In this cozy, charming tale with textured, warm, crayon illustrations, a tiny bunny rabbit spends his days looking up at the sky. Detecting the shape of a fellow rabbit in the Moon’s craters, he determines that he must visit the distant bunny. His success will require ingenuity, though. Oscar’s fantastical and surprising story of determination, creativity, and preparedness is sure to speak to all little beings who have big, wide dreams.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (June 27, 2022)
Being Non-Binary in a World of Dichotomies
Dianna E. Anderson’s In Transit troubles the idea of “transgender” as an umbrella identity and “transition” as synonymous with bodily alteration. Rather, through the recursive application of theoretical frameworks around gender, the book encourages a lexicon of self-definition for gender-diverse people that’s as expansive, flexible, and self-generative as the community it describes.
Academic and introspective, the book seeks to “explore and explain the linguistic and social problems we encounter when we try to lump all parts of a broad, diverse community” together. Personal experiences meld with theoretical frameworks in ways that challenge creating something universal out of a specific experience, while also holding space for imperfect understandings as part of a necessary response to a lack of adequate cultural representation.
One of the main issues the book endeavors to tease apart is the homophobia and transphobia inherent in how people talk about gender, and the idea of physical transition as a definitive aspect of the transgender experience. Legally, most current understandings of transgender identity tie together understandings of gender with the physical body and bodily performance. But within the gender-diverse community, there are many groups that overlap in hard-to-define ways; Anderson clarifies that a personal experience of dysphoria with the physical body and dissonance with the way a person’s gender is performed and perceived are not the same thing.
Moreover, when conversations about transgender people promote limited narratives, it “leads to people thinking they know about us without knowing us.” The ramifications of limited, secondhand “knowing about” affects the culture at large with devastating legal, psychological, spiritual, and representational consequences.
Despite the pitfalls, In Transit insists that gender diverse people claim space and become stakeholders in their own narratives, even if all the certainty they have access to is that they belong in an “Other” space, beyond what current culture and language describes.
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (June 27, 2022)
The horror and devastation of the Civil War are witnessed by two icons of American literature in Norman Lock’s novel Voices in the Dead House.
After the 1862 defeat of the Union Army, Washington is overwhelmed by a flood of wounded and dying men. Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott, confronted by this hellish scene, are determined to be of service. Although the two did not know each other—Whitman volunteered at Armory Square Hospital as a sanctioned visitor and wound dresser; Alcott was a nurse at Union Hospital—the book depicts them as aware of each other’s presence. Alcott, cognizant of the good and the ill of Whitman’s poetry and his reputation, declares herself unimpressed by either.
To capture the writers’ voices, the book leans on their own preserved words. Alcott’s recollections of time she spent with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are reminders of saner, happier days. On paper, she is an intense, independent abolitionist and suffragist with a discerning intellect, spry wit, and humor. And Whitman’s writings reveal him as both compassionate and egocentric. But he loves men, and he has the ability to see beyond the constraints of religion and find what’s spiritual in each human being. Still, though he’s a staunch supporter of democracy, his conflicted views on abolition are surprising.
The book’s cameo appearances by luminaries including President Abraham Lincoln (seen sitting up half the night wrapped in his old shawl) are moving and humane, contrasting with the harsh realities of the postwar period. They help to make Voices in the Dead House a stunning historical novel that brings history and literature together to share a singular perspective on the Civil War.
KRISTINE MORRIS (June 27, 2022)
A Journey Through the Maze of Love, Marriage, and Adoption
M. S. King’s Dad Spelled Backward chronicles his and his wife’s frustrating yet fulfilling quest to have a baby.
King, a New York dentist and comedian, was in his fifties when he met his wife, Gaby. Though, when King was younger, his Jewish mother had hoped that he would marry a woman of the same faith, he notes that the passage of time had rendered his mother happy that he had just found a “mammal” to marry. She was delighted by his intelligent, beautiful French bride.
Though King was undecided about having children, Gaby was determined to get pregnant. The couple’s initial conception attempts, or what King calls “Fertility Hell,” involved familiar procedures, like filling sperm specimen cups and obsessive tracking of Gaby’s ovulation cycles. King also tried natural “virility enhancers,” such as yohimbe and ginseng; he ended up in the hospital when their combined effect began to feel like a heart attack. Later, a Chinese acupuncturist advised King to “drink more water” for his weak kidneys, while positioning needles throughout his body to stimulate potency and “chi.”
After further fertility tests and unsuccessful artificial insemination, King and Gaby decided to adopt. Dad Spelled Backward recounts the arduous process that followed, including posting adoption advertisements, interviewing respondents, and their feelings of intense disappointment after a birth mother opted to keep her baby. The couple’s costs ran high: there were attorney and administrative fees, as well as plane fares to meet with prospective candidates. There was also the psychological toll of prolonged expectation.
Dad Spelled Backward is a heartfelt, sage, and funny look at the worthwhile gauntlet of domestic adoption. It’s also a compelling portrait of a marriage, showing how the bond between King and his wife grew stronger and more resilient as they navigated their unique path to parenthood.
MEG NOLA (June 27, 2022)
In Intisar Khanani’s fantasy novel A Darkness at the Door, a lady in waiting is on a dangerous mission to end a child trafficking ring in the kingdom of Menaiya.
Rae, the attendant of Princess Alyrra, is held captive aboard a cargo ship. She is determined to save not just herself, but the kidnapped children who are also onboard. Her fight to escape is full of action, magic, and intrigue, setting up a story that is complex and exciting.
Rae is soon joined by Bren, a young thief whom she has worked with before. She is drawn to Bren, and her instincts tell her that she can trust him, despite his occupation. Their discussions on what is right, and who determines rule and order in society, are thought-provoking—an ethical backdrop to an already involving story.
There are instances of violence throughout, including child kidnappings and attempted and successful murders. Descriptions of other acts of violence are included, too. Though unsettling, these moments are essential to the story. The stakes are high for Rae and Bren, and the sacrifices that they are willing to make to achieve their ends are significant.
Rae is a strong lead. She has a disability, but she learned to overcome her physical limitations, and she found great personal strength and a strong sense of self-worth despite her hostile environment. Though the world does not automatically attribute much worth to her: she knows her value. She is a formidable opponent, too, even against those in the highest positions of power.
Following an admirable heroine as she fights nefarious forces, the diverse fantasy novel A Darkness at the Door is full of adventure and fun.
CATHERINE THURESON (June 27, 2022)