A Story with a Point
Office supplies have never been more entertaining than they are in this punny tale of friendship and ingenuity. Old school and new tech go head to head when Jackson trades his longtime pal Pencil in for a shiny new Tablet. Cheerful illustrations add to the hilarity as Pencil tries a variety of toppers and innovative uses while enlisting the help of everyone from Eraser and Scissors to Sticky Notes and Flashlight in an effort to regain Jackson’s attention.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (December 27, 2018)
Ross Gay is known for his poetry, but The Book of Delights proves that he’s also an adept essayist. In composing the book, Gay operated under a simple principle: keep a diary of entries over the course of one year, with each entry concerning something joyful. From this conceit he spins out a variety of reflections that are sometimes whimsical, sometimes touching, and always thoughtful.
Certain topics run throughout The Book of Delights, including Gay’s love of gardening, the emotional impact of his favorite songs, and his appreciation for being in the moment. Seemingly small incidents are the springboard for little epiphanies. A mother and child sharing the burden of carrying a shopping bag across the street leads to a moving paean to mutual support. A shared high-five with a stranger becomes a tribute to human connection. A Lisa Loeb song leads to a memory about a childhood friend who invaded Gay’s house to rearrange his furniture in an elaborate prank. Another friend’s overuse of air quotes prompts a reverie on linguistics. The Book of Delights finds most of its joys in simple pleasures such as these.
Lest one think that Gay is merely a collector of droll sentiments, it should be noted that The Book of Delights doesn’t shy away from the heavier side of life. Gay includes ruminations on weighty subjects such as loved ones who have passed on, the cold realities of racism, and America’s president. Just as one can only truly enjoy sweetness after experiencing bitterness, he accommodates the full range of human experience. Documenting his travels and encounters over the course of his year with a wry, deft touch, his book stays true to its title and demonstrates his estimable talents as a prose stylist as well as poet.
HO LIN (December 27, 2018)
Set at the dawn of the 1980s, Norma Elia Cantú’s lovely novel Cabañuelas occupies a culturally liminal space.
Nena is from a family in Laredo, Texas, that keeps its Mexican culture alive, even while sending its sons to fight for the US in Vietnam. Right before leaving for Spain, where she’s Fulbright-funded to investigate the connections between Spanish celebrations and Texan ones, Nena immerses herself in her family’s traditional Christmas celebration, making tamales and going to Mass. This first scene—warm, intimate, and glowing—sets the stage for the inter- and intracultural navigation to come.
An ode to traditions, transitions, and family, the text switches between English and Spanish with musicality and ease, its linguistic choices a testament to the fact that one culture, one language, can’t capture it all. It is a feast for the senses, sighing of monarch butterflies flocking south, croquetas de salmon and plato fuerte, Tejano music blaring against the stars, “el azahar on the orange and lemon trees,” and Spanish fiestas in tiny villages. Black and white Pentax photographs illustrate points of Nena’s journey, which, though fictionalized, is Cantú’s, too.
“Our past lives in the archive” and each page of Nena’s exploration is colored by memories and yearning. Nena works to reconcile her Spanish blood with her indigenous blood, to “unearth all truths.” She wonders internally if she—already unusual in her family for her academic bent and resistance to marriage—will ever have a child to pass her amalgamated traditions on to. She also meets Paco, an irresistible Spaniard whose entrance pushes home farther away.
As Nena interacts with the traditions of her family’s distant past, celebrates its unique Texas being, and looks to understand how the threads of disparate cultures weave together, her singular story reaches out with empathy to every reader’s complicated sense of self. Cabañuelas is an arresting story of individual complexities.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (February 1, 2019)
A Gold Rush Story
Experience all the excitement of a wilderness gold rush through an unexpected narrator: a prospector’s trusted gold pan. In this picture book that’s based on the true story of Felice Pedroni, a miner sifts through the creeks of Fairbanks, Alaska, at the turn of the nineteenth century. Pedro and Pan—one in red plaid and suspenders, the other round and shiny with a mobile smile and eyes—explore together, braving wild animals, harsh weather, and hard work before striking it big.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (December 27, 2018)
Travel Diaries of the Dead and Delusional is a haunting coming-of-age story that follows two lost teenagers as they fight demons from their pasts.
Nineteen-year-old Langley is troubled, but she wants to stay that way. She suffers from hallucinations and traumatic nightmares, including some that feature her dead sister, Sarah, whom she’s not ready to let go of. Meanwhile, Tupper is on a road trip, following his departed mother’s diary like a map and focusing on life’s beauty.
When Tupper sees Langley tumbling down the road, he takes an unplanned detour and decides to offer her a ride. They form a deep connection, accepting each other in their own broken states.
The story follows three points of view, each offering a different piece to the puzzle that connects the characters together. Although they each provide valuable content, the sections are short; in their allotted space, it is difficult to fully grasp each character’s essence.
Langley’s hallucinations are descriptive and written in intense detail. It is easy to accept and believe what she experiences, even though her sister is no longer alive. Langley’s memories convey Sarah’s character with elaborate prose.
Powerful lines are etched throughout the story, and all five senses are utilized to describe scenes and events:
Right there with the dark purple clouds smashing against each other and the moon trying to push against the storm … [the] lightning takes over.
Langley and Tupper’s relationship is authentic and sweet, even though it is rapid to form. They are young, plummeting into life full force, and they are happy to go together.
A story of love and loss, adventure, and coming into one’s own, Travel Diaries of the Dead and Delusional is a thoughtful, poignant road trip adventure that delivers hope through its melancholy.
HANNAH WILLIAMS (December 27, 2018)