A girl confronts a ghost and her own sense of self in the graphic novel Junkwraith.
Florence is an ice skater who has lived in bondage to the sport’s demands on her time and energy. One day, she throws away the skates in frustration. The act summons a junkwraith, a ghost attracted by abandonment. Flo learns that her memories will fade and disappear unless she defeats the wraith and gets the skates back. Armed with an old map, she embarks on a quest into the Wastelands with her “Juju,” a robotic personal assistant named Frank. They meet a strange, memorable cast of characters, including pirates, a librarian, and a special agent who’s also in pursuit of the junkwraith.
The story touches on themes of identity, self-determination, and friendship, but perhaps its most thought-provoking idea is that items need a purpose. This, in turn, spawns a question from one of the characters: “What relationship should we have with the things we love?” The cute, the ghastly, and the mundane coexist alongside each other in this surreal story that addresses society’s need for “stuff.” Flo’s internal debate about skating is a sympathetic struggle of growing up: she wonders how much of her feelings for the sport are her own, versus those of her parents, and how much the origins of those feelings even matter.
The book’s distinctive art style is disarming. Crude at first glance, it proves revealing upon further examination—a detailed, appealing visual feast that helps to make Junkwraith a bizarre and imaginative graphic novel about growing up.
PETER DABBENE (October 27, 2021)
In Okezie Nwọka’s dazzling and disquieting novel God of Mercy, battles between gods reignite a war between religions.
Ijeoma, a mute girl in Ichulu, can fly. The dibia, a religious figure of the village, understands this to be the work of the supreme Chekwu, who’s in a schism with an earth goddess, Ani. And Ijeoma’s parents view her gift differently, and respond to their child accordingly. Still, the divided village is unsure of whether to revere or castigate Ijeoma for her special ability. When a neighboring, Christian-colonized town learns about Ijeoma’s “witch” powers, they imprison her, forcing her to convert; they hope to exorcise the demons who they think possess her.
Through its large cast, the novel explores deep bonds of love, family, and community. It is modeled like a religious tome, with song lyrics, sermons, and prayers, though it’s also interspersed with diary entries detailing Ijeoma’s time in confinement. She struggles to understand the vicious, dangerous world, with its instances of torture, human trafficking, and illicit activities. As she grows from a child to a nineteen-year-old woman, she becomes more confident, finding power in her imprisoned position.
An academic overview of the Igbo religion in Ichulu is used to challenge larger social questions—as of tradition’s place in a village, or about self-actualization despite adversity. Built with robust descriptions, Igboland is a vibrant landscape replete with a nightmarish evil forest, comforting compounds, and the serene Idemili river. Once the lens shifts to Amalike, the folkloric prose, which is written as if translated from Igbo, shifts to a Western style that coincides with Ijeoma’s learning of English and forced Bible study.
Rife with magical realism and full of promise, the novel God of Mercy undertakes a scrupulous review of the destructive power of colonialism through an imprisoned, gifted girl.
GEORGE HAJJAR (October 27, 2021)
A whimsical memento mori, Julia Ridley Smith’s essay collection The Sum of Trifles sifts through the stuff of an inheritance in search of peace.
When Smith’s parents died, they left behind a home full of antiques, trinkets, and photographs—an overwhelming amount of materials to sort through. She delayed; she shifted pieces around. But eventually she got down to the work of deciding what to keep, donate, and sell.
These essays form around objects and oddities, each of which Smith addresses in the greater context of her family stories, Southern history, and literary parallels. A nineteenth century quilt becomes an opportunity to discuss the guilt of being the descendant of slaveholders; she notes that Black women are not credited for such works of art. Her father’s Hi-Fi leads to recollections of their complicated relationship, which was marked by his shifting moods and quiet desire to make stories with her. And her father’s prostheses, which she determines to donate for reuse, lead to meditations on the way that human bodies break down, and on the impossible but inevitable task of letting go of our parents’ bodies.
Smith is a sensitive and nuanced storyteller, so that the very intimate curiosities of her family’s life become a bridge for understanding grief more generally. She couches her sadness in terms of classic novels and modern memoirs, and she reaches a point where she acknowledges that all have lost—such pain joins us as humans.
Smith writes that “the things that make up a home—a personal, intimate world—eventually become nothing more than the residue of a life spent.” Her careful treatment of things inherited—both tangible and internal—is a sympathetic ode to the vibrant stories that live on, even when the people who lived in them have gone.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (October 27, 2021)
50 Gratitude Activities & Games
This nature- and community-centered self-help activity book for youngsters introduces gratitude as a continual, life-giving practice. It suggests that being grateful can begin the moment you wake up, and can extend into each moment of your day. Here, gratitude requires mindfulness and curiosity: I-Spy and counting games, attentive walks, thoughtful interactions with others, and celebratory art projects are among its suggested methods. The book’s cheerful pastel and geometrical illustrations contribute to the sense that gratitude is easy, and accessible, no matter what your age.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (October 27, 2021)
The third edition of Angela Y. Davis’s seminal autobiography reintroduces the activist and scholar to audiences old and new.
Written during her late twenties, soon after she was acquitted of charges related to a courtroom shootout, Davis presents her life in mobius strip-style. The book, rendered in six parts, starts with her flight from California and subsequent capture and incarceration in New York. Curling back on itself, it then traces Davis’s life from childhood through to university, spending particular time on her budding interest in collectivism, and her discovery of communism through reading The Communist Manifesto.
The book returns to its present to conclude with Davis’s extradition from New York to California, incarceration in that state, and the trial and acquittal. Along the way, Davis ruminates on the dehumanizing nature of jail life, shares observations on the selfishness inherent in individualism, and reveals her growing realization that her personal fulfillment is predicated on an active political life.
With its clear language and honest reflections, the book continues to be a timely window into the life and ideology of one the most well-known living activists for Black liberation. Angela Davis: An Autobiography is perfect for readers interested in the intersections of personal ethics and political thought and activism.
DONTANá MCPHERSON-JOSEPH (October 27, 2021)