Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: November 15-19, 2021

In the Meadow of Fantasies

Book Cover
Hadi Mohammadi
Nooshin Safakhoo, illustrator
Sara Khalili, translator
elsewhere editions
Hardcover $20.00 (42pp)
978-1-939810-90-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A haunting fairy tale about the worlds built by simple acts of generosity, this picture book follows a girl and her seven imaginary horses—some of whom are blessed with gifts like homes, and dreams, and shades of being, but one of whom is not. The seventh horse benefits from the kindness of the rest. Delicate line illustrations with dazzling touches—pools of color; trees sprouting from imaginative heads; moonlit celebrations—are used to follow along as he, and the girl, blossom.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (October 27, 2021)

The Last One

Book Cover
Fatima Daas
Lara Vergnaud, translator
Other Press
Softcover $15.99 (208pp)
978-1-63542-184-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The Last One is a mesmerizing, semiautobiographical novel about the meanings of identity, family, and sexuality.

The story of eponymous character Fatima Daas is slight, but there’s depth and substance in her struggles to find paths toward internal and external acceptance. The novel reads like bursts of reportage, with each chapter beginning with declarative personal statements, akin to incantations. Fatima begins with basic statements of who she is: she lives in a Paris suburb, Clichy-sous-Bois, is Muslim, is Algerian, is a daughter, is a lesbian, and is asthmatic. These statements change as the novel leaps back and forth in time, focusing on pivotal moments of Fatima’s life.

Fatima’s family consists of Kamar, her unsatisfied mother who rules the kitchen; Ahmed, her abusive father; her two older sisters, Douina and Hanane; Rokya, her best friend; and Nina, a girlfriend, who’s twelve years older than Fatima, and whom Fatima claims is the heroine of her story. In each chapter, Fatima makes discoveries about who she wants to be to herself, her friends, and her family. These revelations about her identities transform as she oscillates between pleasing herself and pleasing her family and her faith.

Fatima states facts about herself as if she’s addressing herself and another in an intimate setting. Woven throughout the novel are rich etymologies, folklore, and religious beliefs. The straightforward style is accentuated by the repetition of biographical information and the nuanced changes in the history of her identity. Fatima’s fears and desires impact her relationships as she grapples with her truths. The structure is taut, showcasing the passage of time and Fatima’s shifting identities.

The Last One is a fresh addition to queer fiction—a deep and original debut novel featuring a Muslim lesbian who is looking for acceptance and belonging.

MONICA CARTER (October 27, 2021)

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour

Book Cover
James D. Hornfischer
Doug Murray
Steven Sanders, illustrator
Dead Reckoning
Hardcover $29.95 (208pp)
978-1-68247-338-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The crucial World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf is detailed through the eyes of American sailors and pilots in The Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, and within it the Battle of Samar, is not as famous as other World War II conflicts, but the stories of both involve as much strategy, heroism, and excitement as any. Based on James D. Hornfischer’s acclaimed 2003 military history, this graphic novel adds a captivating visual element to the tale of an oceanic underdog conflict that was marked by ferocious fighting and dramatic turns.

The book features the details that military buffs would expect: lists of the ships involved, along with silhouette profiles to give a sense of their relative scale; and maps and grids that show the larger movements in context. But the story and art focus much more on the individual perspectives of the sailors and pilots who took part in the battle, resulting in immersion throughout most of the book. The storytelling captures the intensity, confusion, and desperation of combat, and the depicted engagements feature an array of naval tactics, from smokescreens to the first Japanese kamikaze attacks. All of this is depicted in panels that dazzle with their accuracy and cinematic flair.

The book’s frequent shifts from ship to ship, and from person to person, are dizzying, but there are rich rewards for following along. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers is an epic and thrilling account of naval warfare.

PETER DABBENE (October 27, 2021)

Fat Angie

Homecoming

Book Cover
e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Candlewick
Hardcover $18.99 (416pp)
978-1-5362-0839-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Fat Angie: Homecoming is the latest installment of e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s award-winning series. In it, Angie is ready to ask Jamboree to be her girlfriend—until her first love, KC, moves back to town. As if that weren’t enough, a video of her singing goes viral, making her a kind of internet sensation. When she learns about an online music competition, Angie decides to form a band and compete.

Meanwhile, tensions at home keep building. Angie’s mother is still drinking and is verbally abusive—and is trying to deal with the death of Angie’s sister. Angie’s mostly absent father does all the wrong things. In this mire, Angie is not sure what to do about Jamboree and KC; she’s just trying to figure out her day-to-day life. Whether she can pull it all together to win the competition is in question.

The characters are diverse and realistic, and their conversations are a star of the book, both propulsive and straightforward. Angie’s running internal dialogue has the same quality. And though the novel starts off as a story about Angie’s love life and viral video, it fast evolves into something much deeper. Its multiple threads—Angie’s relationship with her mother; the family’s grief over Angie’s sister; the family’s avoidance of their feelings; Angie’s relationships with KC and Jamboree; Angie’s work toward self-acceptance, including where her body is concerned; and Angie’s absent father—are all significant enough to warrant their own novels. Their impacts on Angie loom. In this installment, many threads are fast resolved; some are never resolved, and so may seem superfluous.

The young adult novel Fat Angie: Homecoming is a celebration of friendship, love, and figuring out who you really are.

JAIME HERNDON (October 27, 2021)

Avian Illuminations

A Cultural History of Birds

Book Cover
Boria Sax
Reaktion Books
Hardcover $35.00 (456pp)
978-1-78914-432-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Captivating and graced with exquisite illustrations, Boria Sax’s Avian Illuminations blends history, folklore, art, literature, and ornithology to explain why birds are such an integral part of human dreams and aspirations.

Birds have always figured large in the human imagination: inspiring artists and inventors, serving as omens and messengers of the gods, and even being revered as deities. Their behavior was said to affect the outcome of battles; during World War II, ravens were used to spot enemy planes. The intricate cooperation of humans and birds in the hunt is noted, too, but the book’s most moving example of how birds enrich human life comes in the late twentieth century story of a dying pet parrot who had been taught over one hundred English words over a period of thirty years, and who spoke his last words to his human companion: “I love you.”

The book points out similarities between birds and humans: the shared dominance of sight and hearing; elaborate courtship rituals; care of the young in often-monogamous nuclear families; travel or migration over long distances; and building semi-permanent residences in specific locations. But the relations between humans and birds have not always been kind. The book cites the masses of dead birds featured in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European paintings celebrating the abundance of game; the slaughter of millions of birds in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to adorn women’s hats with feathers and all manner of avian body parts; and Mao Zedong’s 1958 mobilization of most of China’s population to rid the country of sparrows. Today, pollution, pesticides, and habitat destruction contribute to their demise.

Avian Illuminations, with its rich content and glorious illustrations, educates, entertains, and aims a body-blow to human pride with its reminder that when birds reigned as dinosaurs, human ancestors were still “relatively small marsupial-like balls of fur.”

KRISTINE MORRIS (October 27, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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