Another week, another collection of fantastic books for us to share with you. Take a look at our list below and don’t forget to check back in each day to see which is the Book of the Day.
A striking and memorable new heroine emerges in the pages of Valiant’s War Mother.
Van Lente and his colleagues create a rich, futuristic, postapocalyptic world in which Ana, better known as War Mother, leads her people in a quest for survival among a myriad of threats. War Mother’s sentient sniper rifle operates via an AI program named Flaco; he’s a crucial element in the story, providing not just an opportunity for dialogue during War Mother’s otherwise solo missions but also someone to challenge her sometimes single-minded outlook. Ana deals with complications arising from morality, her family responsibilities, and her duty to her people—all while kicking some serious butt as needed.
As with the best science fiction, commentary on our own society is featured throughout, but with a healthy sense of humor rather than heavy-handedness. For example, when a group called the Urbanites threatens but is eventually driven off, it’s said, “They’re gentrifying elsewhere.”
War Mother compiles the character’s first comic book appearance in 4001 A.D. : War Mother #1 and issues 1-4 of the War Mother comic series. The book’s artwork is stunning—polished, colorful, and dynamic, creating a convincing and utterly immersive future environment. Combining the raw excitement of pulp adventure with thoughtful extrapolation and invention, the story collected here is complete and satisfying but leaves open the possibility of additional adventures. With luck, War Mother will return to shepherd her people through other future threats.
PETER DABBENE (February 27, 2018)
From the very first page, Like Vanessa conveys the hopes and fears of a girl who wishes for a different life. Nessy Martin is fourteen years old and living in Newark with her alcoholic grandfather, her mostly absent father, and her older cousin. Her mother left when she was just four years old, and Nessy has never understood why.
The book takes place in the 1980s, just as Vanessa Williams becomes the first black woman to be crowned Miss America. Nessy dreams of being crowned herself, hoping that she can somehow win her mother’s approval. Though it scares her, she is convinced to enter a beauty pageant at her middle school, and in the process of preparing for the competition, she learns a great deal about herself and about the meaning of true beauty.
Nessy’s descriptions of the local gang, the bodegas, and the music she hears drifting into her window at night bring her urban setting to life. Her understandings of her family members—a grandfather trying to forget, a cousin struggling with the safety of his differences—paint vivid portraits.
Nessy’s desires and dreams of wealth and glamour are relatable, as is her lack of self-esteem. As, for the first time, her friends and family help her see the strong, talented, and beautiful young woman that she is, young adult audiences may be helped to similarly embrace how they, too, are worthwhile.
Like Vanessa is an emotionally potent, engaging young adult story with a heroine whom it is impossible not to root for. The life lessons that Nessy learns are relevant and worthwhile for everyone.
CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2017)
This charming twist on a treasured children’s nursery rhyme is ideal for anyone willing to explore what they are made of. Imaginations soar and whimsical new verses prove that girls are more than sugar and spice and that boys can be made of finer stuff than snakes and snails. Two dueling children and their good-humored elderly companion get creative in their attempts to fit unique personalities into neat lines of poetry, with entertaining results and fanciful artwork.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (February 27, 2018)
A Possibility of Whales is charming and sweet as it explores personal identity, life changes, love, and, of course, whales.
Nat—short for Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher—is the daughter of a movie star who doesn’t know who her mother is. After years of outrunning paparazzi and a devastating incident concerning Nat’s best friend, her father decides that it is best for them both to seek seclusion in Canada. There, Nat has plenty of time to ruminate—and to wish that the boy she just met was more willing to be her friend.
The subject of personal identity underlies the story, shown through Nat’s thoughts on her own place in the world and through her trans friend Harry, working to be himself though others don’t accept him. While Nat flounders to determine who she is, who her mother is, and who the woman she calls The Bird really is, Harry is certain of himself; it’s others, like his father, who refuse to recognize him.
Nat’s sense of loss is simultaneously heartbreaking and engaging. Motherless and friendless, her desire to connect to Harry is sympathetic. The story explores how her sense of self is filtered through her relationships: Should her mother’s absence define her? Should Harry’s lack of interest? Her middle name, Baleine—meaning whale in French—gives her a connection with whales and fuels her wish to see some in real life.
On Nat’s birthday, events come to a head; her lifelong wish to see whales is fulfilled when she and and Henry are given a whale-sighting trip, though its results are ones that no one could possibly predict.
Nat’s story of self-discovery is sure to inspire anyone searching for their place in the world.
HANNAH HOHMAN (February 27, 2018)
From Montaigne to Auden to Sir Mix-A-Lot, Martinez pulls from a broad swath of influences to tell his story of moving into adulthood and measuring what makes a man. For him, the answer is as varied as his influences, which include poetry, rap, masculinity, divorce, and alcoholism.
Martinez’s poetry is thoroughly introspective, with lines like “Not from going without / does healing come / but from going within.” That line employs some of the linguistic machinations that typify the book, as well as its themes; for Martinez, healing doesn’t come from either the outside or from abstinence.
The draw here is Martinez’s mode of storytelling. His lines are sharp and musical, deftly split and carefully crafted. Flexible line breaks create layered poems that nod to multiple, simultaneous meanings. His meter owes as much to rapper Scarface as it does to poet Robert Frost.
Poems enact a kind of personal reconciliation: between Martinez’s life as an academic and his life as a Latino man, his life as a man twice divorced and as a man in love with his wife. Beyond its autobiographical elements, the collection also challenges American politics and culture.
Machismo butts up against tenderness, regret against ambition—always with musicality and attention to what forms on the page. Lines like “I’ll give you something / to cry about became a simple / tourniquet” show a boy who felt silenced into his manhood.
Visually, poems might spill down the right margin or stutter across the page in a zigzag motion; each choice leads to a different kind of reader engagement. Martinez’s are poems to be experienced; they engage sight, sound, and meaning all at once.
Martinez melds an urban background, a modernist’s attention to precision, and a rapper’s flow to form an irresistible collection of contemporary poetry.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (February 27, 2018)