Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: January 10-14, 2022

Light Up the Night

America’s Overdose Crisis and the Drug Users Fighting for Survival

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Travis Lupick
The New Press
Hardcover $26.99 (256pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Travis Lupick’s Light Up the Night takes a compassionate look at the US’s drug overdose crisis and those working to address it.

Two visionary reformers who themselves wrestled with drug addiction, Louise and Jess, are at the center of this account. Telling details capture and humanize their struggles with heroin and other opioids: about the events that first led them to drugs; about their work toward sobriety; about their professional breakthroughs and mentors; and about the barriers imposed by unenlightened public policies. Still, the women fought through crippling physical pains and emotional losses, and both now work to empower others and improve conditions for drug users as part of the harm reduction movement.

Lupick shows that the “war on drugs,” fought by convicting and incarcerating drug users and dealers, is part of the problem. It drives drug users into hiding and limits their access to quality health care, supportive communities, meaningful work, and life-saving treatments. These punitive policies end up increasing the rate of overdoses and encouraging shifts to more dangerous, cheaper-to-produce drugs like fentanyl.

Harm reduction advocates know that drug use does not have to devolve into overdoses or “chaotic use”: if drug users are treated with respect, given access to clean needles, instructed on safer practices, and surrounded by inclusive communities, a middle way is possible. Examples of success come from other nations and a handful of communities in the US that are putting such progressive ideas into practice.

Named for a 2018 march in New Orleans that helped to galvanize the harm reduction movement, Light Up the Night illuminates the controversial, complex topic of drug use and the American overdose crisis with power, conviction, and hope.

KRISTEN RABE (December 27, 2021)


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Jessie Burton
Olivia Lomenech Gill, illustrator
Bloomsbury YA
Hardcover $19.99 (224pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Jessie Burton’s Medusa is a dazzling, engrossing retelling of a classic that’s delivered with a profound feminist twist.

Eighteen-year-old Medusa has been exiled to an isolated, rocky island by Athena, who cursed her and turned her hair into a crown of snakes after Poseidon raped her and desecrated Athena’s temple. When a handsome young sailor, Perseus, arrives on the island, Medusa befriends him—and falls in love. Separated by cave walls, Medusa and Perseus have intimate heart-to-heart conversations. Their relationship takes a tragic turn, however, when Medusa and Perseus reveal their true identities to one another.

Told from Medusa’s point of view, this is a sympathetic, compassionate tale. Medusa is a woman wronged; her self-reliance and beauty result in scorn and objectification from the townsfolk. Their misogyny contributes to Medusa’s curse and banishment. But Medusa herself is vulnerable, wistful, and scared; she struggles with self-esteem. Her conversations with Perseus draw out her confidence and feminist beliefs.

As the book’s focus moves to Perseus, its tone shifts to one of veiled unease. Perseus cannot see beyond what’s physical, and Medusa’s suffering is made even more urgent as their conversations progress. Still, though Medusa’s tale could end in tragedy, it’s given a twist, tying Medusa to the modern #MeToo movement and empowering young women to live on their own terms, and in their own skins. Gorgeous hand-drawn illustrations of Medusa reinforce the lyrical text, which states that “you cannot break up a myth or wedge it on top of a cliff. A myth finds a way to remember itself. It makes a new shape, rising out of a shallow grave in glory.”

NANCY POWELL (December 27, 2021)

Seasons of Purgatory

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Shahriar Mandanipour
Sara Khalili, translator
Bellevue Literary Press
Softcover $16.99 (208pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Ordinary people are haunted by loss and grief in Shahriar Mandanipour’s short story collection Seasons of Purgatory.

In these stories, death is a constant companion. For some, it has already come and gone, leaving survivors to cope as best they can. For others, it paces in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike. Either way, the results are immutable and devastating. Even those not directly impacted by death find themselves struggling to move ahead as the grief of others threatens to overwhelm them as well.

Several stories have animal themes; they explore humanity’s inhuman side. “Mummy and Honey” shows a family, strangled by tradition and wealth, menaced by an elusive viper in their ancestral home. A dog’s gruesome end also seals the fate of a young soldier and his fiancée in “Shatter the Stone Tooth.” These animals serve as representations of what the characters love or hate most: freedom, or acceptance, or memories that they cannot process.

In other stories, the dead themselves become totems of sorts: in “Seasons of Purgatory,” Iranian soldiers believe that the corpse of an enemy solider whom they failed to rescue is watching over them, while “King of the Graveyard” follows an older couple in search of their son’s grave.

Each story is told with an intimacy that makes every loss and tragedy feel closer, more real. Occasional dips into speculative fiction enhance the sense that the characters are dominated by unseen forces far larger and more powerful than they are. They are forever shackled to the past, as helpless and as hopeless as the dead.

Seasons of Purgatory is a stunning collection of stories about Iran’s traditions, its violent recent history, and how the memory of both influences daily life.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (December 27, 2021)

Shahrzad and the Angry King

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Nahid Kazemi
Enchanted Lion Books
Softcover $18.95 (80pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Tender, empathetic, and unflappably hopeful, this is the retold story of Scheherazade. In this version, set in contemporary times: Shahrzad’s curiosity is insatiable. She loves forming what she sees into enchanting tales. When she meets a young refugee, she learns about a king whose grief made him cruel; she imagines how the king might change, if only he could put himself in his subjects’ positions. The book’s rough, mixed-media illustrations further suggest the power of unbound creativity in bringing about a kinder world.


The Serpent Papers

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Jeff Schnader
Permanent Press
Hardcover $29.95 (302pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Probing the consciences of people and a nation during a pivotal era, The Serpent Papers is a novel about the intricacies of decision-making and taking a stand when life itself is at risk.

Growing up in the 1960s, J-Bee, the son of an admiral in the US Navy, is caught up in the national conflict over the Vietnam War. Events demand a choice between his military family’s expectations and his own revulsion for violence. Further complicating his decisions are his loyalty to his best friend, Gilly, who volunteered for duty and was sent to Vietnam, and his tormented memories of his act of vengeance, which stopped just short of murder, against the bullies who caused the death of his younger brother.

Rebelling against the violence of his heritage and his conflicted Catholic upbringing, J-Bee refuses to follow the military track after high school graduation. Instead, he attends Columbia University, a “hotbed of radicalism” and the home of “commie-pinko organizers.” A battle brews inside of him—one that he feels will either lead to redemption, or to hellfire.

When J-Bee finds himself in the midst of a campus protest, confronted by phalanxes of New York Tactical Police in battle garb, he reflects on the logic of his anti-war girlfriend and the campus café readings of the mysterious “Serpent.” With violence tattooed on his soul from birth, has he changed enough to stand with “an anti-war rabble” against his ingrained identity? His answer to that question sets him on a surprising course.

Raw and intimate, The Serpent Papers is a novel about the development of one’s personal values, the costs of following one’s conscience when its dictates conflict with “group think,” and notions of what it means to be a man and a patriot.

KRISTINE MORRIS (December 27, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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