The Red Estate

When people call me a writer I get uncontrollable giggles, like when I’m walking around the grocery store and find that aisle where a weird guy’s been hanging out for fifteen minutes belting out The Best of Celine Dion even though there’s no Muzak playing. Or when someone gets on the elevator with you at the hospital and they immediately open up about their upcoming hemorrhoid surgery.

I don’t consider myself a writer. At all. It makes me feel like a fake even though I spend a couple of hours writing every day.

In Lauren Karcz’s The Gallery of Unfinished Girls, Mercedes Moreno knows exactly what I mean. She’s finishing out her senior year in high school and not sure if she even considers herself an artist or not because she hasn’t created anything since her last piece won first place in an art show. She’s in love with her best friend Victoria, her grandmother has had a stroke and is dying in a hospital in Puerto Rico and her mother leaves, sending back word that while sitting at her mother’s bedside she saw her hand move. Mercedes knows this is wishful thinking because things do not look good for her grandmother whom she and her sister Angela are close to, having spent whole summers with her.

Rex, their landlord and next door neighbor, checks in on them and feeds them. One morning, a piano shows up on their front lawn. Her fourteen year old sister Angela has always wanted to learn how to play the piano (me too if just to annoy my brothers by playing Chopsticks for three hours straight). Mercedes and Angela haul the piano inside and make room for it. Soon, Angela can barely be torn away from it. Mercedes is trying to come up with a painting that rivals her award-winning Food Poisoning #1 (that title alone is a winner with me) but she’s feeling less than artistic as she waits for news from her mother about their grandmother, deals with her unrequited crush on her best friend who will be auditioning for Julliard (and no doubt getting in because she’s that good of a ballet dancer) and wondering what she’s going to do with her own life after high school.

Go to art school? Go to a local university? She sees her future as pretty grim, never leaving home and “playing” at her art, never seeing her best friend Vic again (or even acting on the chance that there might be more to their friendship). Life, as Mercedes knows it, feels all lived up and worn out. Until Rex announces that he has a new renter, a young woman named Lilia Solis. “She’s a painter like you!” Rex announces (insert slow eye roll here). Since Mercedes and Angela are on their own, Rex invites them over to eat and get to know Lilia. Mercedes is taken with her at first sight, this woman who’s only a few years older than Mercedes and a painter, living her life exactly the way she wants.

Lilia shows some of her work to Mercedes and says there’s this building called the Red Mangrove Estate where many artists rent space to work: painters, musicians, anyone who needs a place to unleash their creativity. I like that idea. I normally write sitting in the middle of my bed with my writing music on shuffle and then spend 45 minutes changing songs because that song doesn’t fit with my current mood of writing and then I scrap writing altogether and watch Netflix. Mercedes goes with Lilia to the Estates. She hears bands in other rooms rehearsing and looks through partially open doors snatching glimpses of other writers in the throes of creation: that place all artists go to where time has no meaning and they often look up and breathe deeply as if they’ve been underwater and now have to resurface.

The ten foot thick steel door in Mercedes’s head that has been holding back her art creaks open and she begins to create losing time, losing herself, and losing her worry over her grandmother. Her head becomes clearer. But like most obsessions that seem fantastic at first, the Estate begins to take on a life of its own. It’s all Mercedes can think about. She unthinkingly takes Vic there one day, even though outsiders and hangers-on are not allowed. She kisses Vic. She kisses the best friend she’s in love with.

But she soon finds that the Estate is truly a world of its own, a different one. There’s the life lived and created in the Estate and there’s the world outside of it where Mercedes didn’t kiss Vic. These two worlds begin to perilously overlap, especially when Angela, who has become an amazing piano player, goes to the Estate and begins playing with a band who wants to take her on tour. Meanwhile, the news from Puerto Rico is not good. Their mother spends every minute in the hospital with their grandmother who is in a coma. She is slipping further away by the minute.

Mercedes must decide what to do: continue living two lives with one in the Estate where she can create mind-blowing art or come back to the real world and continue trying to create while secretly thinking she has not a talented bone in her body.  In the end, she makes a choice that ripples through many lives, changing her own future.

There’s one part of the book near the end that blew my mind but I’m not into spoilers (thanks Internet for ruining The Walking Dead for me; yeah, I’m still bitter about that) so I won’t mess things up for you, reader. Let’s just say author Lauren Karcz weaves a tale full of Florida heat, cigarettes chain smoked, the NEED to create bursting through every vein and nervous system, and family. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is about who we are and what we think we will become in the future. But of course, unless you’re psychic (if you are you should have seen this next sentence coming) you have to let life be lived as it unfolds.

Now, I gotta boogie. I have a favorite cardboard box in the driveway I like to write in. What? It’s all I could afford.

School is Coming

I’m hoping somebody can tell me where the summer went. Between visits from family, the Summer Reading crush, Eclipse excitement and (SURPRISE!) two weeks of Jury Duty, the summer has been a whirlwind and a half. With kids out of school looking for entertainment and excited to do some pleasure reading this is my favorite season in the Library. It is also by far the most exhausting.

So while it is bittersweet to see all of our young patrons head back to school this week, I will confess that I am looking forward to the structured schedule of the school year. It also happens that a lot of books I love are steeped in the petty grievances and serious identity crises that come with starting at a new school. Here are a few of my favorites:

25701463Whitney Gardner’s You’re Welcome, Universe centers on a young woman named Julia. Julia is deaf, and has always been surrounded by the deaf community: her best friend is deaf, as are both of her parents, and she attends a high school for the deaf. When Julia is betrayed by a friend, however, she is expelled from her school and faces the daunting task of attending a public school where the vast majority of students and teachers struggle to communicate with her, where she has to use a (really annoying) translator, and where no one knows her or seems terribly interested in getting to know her.

But Julia has even bigger problems. A budding graffiti artist, Julia is chagrined to find that another painter is changing her works, adding to them but also improving upon them. Julia feels humiliated and violated by this challenge to her art and sets out to best this mysterious new tagger all while navigating her new school, making new friends, and confronting old ones. Gardner does something very clever to help the reader understand Julia’s communication frustrations. When people try to talk to her and she struggles to read their lips, dialog will have some words missing, replaced with “——-.” This decision ingeniously drops the reader into Julia’s shoes, forced to decipher meaning based on surrounding context.

y648Like Julia, Riley Cavanaugh, the narrator of Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human, has a lot going on. Starting at a new high school is bad enough for Riley who is already prone to anxiety attacks. But on top of that are the expectations of Riley’s father who is running for reelection in a hotly contested congressional race. Between the pressure to make friends, blend in, “act normal” and not screw up, it’s no wonder Riley is feeling stressed. But Riley is also dealing with something else – a secret that only Riley’s therapist knows. Riley identifies as gender fluid. A far-too-simple explanation would be that sometimes Riley wakes up feeling male, and sometimes Riley wakes up feeling female. But as Riley says “…it’s not that simple. The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval.

To try to cope, Riley starts a blog and is shocked when posts start going viral. Riley begins to settle in, make a few friends, discover a potential romantic interest, and find some respite from all of life’s external pressure. But good things never last. A blog commenter seems to have uncovered Riley’s identity and is threatening to out Riley. Now Riley must decide whether to shutter the blog and betray those who have come to depend on Riley’s posts or to stand proud and risk the judgment of friends and family as well as possibly ruining Riley’s father’s political career.

30256109In American Street, by Ibi Zoboi, Fabiola Toussaint is a young Haitian immigrant who lands in Detroit ready to embrace the American dream. From the start, however, things do not go as planned. Her mother, who was supposed to accompany her, is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone, meeting her aunt and cousins for the first time. American culture and expectations to assimilate immediately overwhelm Fabiola, but her resilience and determination ensure that this is not a derivative fish-out-of-water story.

Fabiola’s fierce cousins, known as the three Bees (brains, brawn and beauty), are respected and feared affording her a measure of protection in the neighborhood while also helping her find her place in school. Fab quickly begins to settle in, but is torn between her desire to conform and her devotion to her Haitian identity. She also begins to realize that her aunt and cousins might be involved in some unsavory dealings and that in order to help her mother, she may need to betray the family that welcomed her in Detroit. Though her mother is far away Fab is never alone. All around Detroit Fab sees lwas, Vodou spirits, who help guide her and warn her of impending danger. These visions give American Street a surreal mysticism that edges towards magic realism while also lending authenticity and depth to Fabiola’s immigrant experience.

One of the reasons I love YA fiction is the way its talented writers impart empathy in their work. I’m fortunate to have decent hearing, I’m not an immigrant, and until I read the Symptoms of Being Human my understanding of gender fluidity was rudimentary at best. All three of these works do a masterful job of weaving diverse perspectives into their work, helping the reader to understand the lives of others without overpowering their works’ compelling narratives.

deadlyAnd now for something completely different! In the ongoing series, Deadly Class, Marcus is a homeless teenager simply trying to survive. Sure he has some demons in his past and the police would like to speak with him, but otherwise he seems like a decent guy.  A new world is opened to him when he is invited to attend King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, a school dedicated to training young assassins. Suddenly Marcus finds himself thrust into a world of precocious young killers, the children of gang leaders, mob bosses, drug kingpins, and genocidal dictators. Marcus must learn to carefully navigate the halls of this school unsure of who to trust because he is certain that if he can survive he can take revenge on the people who destroyed his own family.  This beautifully illustrated comic is profane, thrilling, hilarious, and incredibly difficult to put down.  

Intergalactic Fantastic

If I heard music beamed to earth by an alien civilization, my first thought would be to whip out my phone and try to look it up on iTunes. Actually, my first thought would be ‘I really need a change of underwear.’ Also, I think if there is intelligent life in the universe and they’re driving along enjoying the cosmos, when they see Earth they’d hit the door lock mechanism and beat feet on out of there.

In Ryan Gebhart’s Of Jenny and the Aliens, the people of Earth have sent messages into outer space to see if anything would answer back. Ten years later, something does. (Seems about right. Takes a dude about ten years to text me back.) Derek is a high school senior living with his single mother. On the night the alien message, in the form of music, is heard on Earth, Derek goes to a body painting party to celebrate because hey, what else are you going to do when you hear music from another world? You go to a party, get blasted on booze and whatever weed is floating around and hope someone there is drunk or stoned enough to take you home.

At the party, there’s talk going around that the aliens might invade and everyone’s imagining alien enslavement. Except for Derek. He doesn’t give a toss because Jenny, a girl he’s had a crush on for years, is at the party. And walking around topless. I’m not talking strutting about in a bra. She’s in full skin mode and poor Derek, being a 17-year-old boy, has no idea how to not openly gawk at her. She’s talking to him, paying attention to him when he thought she didn’t even know who he was.

Short story long, they walk to her house where she puts on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Derek loses his virginity to her. Derek’s immediately in love and starts imagining their life together. After she falls asleep, he walks home deciding to stop by a local river. Derek lies down on the riverbank and looks into the sky but something else catches his attention. There’s someone on a tiny island hiding behind a tree. He sees a hand with horrifically long fingers splayed out against the tree trunk. And then he sees a baby deer and he thinks he’s still just a little drunk and makes his way home.

When he gets home it’s five in the morning and his mom is still awake. She’s glued to the TV where there’s a breaking news alert that NASA discovered a link in the alien music. It’s a video. It shows a planet that is remarkably like Earth but a little bigger. The camera pans to show strange animals as big as elephants grazing in a cornfield. They’re a cross between dinosaurs and something with feathers. The video shows a run down ranch house. The camera spots someone (something?) on the porch. It’s a small being with grey skin with mottled patches of color everywhere. It has large eyes and two slits in its face where a nose would be. It appears to struggle to speak. It says it enjoyed the music we sent out and hoped Earth liked the music he sent back. But God oh God, it has rows and rows of sharp shark-like teeth. Why so many nightmare teeth?

After seeing the alien, the world goes into chaotic survival mode. Everyone heads to the grocery store to stock up on supplies, thinking that at any moment flying saucers are going to drop from the sky and start in on the anal probing Olympics. I think my first instinct would be a healthy spike of fear but hey, at least the music they shared with us wasn’t Kanye West. I think that right there would be cause for an invasion.

Derek isn’t worried about the possible alien invasion because he just lost his virginity and is in love. He’s thinking Jenny might be in love with him too. But there’s something a little broken about her. Last summer her brother, a Navy SEAL, was killed on a mission in Raya. She and Derek become almost inseparable for two weeks. He takes her to the river after telling her about the strange noises and long fingers he’d seen by the trees. He tells her to get her camera out and start taking pictures. He swims across the river and is cracked on the head by the alien he saw a few nights ago.

When he comes to, Jenny is long gone and he’s sitting next to an alien smoking a joint. The alien has on jeans, a sports jacket and an orange turtleneck. He’s short, maybe 4 feet tall. They begin a halting conversation about sports and life back on his planet. The alien’s name is Karo. Lights and sirens are beginning to appear and Karo leaves. Jenny went to the police saying Derek had been assaulted. She captured a good picture of the alien. Derek says he’s fine, just tried to do something stupid like swim across in frigid waters to the small island.

In addition to the alien situation, all is not well in Love Land. Jenny is moody and isn’t as into the monogamous lifestyle that Derek prefers. In fact, she’s messing about with one of his best friends. Heartbroken, Derek wants a way to win her back. There’s a credible rumor that America is about to send 200,000 troops into Raya and it will likely be an all out war. Jenny makes an impossible promise to him. If he can stop the war in Raya, she’ll be his girlfriend. So what does Derek decide to do? He decides to try to get the aliens to help him stop the war so Jenny will be his. I’ve done some truly stupid things to get someone to like me (remember making a crush a mix-tape of your favorite songs?) but Derek is about to go over the top.

Of Jenny and the Aliens is told in a heartbreaking voice of first love. Yeah there are aliens in it, but at its core the novel is about love and the seemingly ridiculous lengths humans go to keep it. If you don’t have PTSD about your first teenage love (I still have fond nightmares about mine), grab this book and listen to the wisdom sung by the universe. Or whatever.

An Alien-less Invasion

I’ll admit it. I am very excited. The first total solar eclipse to span the United States in over 100 years, and we are close enough to the path to get a very good show. We’ve been getting lots of questions about the eclipse, about eclipse glasses, and about the best places to view the eclipse, so I know eclipse-mania (eclipsanity?) is not restricted to my nerdy circle of friends. And I am delighted to have a chance to further build the hype among our young patrons – I’ll be presenting a special eclipse themed storytime this Thursday.

I’ve been obsessed with space for as long as I can remember. I grew up on a steady diet of Star Trek and Star Wars books, before graduating to more “sophisticated” fare like Starship Troopers, The Forever War and, of course, Ender’s Game. With the coming eclipse, I’ve been thinking about these books and even revisiting a few of my favorites. And yet what I keep coming back to is the best book about an alien invasion that I’ve ever read, even though there aren’t any actual aliens in the book.

Grasshopper-Jungle-Andrew-Smith

Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle is the history of an apocalyptic pandemic as recorded by Austin Szerba, a wry, self-aware teenager dealing with fairly typical high school problems: school, family, local jerks, and his complicated relationship with his girlfriend, Shann. He’s also facing some issues that are a little messier – his brother is off fighting in Afghanistan and he is not sure exactly how to define his feelings for Robbie, his gay best friend.  

Of course none of this is too far outside the realm of many other great coming of age stories. That’s because I haven’t yet talked about the plague that Austin and Robbie have accidentally unleashed. This is not the kind of virus that “simply” kills it’s host. Instead it causes them to molt their human shell, turning into giant praying mantis-like super-soldiers who are only interested in two things: eating and ….well, you can probably guess the other thing. As this beastly infection spreads at an alarming speed, either infecting or devouring anyone in its path, Austin, Robbie and Shann embark on a hilarious, perilous, and awkward journey towards both self-discovery and an understanding of the history and consequences of the merciless killer they’ve unleashed.

Smith is an incredible writer with a precise and masterful feel for the uncertainty and self-consciousness of teenage life. He also understands the tedious boredom of the daily adolescent routine and the bursts of frenzied excitement that punctuate these years. As with all his books, the quirky strangeness of his writing captivates from page one but it has extra vitality when delivered in the voice of Austin Szerba. Austin is obsessed with creating historical records even though he understands the futility of doing so, as he explains in the book’s opening:

I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.

We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.

But even though we dutifully archived elaborate records of everything we’ve ever done, we also managed to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit.

This is my history.

There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.

Just like it’s always been.

In a sense, the entire book is a narrative journey through Austin’s meticulous records. Despite the many engaging storylines what truly shines is Austin’s frustrated devotion to his town and its many residents, warts and all. His obsession with unwinding their histories may be laced with acerbic wit, but he is telling these stories because he cares desperately.

Maybe my ranting and raving praise doesn’t make you curious to read this book. Maybe you’re still wondering why I am talking about a book published in 2014. Maybe, just maybe, I can sweeten the pot. Edgar Wright, geek director extraordinaire, is in the process of developing the film adaptation of Grasshopper Jungle, which I am waiting for with far less patience than I am for this damn eclipse. And if that’s not enough, come on people! Giant, horny, man-eating praying mantises!

Award-Winning Reads

How is it already August?! In case you’re just joining us, there’s still about a month left to complete 7 of the 8 adult summer reading challenges. If you turn in your entry by August 31st you have a chance of winning a prize. Not enough incentive? How about getting to read 7-8 rad books you may never have read if left to your own devices? Yeah, now we’re talking!

So let’s dip into another reading challenge, shall we? This time I’m focusing on National Book Award winners. The National Book Award is an American literary prize given by the National Book Foundation. The 2017 winners won’t be announced until November, so let’s focus on last year’s winners. The overarching themes in the 2016 winners–racism, civil rights, political violence, and immigration–are timely reminders of how far we’ve come as a society and how very, very far we still have to go.

2016 Fiction Winner:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Summary: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey — hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

2016 Nonfiction Winner:
Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Summary: Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America. As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them–and in the process gives us reason to hope.

2016 Poetry Winner:
The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
Summary: Daniel Borzutzky’s new collection of poetry draws hemispheric connections between the US and Latin America, specifically touching upon issues relating to border and immigration policies, economic disparity, political violence, and the disturbing rhetoric of capitalism and bureaucracies. To become human is to navigate these borders including those of institutions, the realities of over- and under-development, and the economies of privatization in which humans endure state-sanctioned and systemic abuses.

2016 Young People’s Literature Winner:
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Summary: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling March trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

Already read these, or looking for more options? Check out the complete list of past winners at the Award’s website.

Hopefully this series of blog posts is helping you achieve your summer reading goals. For me, it’s definitely making my TBR grow dangerously tall–but who ever said that was a bad thing?

Before and After

I remember going to Planned Parenthood in my early 20s because I didn’t have health insurance and needed birth control pills. Not because I was having any fun with anyone but because my uterus and ovaries were complete jerks and the pills were the only thing that helped. I would sit in the waiting room and play the ‘Which One of These Girls Sitting Here is About to Have an Abortion?’ game. Not in a judgmental way but more like: you do what you have to do while I sit over here with this pamphlet explaining vaginal health with a wonky drawing that looks a lot like the mouth of the monster in the movie Predator.

There was not a lot of eye contact going on in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood but most of the patients were young girls, some nervously tapping their feet while their mothers sat next to them, ironically flipping through a Parenting magazine. Or best friends whispering to each other as they waited. Once, I saw a young man waiting with a girl. He held her hand while looking like he wasn’t old enough to drive. But him holding her hand was a declaration: I’ll be here when it’s over.

In Bonnie Pipkin’s Aftercare Instructions, 17-year-old Genesis Johnson has just had an abortion and goes back into the waiting room to find that her boyfriend, Peter, has disappeared. I don’t mean he was abducted by aliens. While Gen was having their baby taken from her while mellow jazz played on a speaker, Peter took off. Not only is he her boyfriend and supposed to be there for her, he was also her ride. Her cousin Delilah goes to college nearby so Gen heads over there and crashes, waking up to no phone calls from Peter, no texts.

Gen’s mother doesn’t know where she’s at but then again, she rarely cares anymore. Her mom has become a zombie after her husband’s death and Gen’s younger sister, Ally, has been taken away to live with her grandparent’s because their mother can’t cope with life. Gen’s home life is beyond suck city so when she met Peter, she found the love and affection she didn’t realize she was missing out on. He was there when Gen’s mother had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized.

Peter’s mother doesn’t approve of Genesis and thinks she’s from the wrong side of the tracks, especially because of the way Gen’s father died. Gen’s former friend Vanessa (who’s been after Peter for a long time) blabbed to everyone about how Gen’s father died. Now it seems as if Peter and Vanessa might be a thing. Gen’s life begins to spiral. Now she’s post-abortion, still bleeding, still reeling and not making great choices (then again, what 17-year-old makes consistently great choices?).

Gen goes to a party at her cousin’s college and gets blacked out drunk and meets Seth and they do what humans usually do when drunk: a lot of quality making out and then waking up sick the next morning not remembering how far things went. Don’t worry. This isn’t the usual ‘The best way to get over a man is to get under a new one’ trope. Seth’s a pretty solid dude and a total gentleman. Nothing happened between the two of them but he takes a shine to Gen while she’s not sure what’s going on: if she and Peter are still a thing, if her mom is going to have more breakdowns or if she’s finding her way out of the fog.

Written with a rawness not found in many YA books, Aftercare Instructions plunges into ideas about who we think we are, who we become and who truly loves us.

And the Librarian Said, “Read This!”

How’s your summer reading challenge coming along? One of this year’s challenges is to read a book recommended by a librarian. Since I know you don’t always have time to chat when you stop in, I asked my colleagues to offer up some suggestions for you.

Dazzling insights, well researched and footnoted, lots to learn, with sparkling prose style, this is one of the best book I’ve read on the subject. Love for Sale: Pop Music in America by David Hajdu covers pop music from the era of song sheets in the late nineteenth century to contemporary digital delivery. Compulsively readable, it works for every level of reader, from a scholar interested in how pop has evolved in content, style, and delivery over the years to those who want to relate to Hajdu’s observation of cultural and personal connections. Highly recommended.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

If you have a taste for historical fiction, speculative fiction, and are open to reading Young Adult novels, I’ve got a couple books that may be right up your alley. Front Lines is the first book in a new series by Michael Grant about what World War II would have been like if women had been included in the draft. I really enjoyed the character development, and found the plot to be exciting and unique.
I’m waiting eagerly for book 2 to come out, but in the meantime I started another series called Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Wolf by Wolf revolves around the idea that the Nazis and Imperial Japan emerged from World War II victorious, and that the United States never became involved. Yael escaped a Nazi medical experiment with an unusual new ability and has joined the resistance. Yael’s assignment is to infiltrate the annual Axis Tour – a motorcycle race that spans Nazi and Imperial Japanese territory – win, and kill Hitler. This book reads like a spy novel and an extended car chase all wrapped up in one.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

Do you love historical fiction? Do you love dragons? How about a series that combines them?? Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series begins with His Majesty’s Dragon, in which Captain Will Laurence is serving in the Royal Navy right in the thick of the Napoleonic Wars. His ship captures a French frigate bearing precious cargo…an unhatched dragon egg. You see, dragons have been domesticated (to the extent that’s even possible) to serve with the Aerial Corps, allowing Aviators to attack from above, dropping bombs and other projectiles onto the ships battling on the high seas. The Pilots – chosen by the dragons and not the other way around – develop tight bonds and steadfast partnerships with the powerful and capricious beasts. When this particular dragon hatches, it chooses Will. This is a problem. A big problem. Will has been in the Navy since boyhood and therefore has no training to be an Aviator, plus he is on the point of becoming engaged, and his new calling renders marriage virtually impossible. His first adventures with Temeraire take them to China and back against the backdrop of a volatile international conflict, and there are nine books to enjoy filled with more exploits and intrigue! I love Jane Austen and fantasy, so this is basically the perfect series for me.
From Sarah, Youth Services Librarian

I first read The Ha-Ha by Dave King in 2005 and recently came across it while browsing the main library’s top-drawer fiction collection. This is a graceful, measured debut both sad and funny. The plot circles round middle-aged Howard, who is unable to speak, read or write due to head injuries suffered in the Vietnam War. He lives in the house he grew up in with an assortment of entertaining boarders and spends his days tending the gardens of a convent. When Sylvia, Howard’s ex-high school girlfriend, heads for rehab, she saddles him with Ryan, her taciturn nine-year-old son. With many heartwarming passages that don’t turn sappy thanks to King’s prosaic writing style, it’s a heckuva ride for both of these quiet souls.
From Joyce, Adult Services Librarian

I couldn’t limit myself to just one, so here are two titles for your listening and reading pleasure this summer. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey does have the dreaded Z word in it, zombies that is, but there are no maniacal governors or hordes of decaying extras here. Instead you get an intense five person character study set in a ‘post incident’ Britain that keeps you guessing and makes you actually care about who survives and who doesn’t. The ending is also top notch and quite unexpected. I listened to the audio version and the narration was excellent as well. Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins is also about an imagined Britain but this one in the past. The author travels the country on foot and in an unreliable VW Camper van visiting what remains of Roman Britain. Admittedly, compared to the European continent the ruins are a tad sparse, but that only adds to the mystery. The result is an intriguing travelogue that is as much about how we create the past as it is about the physical structures themselves.
From Richard, Adult Services Librarian

Do you love fantasy and enjoy resilient female characters, strong family bonds, and fast paced adventures? You should read Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren! Online, this book is described as equal parts Prison Break and Frozen. I see the resemblance! Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been sentenced to life in prison at Tyur’ma for stealing a diplomatically-important item from the royal family. Valor knowingly gets herself sent to this harsh and freezing prison so she can attempt to free them both; never mind that nobody has ever escaped in the 300 year history of this prison!
While it’s true this book is aimed at middle grade readers I’d definitely recommend this for fans of any age who are into The Hunger Games or Princess Academy.
From Andrea, Youth Services Librarian

When taking lunch-time walks in north Everett, I have occasionally seen people’s belongings strewn across front yards, looking abandoned and pathetic. Although I do know that Everett residents are poorer than people living elsewhere in Snohomish County and I have read about the high cost of renting and the scarcity of available affordable units, I knew next to nothing about the eviction process and how it affects the lives of tenants and landlords.
Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, caught my attention when I was thinking about possible authors for our Everett Reads: Beyond the Streets series. Desmond, a Harvard sociology professor, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2015 for his work on the impact eviction has on the lives of the urban poor. His research sounded both interesting and relevant.
We couldn’t afford Professor Desmond’s speaker’s fee, but I read the book, and I would encourage you to read it, too. This is no dry sociological study. Rather Desmond uses the stories of real people to introduce the reader to the economics and politics behind eviction—and the consequences suffered by the adults and children who find themselves at the mercy of a process that disrupts lives. Evicted is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the lives of the urban poor and the importance of stable housing.
From Eileen, Library Director

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
I’d recommend this fascinating biography to anyone interested in American history, photography, or Native American cultures. Edward Curtis, a brilliant Seattle photographer, spent decades crisscrossing the country to capture and preserve images and language from the “dying race” of Native Americans in the early 20th century. The book reads like a fast-paced adventure story, and readers travel along to locations as diverse at the Puget Sound, the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon, and even Teddy Roosevelt’s White House. This book did what all great narrative non-fiction does: it kept me enthralled with a strong story and piqued my curiosity about new topics and ideas. It would be a great choice for fans of authors Erik Larson and Gary Krist.
From Mindy, Northwest History Librarian

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Bar none, one of the best books about music ever put together. I say “put together” because these are the real words from Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Jim Carroll, Malcom McLaren, Danny Fields, and many other artists and impresarios collected and used to define punk by the creator of the legendary Punk Magazine from that era. Comprehensive, you’ll thrill to Punk’s prehistory in the early 70’s (Stooges, Velvet underground) to its late 70’s heyday (Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones) through to its last gasps in corporate eighties rock. Highest possible recommendation. Bonus: the 20th anniversary edition includes new photos and an afterword by the authors.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

To recommend a book to you, I would need to know your particular interests, taste, and what you’re in the mood for at the moment. But if you’re stretching yourself by doing our reading challenge anyway, I might as well suggest a challenging book. And I get to take the easy way out by recycling a review I’d written for Alki, the state’s library journal, many years ago.
Nathaniel Mackey is a renowned poet who has also written a sequence of novels called From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. The review below is for the third book of the series, and you can just as easily start here as at the beginning. These books won’t appeal to every reader, and the library’s copies have gone largely unread, so I challenge you to get off the beaten path and to dive into the extraordinary language of Mackey’s jazz-band world.
Atet A.D. by Nathaniel Mackey
This epistolary novel covers the goings-on in a jazz band immediately following the death of Thelonious Monk in 1982. The language is superbly jazz-like as Mackey riffs and improvises on words and phrases – playfully filling his sentences with homonyms and syntactic variations, and parsing words to find others underneath or contracting them to build new ones. N., the narrator, is a musician and composer in the band, and through his letters we learn of his creative processes and critical insights as he attempts to push boundaries and build upon the works of the jazz greats that have preceded him – especially those from the post-bop and free jazz eras. The band’s musical drive and determination take them, at times, beyond the confines of the everyday world into one that countenances telepathic and metaphysical communication. While some of this certainly strains credulity, Mackey’s linguistic flights compensate as he transforms language into an instrument of amazing semantic agility and linguistic power (a chapter in which the band plays in Seattle has Mackey in peak form). This is not your standard plot-advancing or character-driven novel, but if you like both your jazz and fiction improvisatory, challenging, and playful, this might be right up your alley.
From Scott, Adult Services Librarian

Ever since the New Yorker published an article in 2015 about the long overdue major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, I’ve spoken to a lot of patrons at the library who were hoping to learn more. Full Rip 9.0 by Sandi Doughton is the perfect book to learn more about the science behind these dire predictions, as well as how much (or how little) you need to be concerned about this event depending on where you live. More importantly this book helps outline very simple things that you and your family can do to help you ride out the aftermath of a major event, whether it’s Cascadia Subduction Zone related or otherwise.
A very useful book that makes a good companion to Full Rip 9.0 is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. Ripley looks into several different kinds of disaster scenarios, from natural disasters to man-made ones, and dissects the steps taken by survivors, and those who perished. While on the outside this might sound like a macabre book, it’s actually pretty reassuring, because it reinforces the importance of planning ahead for the unthinkable so that your instincts are ready to guide you to safety should the need ever arise. Ripley also delves into the psychology of survivors, debunking some common misconceptions about how people react in disaster scenarios, and who may be more likely to fare well.
If these two books whet your appetite to learn more about how to be prepared, I also highly recommend looking into the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training offered periodically for free for Everett residents and workers. Even if you don’t ultimately register to be an emergency response worker, attendees walk away with some very useful information that can be used to prepare their households and neighborhoods.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

So there you have it. Another challenge is in the books! [See what I did there?] Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I bring you more books to help you conquer your summer reading challenges!