Illustrated by Damon Smyth
Review by Tess Tabak
In this powerful new graphic novel, David F. Walker presents Frederick Douglass’s story in a compact narrative that young readers and adults alike can enjoy. With illustrations by Damon Smyth and short lessons that contextualize the history around Douglass’s life, this work will give readers a broader understanding of the end of slavery, and the events leading up to it.
Best known for his work on superhero comics like Luke Cage and Cyborg, Walker does justice to this real life hero’s story. In our Q&A with him, he discussed the importance of telling stories like this, and the need for black heroes, both fictional and historic.
I think Walker’s graphic novel, geared towards young readers, is crucial in making Frederick Douglass’s story accessible for kids. Last year, I was tutoring a 7th grader on the Civil War. I asked him when slavery had ended in America– he answered, with a straight face, that “racism ended in 1980 when Martin Luther King ended slavery”. He believed that, after months of covering slavery in school and despite living in one of the most diverse cities in America. Reading Douglass’s first memoir with him was a painful experience. Not only did he struggle over almost every single word of the text, he had no context for when the events happened. Slavery (and the 20th century, apparently) was a far off fantasy, an abstract myth. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Mandela and The General focuses on one stitch in Nelson Mandela’s legacy. In 1994, as the first post-Apartheid elections approach, and black South Africans are ready to take power with Mandela as their president, a militant faction of white South Africans – the Freedom Front – are ready to riot and fight to the death if need be. Attempting to avert a massacre Mandela held a series of secret meetings with Constand Viljoen- a former general of the South African army and later leader of the right-wing Freedom Front party.
“We must strive to find a political solution that reconciled White fears with black aspirations.”
As leaders of opposing factions they have the pull to keep their people from becoming violent and through reason, Mandela convinces Viljoen to reel his people in, to create true peace and not “the peace of graveyards.”
The book is told mainly through Viljoen’s recollections pulled from an interview author John Carlin conducted with him. The focus is on Viljoen, how he agreed to head the “white resistance”, how his twin brother helped broker the talks, and how Viljoen ultimately came to think of Mandela as “the greatest of men”. The story also serves to underpin what made Mandela capable of fostering this respect even from an enemy.
By Hilde Ostby & Ylva Ostby
Review by E. Kirshe
Diving for Seahorses is a collaboration between sisters: the writer and editor Hilde Ostby and the clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Ylva Ostby; a necessary team, as this book artfully explores the history of human knowledge regarding memory.
The book takes its name from the hippocampus. As explained in the first pages, an Italian doctor named it the hippocampus (Latin for horse sea monster) back in 1564. This is the seahorse we’re diving for. This metaphor is stretched throughout the book (sometimes a little too thin, but it works).
This was an overall fascinating read. Anyone who has ever had an interest in learning more about the human brain, and of course specifically memory, will enjoy this book.
It’s that time of year again. As book lovers, we believe that a book is always the perfect present. Whoever you’re looking for, there’s something on this list for them. We aimed for more obscure or lesser-known titles, as well as our favorite new releases from 2018. If you pick a book from this list, the odds are pretty good they don’t already have it – either because it just came out so they haven’t gotten a chance, or because it’s not on their radar.
Did you, like us, forget that Hanukkah starts December 2 this year? Most of the books on our list are available online with one- to two-day shipping – so no matter what holiday you celebrate, there’s a perfect last-minute gift for you in here somewhere. (You can also check out our picks from last year.)
Review by E. Kirshe
In Idyll Hands, police investigate two unrelated cold cases involving missing girls. Set in 1999, a body is found in the woods of Idyll, Connecticut. The murder is thought to be connected to a cold case from years earlier. Idyll Chief of Police Thomas Lynch agrees to put part-time cop Michael Finnegan on the case– if he allows the bored Lynch to look into the disappearance of Finnegan’s sister, missing since 1972.
The book is something of a slow burn. Stephanie Gayle really makes the reader appreciate the work that goes into solving a crime with little information- especially in a 1999 police station where typewriters are still used. Tracking down witnesses who haven’t thought about these crimes in decades and suspects who may no longer be recognizable makes for some engaging long-form police work.
Review by Tess Tabak
I have a confession to make: even though I’m not trying to lose weight, I’m somewhat obsessed with books about diet. My Life With(Out) Ranch by Heather Wyatt is a fairly fun, uplifting read. She writes about how to be kind to yourself while also working towards making healthier decisions.
Born out of a blog of the same title, My Life With(Out) Ranch is told in a bloggy, conversational style. The book is structured through chapters which each focus on a different aspect of the weight-loss journey such as self-worth, romance, exercise, and dealing with the judgement of others. Wyatt includes a few tangentially-related recipes at the end of every chapter, ranging from the healthy (zucchini noodle pad thai) to lower cal versions of junk food, like ranch dressing cut with buttermilk.
Though this book is about Wyatt’s weight loss journey, anyone who’s trying to change their eating and exercise habits for health can use her motivational and relatable advice. In the chapter on exercise, for example, she shares the story about how she went from never having run at all to completing a half marathon. She wrote about the training with humor, including her train of thought on her very first run: Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In this volume, Andrea Warner paints a heartbreaking-yet-inspiring picture of Buffy Sainte Marie, the folk rock legend who’s mostly been erased from music history. Blacklisted by two US presidents, Buffy was an outspoken woman of color, and an activist, exactly the type of person that gets willfully forgotten.
When my baby boomer aunt saw this book, her face lit up. “I love Buffy!” she said. “Whatever happened to her?”
This book answers that question. Buffy only had one or two records that achieved hit status in the US. She never stopped producing music after that. However, much of her later works were not commercial successes, deemed too experimental. Other of her songs were covered by, and later attributed to, more famous musicians, including “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” a song Elvis Presley famously covered and allowed his fans to think he had written.
There’s even more to the story of why Buffy exists in relative obscurity today, despite being one of the most inventive, original artists of the 60s and 70s. This work makes a case for Buffy as one of the musical greats of the 60s. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In You are the Everything, a new YA novel by Karen Rivers, a high school student struggles to piece together her life following a horrific event.
Elyse Schmidt has always wanted to date Josh Harris, but he’s never noticed her. However, now that they’re the sole survivors of a plane crash, they begin to bond. Elyse finally has everything she wanted. All it took was the death of her best friend, everyone in her marching band class, and some 200-odd strangers.
If you’re looking for a YA novel as some kind of escape/fantasy, you’re in the wrong place.You are the Everything deals with some tough stuff: grief, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt. However, even though I generally fall into the “escapism/pleasure” YA camp, I sort of enjoyed reading this book.
Enjoy is the wrong word. This book is a bit like a plane crash: it’s bright, shiny, impossible to look away. I read the whole thing fairly quickly (though this may have something to do with the fact that I was on an airplane at the time). (On that note – Do not read this book on a plane. In about 5 minutes I went from “Oh cute! They’re on an plane too!” to “Oh no! I’m on a plane too.”) Continue reading
Review by Dan Tarnowski
See All The Stars is a debut work of YA fiction by Kit Frick. It is billed as “part love story, part suspenseful thriller.” The blurb describes an intense and complex coming-of-age story involving four teenage women. “What happened then to make Ellory so broken now?” The plot follows headstrong Ellory’s life between “then” and “now.”
The chapters of the 305-page young adult fiction novel alternate back and forth between “then” and “now”, past and present. The “then” chapters recap Ellory’s junior year of high school in bits and pieces, and the “now” chapters depict her subsequent senior year, showing the aftermath of “then.”
The fractured plot makes the book somewhat slow to build steam, especially as most of the story is told through Ellory’s thoughts, thus turning fiction’s “show rather than tell” convention upside down. As the groundwork for the “then and now” plot is laid, we learn about Ellory’s group of friends, her high school routine, and her unique relationship with her best friend, Ret. Kit Frick’s poetic language is displayed from the get go, and this voice, part image-heavy, part wittily penetrating observer, becomes a compelling layer in the world of See All The Stars (“The green flecks in his eyes flashing like marble glass signaling yes, yes, yes”). Continue reading