare begins as she becomes accused of heinous crimes and tries to outrun a killer who is actually on the loose.

Peter Straub is a master storyteller, weaving tales both supernatural and steeped in reality. The Hellfire Club is a fast page-turner and if my heart wasn’t a shriveled up black lotus flower, I’m sure it would have been pounding in terror.

Family of Origin

What do you want?

For some of us, that can be a terrifying question to answer. For Nolan and Elsa Grey, it’s almost impossible. But these two siblings have to grapple with that very question in CJ Hauser’s Family of Origin when their father mysteriously dies.

Ian Grey was a natural biologist who prescribed to the theory of ‘reversalism,’ the seemingly absurd idea that evolution is moving backwards, predicated on the study of a rare bird called the ‘undowny bufflehead.’ So, the siblings embark to a remote island to delve further into their father’s research and discover if he was delusional or maybe right all along.

I have to say it: this is a weird book. If the plot summary didn’t give you that sense already, the absence of any quotation marks throughout the book solidifies it. But there’s skilled purpose and beauty in that strangeness. Hauser immediately establishes that the two siblings are living both in the present and in the past. The Greys are “fondlers of old grudges,” “rescripters of ancient fights,” “relitigators of the past,” “dead-horse-beaters and wallowers of the first order.” Narrations switches back and forth between flashbacks and present events with enough frequency that the timeline becomes blurred, so the reader has no choice but to live in the same past/present confusion as the characters.

The haunting mistakes of the past are a persistent thread and might be the driving force behind why Elsa hopes to move to Mars…no, that’s not a joke. A clean slate, no worrying about politics or climate change or dying bees, just a new planet on which to make new mistakes. It’s a strange solution to an understandable and familiar feeling: the urge to flee your problems.

Nolan doesn’t even know how to articulate what he wants. Desires and needs have blurred into something unspeakable, something too terrifying to explore. The absence of quotation marks in the book makes thoughts and spoken words blur into indistinguishable masses, which makes for an unsettling tension; the feeling that deep dark thoughts are so close to being spoken aloud.

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I didn’t pick up this book because I was interested in sordid family dramas or outlandish scientific theories. I actually sought it out after reading CJ Hauser’s essay in The Paris Review, called “The Crane Wife.” The essay explores how Hauser immersed herself in ecological studies while researching this book and she embarked on this writing adventure after the messy and life-altering event of breaking off her engagement to her long-time fiancé. This, by the way, is not at all related to the plot of Family of Origin, and you can read the book without the context of the essay. But for the sake of this post, I’ll draw your attention to a line from that essay:

There is nothing more humiliating to me than my own desires. Nothing that makes me hate myself more than being burdensome and less than self-sufficient.

I think giving voice to wants and needs can make people feel deeply vulnerable and some take drastic steps to avoid vulnerability, whether it’s distancing themselves from other people or, in Elsa’s case, trying to leave the planet. Family of Origin is an impressive novel, but I wouldn’t exactly call it enjoyable. Witnessing the Grey children stumble through communicating their desires made me feel uncomfortable, and sometimes exposed. Maybe that was the point.

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

I really enjoyed Tidelands by Philippa Gregory. While technically a work of fiction, it is a compelling story and feels true to the time period. Philippa is such a fabulous writer and her research is impeccable.

In the year 1648 people were very superstitious. Alinor is descended from a long line of wise women and has attended the births of most of the women on Sealsea Island, off the coast of the county of Sussex, England. Knowing the craft of healing and herbs is considered akin to being a witch. Alinor’s abusive husband has disappeared (not that she misses him!) and the townsfolk wonder if she had a part in his disappearance. Alinor’s daughter Alys and son Rob know they must be very careful and help promote a wholesome image to protect her reputation.

Sealsea Island is very small and when the tide comes in or out, the whole island can change, becoming murky, swampy and very unsafe and unstable in places…

There is a war going on in England and King Charles I is being held prisoner. Later, he is tried for treason. Alinor meets James, a priest trying to help King Charles, and a secret, forbidden romance begins. In the meantime, Alys becomes engaged to a boy who is considered above her station, much to the boy’s parents chagrin.

I was enraptured with the characters of Tidelands and couldn’t wait to find out how the dramas all worked out. Of course, one hopes for happy endings all around, but there are some twists that make for a denouement you will not be expecting!

The Best Literary Critics in the World

I think all of the youth services librarians I know would agree – we get some of the best recommendations from the enthusiastic young readers we chat with every day. The feedback we receive is not only invaluable in helping us choose our next reads, but also shapes the suggestions we make to patrons and informs the decisions we make when building our collections.

This year we introduced a new opportunity during our summer reading program. We invited youths to fill out book review forms, telling us why they loved, disliked, or were excited about the books that they read over the summer. We received over fifty incredible reviews from budding critics between third and ninth grade. They were all incredible, and you can check them all out in our Teen Zone, but I’ve chosen a few to share here. I will warn that there are spoilers in some of these delightful and thoughtful reviews. Enjoy, and leave a comment telling us about the books you’ve read this summer!

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Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

I liked the book very much. Lily/Timmothy is transgender. Her father does not want her to be. Dunkin/Norbert meets lily. Then Dunkin makes friends with the kids who are mean to lily. Dunkin tells lily about his bipolar disorder and lily tells Dunkin about being lily. While trying to save Bob. I likes how it was an example of how individuality no matter how differen makes everyone normal and extrordinary.

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

Jasmine is an immigrant senior in her last year of high school. She tries her best to get great grades and to make her parents proud of her. It’s helping her to get scholarships to get into college. But all of that turns upside down when she learns the truth about their family: their illegal. This could mean deportation and scholarships that cannot happen anymore. But she also has met Royce Blakely who she’s looking for but may lose him at any possible moment. This book is a great read and could connect us to the real world. It has so many details and connects to people that might need to do the same thing. I would recommend this book because it’s a novel like no other.

Max and the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce

the main charakters are max, millie, simon, and kevyn. max is a girl who looks a lot like a boy. the story is about max’s uncle, who is a troubedor and he and max enter the kingdom of byjovia. it used to be ruled by conrad the kind until he “died.” they realized everything is nasty! they live several adventures together. in the end they find…if you want to know, read the book! I highly recamend this book.

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The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

I love the book series the land of stories because it is all about a different dimension where fare tales come from and after you read the first couple of paragraphs you learn that “happily Ever After” is just the begginning of the story! Example.

Red Riding Hood isn’t a 8 year-old-girl giving treat to her grandmother, she’s a woman in her twenties and Queen of the Center Kingdom. It is a brilliant page-turner that you Have to read!

Echo’s Sister by Paul Mosier

Echo’s Sister is about a girl named Laughter, but like to be called El. El has a little sister named Echo. On El’s first day at a new school her dad picks her up. She knows something is wrong because she was supposed to walk home herself. Her dad takes her to her favorite restaurant and tells her horrible news. Her little sister Echo has cancer.

After I read the book I wanted to help real kids with cancer.

The book is awesome.

The only bad thing is its only 20 chapters long. 😦

P.S. Echo survives

Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst

Fire & Heist is about Sky Hawkins, a wyvern (human capable of turning into a dragon) who’s mother recently went missing. As she leads her first heist to steal a jewel from her ex-boyfriend’s father, it could either restore her family’s rank in society or get them all banished forever.

I like the characters and the plot twists. Its funny, charming, and all in all a great story!

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Refugee by Alan Gratz

This book is about 3 Different Storys of refugs. The first story is a Jewish Boy fleing nazi germany on The Ship The St. Lois going to Cuba But gets Dinid entry. His father go’s insane and jumps off The Boat…, IziBel lives in cuba in 1994. The goverment has crashed and people are starving ween her father Lead a revilotion and fales. her family and friend’s family must flee to florida…, Mahalia live’s in Seria But wen his home is Disstrod in a Boming rade he and his famliy flee, yoo will lernd more ween you read This Book.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society is an exiting novel keeps you hooked on every word. The story starts out in the city of Stonetown, near Stonetown harbor. The story follows 11-year-old Raynard “Renie” Muldoon and opens when a strange ad leads Renie into danger. Following the ad, Renie takes a test, and winds up having to save the entire world.

This book is my all time favorite, and that’s saying something. I have often looked over at my clock, and wondered where the time went while reading this book. In my opinion, there is nothing not to like about the Mysterious Benedict Society.

READ IT, I INSIST!!!

Cleopatra in Space 05, Fallen Empires by Mike Maihack

I like these books because the graphics are nice and how sometimes there are pages where it’s only pictures. What I Also like about this series it has the past and some of the future (There is probably no modern time because it is kind of boring). I like the difference between the newer and older ones! Because the older are not as scary and the newer ones are suspensful and nail biting. And finally I like this series because of its awesome cliffhangers. Somethings I dislike about these books is that sometimes it is a little rushed and sometimes it is kind of confusing! It is about Cleopatra the 1st when she was a teenager. The other 4 books describe how how she came to the future to lead to her one on one battler with her former best fried to worst enemy Xaius Octavain. I recomend this book for ages 8 and up.

Where They Came From

A few days later, the vacation ended. I flew back to pine trees, over-cast skies, and a Michigan winter that could sputter till May. My tan faded. My tongue forgot the taste of tocino and Tagalog. I stepped out of tsinelas and back into my suburban life as if I had never left.

This is how Jay Reguero, the narrator of Randy Ribay’s profoundly moving Patron Saints of Nothing, recounts readjusting to his life in America after a visit with his Filipino family. Though Jay was born in the Philippines, his parents moved to the US when he was a young child and he has only been back once. Jay’s life has been very comfortable, and very stereotypically American – now a high school senior, he is preoccupied with friends, girls, video games, and angst over his collegiate future. 

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This all changes in an instant, however, when Jay’s father drops a bomb in his lap. Jay’s Filipino cousin Jun has been killed. Jun and Jay are the same age and had been long time pen pals before eventually falling out of contact. Jay is upset to hear about Jun, but the circumstances surrounding his death make things far worse. His father explains that Jun had run away from home, begun using and selling drugs, and was killed as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s extreme, brutally violent “war on drugs.” Jay cannot reconcile this version of Jun with the sweet, caring young man he knew and is frustrated by his extended family’s refusal to divulge more details about Jun’s death. Jay decides to take matters into his own hands, travelling to the Philippines on his spring break to stay with his family and learn more about the last years of Jun’s life and the events that led to his death. 

In Manila, Jay butts heads with his uncle, a powerful pro-Duterte police officer, and finds himself increasingly disgusted by how quickly his family has buried all memories of Jun. Jay is also haunted by guilt for letting his friendship with Jun fade away, and both ashamed and frustrated to discover how little he knows and understands about the country where he was born. As Jay makes connections and begins to untangle the mysteries of Jun’s life and death, he must also reckon with his own family history, his disconnection with Filipino culture, and his own role in deciding his future. 

Ribay is a beautiful writer with the rare ability to immerse the reader in a specific time and place. In Patron Saints of Nothing, he deftly explores and illuminates many of the complicated, nuanced ideas connected to identity and perceived otherness that immigrants are forced to contend with daily. Jay, who has a Filipino father and a white American mother, must contend with the all-too-common microaggressions at home, yet is not “Filipino enough” in the eyes of his family in the Philippines. It is perhaps this feeling of being caught in the middle that explains why Ribay’s dedication for this book reads “For the hyphenated.” 

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Jay’s experiences returning to the Philippines reminded me of another incredible book I read earlier this year. Sabina Khan’s The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali is an intense, propulsive book about a young woman caught between cultures and the expectations they place on young people. Rukhsana is the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants. She is a talented student of physics, eager to attend a top university program in California even if that means going against the wishes of her parents who want her to stay closer to home. Rukhsana has gotten adept at balancing the pressures of her life and the demands of her traditional Muslim parents. Though it bothers her that her brother often gets preferential treatment, she plays the role of dutiful daughter while also making plans for her future and sneaking out to parties with her friends. 

Rukhsana’s carefully constructed world crashes down when her mother catches her in the worst possible scenario – making out with her girlfriend. Her parents had no idea that Rukhsana is gay and they refuse to accept this reality. To say they do not handle it well is an understatement. They start with prayers, threats, and plans to arrange a marriage for Rukhsana, then push things further, sending Rukhsana to live with family in Bangladesh under false pretenses while they train her to be a dutiful wife and find her a suitable husband. 

This is all traumatic and terrifying for Rukhsana, who has suddenly lost the girl she loves, her dreams for the future, and any illusion that her family supports her. But Rukhsana is extremely resilient and a bit of a bad-ass, and soon finds allies in Bangladesh as she searches for a way to stand up to her family, save her future, and thwart their wedding plans. While in Bangladesh, Rukhsana seizes the opportunity to learn more about Bengali culture and the things that her parents have endured and fought through in their lives. While Khan does not hold back when criticizing the violent homophobia and misogyny that persist in Bangladesh (and unfortunately are still mirrored here in the United States), she also uses Rukhsana’s difficult journey to highlight the brave people who fight to make society more equitable and accepting for all people. 

Both Jay’s and Rukhsana’s stories are deeply upsetting at times. They also have incredible redemptive arcs that show the power of family and community to learn, adapt, and become more accepting in both small and large ways. Though not the primary focus of these two stories, both books also deal with the sacrifices that immigrant families make and the ways they face adversity and build community in a new homeland.  At a time when language targeting immigrants is being weaponized to target our friends, family, and neighbors, I will be pushing myself to reinforce that the Library is a safe and welcoming place for everyone, and to read more stories about the people who strengthen our communities with their presence.