Anna Carey’s young adult novel This is Not the Jess Show starts in a familiar fashion, with a teenager in the suburbs dealing with drama. But there are unsettling events, too: Jess hears a chorus of chants in the morning, her dog has been replaced with a lookalike, and she’s starting to notice that her sister and friends are acting weird. In between the story’s expressions of 1990s nostalgia: something is amiss.
Jess lives in 1998, but one day, a small, rectangular metal device with an apple logo on it falls out of her friend’s backpack. Her friend is fast to make an excuse—that she took the device from her dad, who works in tech—and put the object away. Still, the device is only one of many instances of Jess noticing something not quite right. The eventual explanation for the anomalies forces her to make a life-changing decision.
The plot twist is major, and the cast is less developed before it. Jess is alone as a fully fleshed out character—and for good reason. How the pieces fit together is always in question. Authentic nineties discussions propel the story, with references to 90210, Jewel, and Dave Matthews contributing.
The novel illustrates the perils of influencer culture and social media, probing how far people are willing to go to be a star, what stardom means, and what’s reality versus what’s staged. When it comes to everyday life, what people value as authentic is questioned. Jess is forced to grapple with all of these concerns, just as everything she knows falls apart.
The fun novel This is Not the Jess Show goes deep in exploring how people live their lives and create their own realities—sometimes at a cost.
JAIME HERNDON (June 27, 2020)
Life and Loss in America’s Secret War
Passionate and gripping, The Journalist is the story of Jerry Rose, an acclaimed American journalist who gave his life to tell the hidden truth about the US’s involvement in the bloody, divisive Vietnam War. The work that Rose left behind after his tragic death was gathered by his sister, Lucy Rose Fischer, to form this work.
In 1959, in the uneasy days after Vietnam’s battles with the French had ended, Rose set aside his doctoral coursework to teach English in South Vietnam. Arriving in a landscape of water buffaloes and bullet holes, he soon became enamored with the small country. He stayed on after his teaching contract ended and worked as a journalist.
Determined that Americans know, and care, about increasing US involvement in Vietnam, Rose trekked the countryside to interview terrorized Vietnamese villagers who were caught between American soldiers and the communist Viet Minh. Rose also embedded himself among Special Forces. His work defied prominent publications who muzzled their journalists, and he wrote the first major news article that revealed the hell of jungle warfare.
In 1965, Rose served as an adviser to the Vietnamese prime minister and as a bridge between the US and Vietnam. He took that role with hope, and left it in despair. His work earned him awards, acclaim, and a reputation for telling the truth. He put a human face on a war that, in American vocabularies, became “synonymous with failure.”
Profound, disturbing, and humane, The Journalist illuminates the Vietnam War in the words of a courageous, gifted man who dedicated his life to telling the truth, no matter what it cost him.
KRISTINE MORRIS (June 27, 2020)
Set during World War II, Endō Shūsaku’s novel Sachiko shifts from the fated city of Nagasaki to the horrors of Auschwitz, developing versatile individual and intersecting perspectives with compassion.
Christianity is not native to Japan, but following the persecution of earlier converts, it is allowed to continue under governmental surveillance. In 1930, Sachiko and Shūhei are young friends and fellow Christians whose relationship deepens into a romantic one.
As children, Sachiko and Shūhei meet Father Kolbe, a Polish Catholic priest with a mission in Nagasaki. When Father Kolbe returns to Poland, he is arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. Though he endures abuse, starvation, and ultimate martyrdom, he urges his fellow concentration camp prisoners to remember God and the true goodness of humanity.
Back in Nagasaki, Shūhei has literary aspirations and goes to college. He soon realizes that Japan’s artistic spirit has been replaced by conformity and aggression; his fate is to be sent into battle. Meanwhile, tenacious Sachiko volunteers at a weapons factory and prays that her quirky, exasperating boyfriend will return to her.
With subtle yet unsparing intensity, Sachiko details Auschwitz’s dehumanizing barracks and crematoriums. In grim preparation for a kamikaze mission, Shūhei toughens his mind and body at one of Japan’s special military training schools. And on the day that America’s cataclysmic atomic weapon is launched onto Nagasaki, Sachiko emerges from the bomb shelter wondering how “the world could be transformed into a veritable hell in a mere instant.”
Beyond this epic sweep, however, are moments of beauty, humor, and affection that make the war’s tragic consequences seem even more devastating. An extraordinary novel by one of Japan’s literary masters, Sachiko is a testament to shared experiences, cruelty, loss, and the persistence of love and faith.
MEG NOLA (June 27, 2020)
Simple Lessons to Make Your Creative Practice a Daily Habit
Kateri Ewing’s Watercolor Is for Everyone encourages an intuitive, meditative practice to inspire original creations.
Based on a workshop to encourage anyone to try their hand at watercolor, this step-by-step, lesson-filled book’s creative methods require practice every day for twenty-one days to build artistic skills. At the center of its daily habits is a message: stop worrying about what the final product will look like; practice is the key.
The book’s lessons are preceded by instructions and guidance on which tools to purchase and why. Most lessons include a section on which tools to gather, instructions for creating art, and guided pictures of what that looks like, with at least one finished example. Student artwork is often incorporated, too, while a reference section helps with furthering knowledge.
The book’s can-do attitude incorporates trial-and-error methods and encourages not being afraid of messing up; Ewing remarks that “it usually takes three tries to really learn something.” Ewing recommends finishing the twenty-one day practice and starting over again, letting the practice take on a life of its own that never ends. The purposes of some practices, like sending gratitude to the water that’s used in the art, are underexplained, though, and at times it seems that the lessons focus more on intuitive practice and mindfulness than on nurturing the skills required to paint.
Passion for watercolor, and the sense that everyone should try it, pours off of the page. Accompanying photos of paints, brushes, and finished works add to the book’s sense of inspiration. Watercolor Is for Everyone is about developing an intuitive artistic practice; its lessons inspire the creativity necessary to keep creation going, day in and day out.
REBECCA MONTERUSSO (June 27, 2020)
Market Day in India
Experience the colorful chaos of market day in India as a young girl shops for something special among the stalls. Forget boring brown and black: here you’ll find terracotta and cardamom, charcoal and kebabs. A Gift for Amma is a brilliant exploration of the five senses. Each full-color spread focuses on one hue and includes a new sight, sound, or smell, shared in a dazzling, charming array. It’s a must-have for primary libraries seeking fresh material for required curricula.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (June 27, 2020)