Being the youngest of seven, no one takes Elsie’s ideas seriously until she surprises her brothers and sisters with an unusual, and unusually successful, new method of catching fish. Fields of clover and cheerful yellow flowers dot the picturesque valley home of the beribboned, bonnetted, and overall-clad rabbit siblings, who set off with fishing poles and picnic baskets in this story about respect, being heard, and being true to yourself.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (December 27, 2019)
Gabriel Bump’s Everywhere You Don’t Belong is a spiraling coming-of-age tale about abandonment and perseverance that highlights the moments that made its lead—and some that nearly broke him.
A ridiculous opening fight between Claude’s father and a neighborhood man sets the novel’s tone. It also introduces the idiosyncrasies of his family in their South Shore Chicago home. After Claude’s parents split up and, one after the other, abandon him, Claude lives with his maternal grandmother and her troubled friend, Paul. Bereft of his childhood friends, Claude feels like a misfit until he meets Janice.
But then police brutality ignites a riot that storms right past Claude’s front door. Instead of being centered in the tragedy, Claude, his friends, and his family bear the rippling effects of having their homes destroyed, their innocence shattered, and of facing the devastating loss of a close acquaintance. Restlessness takes root inside of Claude, and he begins searching for a way out of his neighborhood.
Claude applies to college in secret, but life at the Missouri university he chooses proves disappointing. He becomes further disenchanted when he’s tokenized at the student newspaper, Prairie Executioner. Tasked with combing through past issues for topics on diversity, he loses hope that the school has his interests in mind. When Janice shows up at his dorm, desperate and on the run, Claude has the push he needs to leave the school and his entire past behind.
Within the text, Claude’s family dynamics are startling, presented in a way that sparks with originality. Direct, pithy sentences are packed with nuance, and the distinctive narration style is intriguing. The book invites pondering, particularly around the emphases placed on its constant speech tags.
The ripped from the headlines plot of Everywhere You Don’t Belong draws instant interest.
TANISHA RULE (December 27, 2019)
Daughter of Rome is an intricate Christian novel focused on Priscilla and Aquila, following them from their charged first meeting through to their work as Corinthian tent makers.
Little is known about the couple’s early days, but the book suggests a provocative reason for Priscilla’s conversion. Here, she’s the daughter of a Roman general and has long been shunned by her brother. An affair and a miscarriage left her grief-stricken. Later transformed by her belief, Priscilla extends kindness to the needy. Aquila, a disinherited Jewish leather worker, is touched by her actions.
During their early interactions, both Priscilla and Aquila delicately negotiate their emotions. They begin with hesitant humor that morphs into respect and desire, and their love story is engrossing. Further, it’s rooted in the community of believers who guide them. Invigorating scenes build a cross-section of Rome, where people of all stripes find God.
Amid heartening depictions of Christian house churches, the invented characters humanize the biblical ones. Marcus, an eight-year-old runaway whom Priscilla and Aquila shelter, heals Priscilla’s longing for motherhood. The painful reason for his destitution reveals the impact of other people’s sins. An arc on finding justice for Marcus underscores the lengths that Priscilla will go to mirror the love she’s received from God. Antonia, a haughty patrician, enlivens the plot with dark schemes that invite an opening for spiritual grace.
Paul is portrayed with a renegade air that’s steeped in wisdom. Celebrated though he is, he’s integrated with ease, and his characterization is down-to-earth. In this and other ways, Tessa Afshar inhabits the world of early Christians with refreshing clarity. From life under the threat of persecution to domestic details and her characters’ innermost thoughts, she makes early Christianity spark.
KAREN RIGBY (December 27, 2019)
Emotional and rich, The Wish and the Peacock concerns families, loss, and acceptance.
After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Paige is determined to fill the gaps left by his absence. She works hard to keep their farm running, caring for the land and the animals just as her dad would have done. Despite her efforts, her mother and grandfather decide to sell. As Paige, her brother Scotty, and her two best friends, Mateo and Kimana, plot to prevent the sale, they also try to care for an injured peacock that they found in the barn.
The story grapples with the pain of losing a parent. Paige conflates the farm with her father; its loss would be too much to bear. The fact that Paige cannot care for the farm on her own is a hard lesson. She and her friends plan multiple pranks to sabotage the sale, leading to the central conflict, which contains humor and sadness in equal measure.
Set in Idaho, the story includes educational details about growing crops and tending to livestock. The families of Paige’s friends work together and help one another out, creating a sense of a close-knit community.
The peacock is an important character. Paige and Scotty decide to keep it hidden in the barn while it heals, even when a reporter who claims to be writing about the decline of family farms asks the children if they have seen or heard a peacock. As Paige and Scotty learn about the bird, it becomes a symbol for all that they want to protect, and ultimately of all of the things that they must let go.
The Wish and the Peacock is a thoughtful novel about love, loss, and the hope of a new beginning.
CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2019)
Women’s Voices from the Gulag
Stalin: if you’re Russian and of a certain age, his name causes your blood to run Siberian cold. It’s not for nothing that Uncle Joe’s twenty-four-year reign (1929–1953) is frequently called the “other Holocaust”—upwards of thirty million people were killed by his minions, many in the remote labor camps known as gulags.
Murder aside, Stalin terrorized his country into paranoid, conspiratorial, nearly complete submission. Neighbors and friends sacrificed each other to the secret police preemptively, not knowing whom to trust. Writers and political figures were arrested as a matter of course, processed without a trial, and shipped east—cattle-class—by train to the gulag for years of murderous deprivation.
In Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women’s Voices from the Gulag, Monika Zgustova traverses the outer neighborhoods of Moscow to interview nine elderly gulag survivors. Exceptionally frail from years of malnourishment while in the camps, the women individually describe conditions so horrific as to be mind-numbing, but the more common thread connecting the stories is how the women explain the reasons for their survival: unflappable belief in the power of love, beauty, poetry, and friendship to overcome any hardship.
Interestingly, coming home proved difficult for some. Susanna Pechuro shares her experience:
My parents and my friends celebrated my return, and I was surrounded with love and care. … And despite all that, I felt empty inside. It seemed trivial, meaningless. Nobody who had always lived in freedom could even remotely imagine what I had been through. It seemed to me that they hadn’t really lived.
Zgustova’s book is a revelatory attestation to humanity’s highest powers.
MATT SUTHERLAND (December 27, 2019)