Characters obsessed with coding set A. V. Geiger’s suspenseful teen romance Scared Little Rabbits squarely in the digital age; their quest for love and acceptance gives the story an enduring appeal.
Invited to test her coding skills at Winthrop Academy, sixteen-year-old Nora thinks she has the ticket to a future in tech. She’s a gifted, middle class programmer, but is shy and ill at ease in the clique-driven summer program, whose hierarchy is soon clear. Eleanor is at its head; Maddox, attractive and mysterious, is ostensibly Eleanor’s boyfriend, but he seems interested in Nora, too.
Further, everyone at Winthrop is engrossed with InstaLove, the social app that Nora’s parents forbade her to use. Still, she downloads it and is immersed. Within it, she can reveal crushes and send messages by moving her eyes toward an icon on her new visor, a piece of tech available at the largesse of rich Eleanor. Students on campus play and interact on both virtual and literal fields, all while vying to wow tech giants at the Maker Fair, whose grand prize can make dreams come true.
When a body is dredged from the nearby river, the story’s focus switches to finding the culprit and saving Nora’s life. Multiple narrators and red herrings draw out the suspense before the story settles into its final resolution. As the book moves toward its end, its sentences are faster and shorter and its characters more frantic; nature and miscommunication threaten lives.
Smart, quick, and modern, the young adult tech thriller Scared Little Rabbits races towards a satisfying, unexpected conclusion.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (October 27, 2019)
Two men bond over sex, violence, and shared emotional and psychological trauma in Orlando Ortega-Medina’s neo noir The Death of Baseball, about identity, sexuality, and nihilism in 1980s Los Angeles.
The novel is a study of contrasting moralities juxtaposed to the rigidity of tradition, as reflected in main characters Clyde and Ralph. Clyde lives a delusional, star-obsessed life; Ralph wrestles with faith. Each man confronts moral failures, emotional traumas, and the consequences of succumbing to destructive nihilism.
Clyde is born in the moment that Marilyn Monroe dies. In his childhood, he’s a Little League star who’s infatuated with his cousin. He lives in the shadow of his older brother, who committed suicide and whose room becomes an untouchable shrine. Clyde’s alcoholic father hates him; his doting mother is powerless to stop his father’s violence; Clyde ends up in psychiatric confinement.
Ralph’s a genius born on Yom Kippur; he uses prayer to thwart his kleptomania. His nonconformist behavior pushes his conservative parents to send him to Israel for atonement. Ralph falls in unrequited love with his cousin, and his rebelliousness leads to violence and a mental breakdown.
The men meet as adults in Hollywood. Clyde is haunted by Marilyn’s ghost; Ralph channels James Dean. The two decide to make a film about the transmigration of souls. However, their psychological struggles and past emotional traumas derail their intentions.
The Death of Baseball is psychologically complex as it explores the consequences of mainstream society attempting to regulate nonconforming behavior. In it, authority figures lose their power and adolescents fall victim to their own instinctual excesses. A tight, Gothic tale of rejection, personal struggle, and acceptance, The Death of Baseball is a mirror that reflects back its characters’ destructive pasts, though neither are able to abandon or overcome them.
NANCY POWELL (October 27, 2019)
My Life in Civil Rights
Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s powerful memoir Mighty Justice covers her devotion to legal, racial, and gender equality.
Roundtree was born in 1914, and in her 104 years worked as both an attorney and a minister to fight for the rights of African Americans. Eloquent and captivating, her book weaves personal memories with history’s scope. It covers the 1919 influenza pandemic, the Great Depression, World War II, and the racial backdrop of the United States, with a focus on the Jim Crow South before and after the civil rights movement. Roundtree’s recollections of her indomitable grandmother, Rachel, form the core of the book, along with her relationship with Mae Neptune, a professor at Atlanta’s Spelman College, who proved to be Roundtree’s “miracle maker” in terms of financial, intellectual, and emotional support.
Following her graduation from Spelman, Roundtree joined a force of black women who integrated the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II. Postwar, she attended Howard University Law School and set up practice in Washington, DC. She was tireless in working to win pivotal cases that furthered equal rights and due process. Her call to the ministry came soon after, leading to her ordination within the African Methodist Episcopal Church and resulting in a spiritual dimension to her legal work.
Roundtree’s tone is candid and engaging; she describes mapping out challenging legal cases on the quiet screen porch of her home, “where complex matters invariably reduced themselves to simplicity.” Humble, reflective, and triumphant, the text details a life of determination, sacrifice, hope, and unending love of knowledge. Mighty Justice is an inspiring and intense memoir by an extraordinary woman and mentor who deserves a high profile in American history.
MEG NOLA (October 27, 2019)
Plus 75 Additional Skills You Never Knew You Needed
Michael Powell’s adventurer’s guide How to Send Smoke Signals, Pluck a Chicken, & Build an Igloo runs the gamut of outdoorsy skills.
Seeking to transform nature novices into people who are equipped, confident, and resourceful in the face of the challenges and gifts of the natural world, the book imparts skills that range from backyard abilities like keeping bees to camping skills like pitching a tent without poles. It covers knowledge that’s gross, like how to use maggots for medicinal purposes, and unexpected, like how to catch an eel. It is at times old -fashioned, with directions for making a canoe, but also timeless, indicating how to tie knots.
Each set of skills is bolstered by easy-to-follow, comprehensive lists, including of the supplies needed to carry it out. With advice for those who want to live out Wild West dreams (you’ll learn how to stop a runaway horse) and those who contemplate worst-case scenarios like bear attacks, the material is wide ranging. Each section builds problem-solving skills while providing information about the flora, fauna, and topography of various climates and terrains.
Trustworthy and encouraging, the book includes serious words-to-the-wise. It conveys deep understanding of harnessing natural resources with wisdom and respect and is both practical and entertaining. It busts myths and movie misconceptions in a light yet earnest tone. Its pages are visually appealing, helping to keep things calm through discussions of the dangers of hypothermia, for example.
Fun, well-researched, and authoritative, How to Send Smoke Signals, Pluck a Chicken, & Build an Igloo is a worthy reference guide for aspiring survivalists and armchair outdoorspeople.
MELISSA WUSKE (October 27, 2019)
In Mia Heavener’s emotional novel Under Nushagak Bluff, three generations of Indigenous Alaskan women are the focus.
Set during the 1930s and 1940s, the book is gripping and understated. It takes place in Nushagak, a remote fishing town, and focuses on the lives of the women who live there, as well as with Alaskan struggles with being an incorporated US territory. Men from all over the world drift in and out of their Bristol Bay for cannery work and fishing, bringing change.
Imbued with Alaskan Indigenous language, folklore, and myths, the text is rich and deep. It begins by focusing on the relationship between Marulia and her daughter, Anne Girl. Their skiff is damaged by a boat owned by John Nelson, a Norwegian man who came to Bristol Bay to fish. Though Marulia finds him useless as a fisherman and as a cannery worker, Anne Girl is intrigued by his Scandinavian coloring and ability to tell interesting stories. John and Anne Girl marry and have a daughter, Ellen.
The schism between Native Alaskan cultures and those of the migrant men who worked in Alaska are explored, in part through John and Anne Girl’s gender roles in their relationship, which draw on the longstanding expectations of their community. John becomes a pilot to transport goods between Dillingham and Nushagak; Anne Girl passes on her fishing skills and knowledge of local tradition to Ellen. Direct language mirrors the landscape and culture, and the story’s emotional vicissitudes are subtle, too, reflecting the practical stoicism and the skeptical outlook of its characters.
Under Nushagak Bluff is slight and compelling, portraying its settings well and capturing original voices. Its story of generational inheritances and expectations, fate, and loyalty is filtered through the tough voices of Alaskan women.
MONICA CARTER (October 27, 2019)