Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: October 12-16, 2020

Kusama

A Graphic Biography

Book Cover
Elisa Macellari
Edward Fortes, translator
Laurence King
Hardcover $19.99 (128pp)
978-1-78627-716-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Elisa Macellari’s graphic biography Kusama concentrates on the life and work of artist Yayoi Kusama.

The book follows a natural arc, moving from Kusama’s childhood in Japan, and her first interest in art, to her years of growing fame in America. It also covers her later resurgence after facing mental illness and suicide attempts. Kusama is fascinating: an underdog who seeks solace in creativity and becomes a major figure in the art world, despite her health troubles and disapproving parents. Her relationships with other famous artists, including Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, and Georgia O’Keeffe, provide context for her own achievements, as well as a glimpse into the personality of the woman behind the art.

The distillation of Kusama’s long, full, and atypical life to a trim, fast-flowing graphic novel is admirable. The text draws from multiple sources, listed at the book’s end; chief among them is Kusama’s autobiography.

The book features an appealing, focused palette, heavy on red and teal. The interior art captures the essence of Kusama’s work, in panels showcasing paintings on museum and gallery walls, and by using patterns and backgrounds central to Kusama’s style, including her extensive use of polka dots and circles. This marriage of text and visuals is magical. Kusama hallucinated a talking field of flowers as a young girl; no text or graphic alone could convey the experience, but here, valuable understanding is imparted of not just her artistic mind, but also her budding psychological problems.

Kusama: A Graphic Biography is a wonderful introduction to a gifted artist. Even those familiar with her work will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the troubled imagination from which it spawned.

PETER DABBENE (August 27, 2020)

No Ordinary Thing

Book Cover
G. Z. Schmidt
Holiday House
Hardcover $17.99 (240pp)
978-0-8234-4422-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A quiet orphan, a magic snow globe, and an evil factory owner feature into G. Z. Schmidt’s charming novel No Ordinary Thing.

Ever since twelve-year-old Adam’s parents disappeared on a trip, he has lived with his uncle above the Biscuit Basket Bakery, helping to make ends meet. Then Adam finds his parents’ old snow globe, which contains the secret of time travel. He begins to hope that he can save his parents. But Adam can’t control where the snow globe takes him, and he isn’t the only one who wants it.

The book’s story lines run throughout time and merge together well. Each of Adam’s adventures results in a fragment of his sense of the past, especially related to the mysterious cover-up of a tragic fire. He interacts with characters at different points in their lives—a reminder that, even as time passes, a person’s need for human connections and friendships remains, as do the dangers of hatred and greed.

The cast is diverse. It includes Adam’s hardworking Uncle Henry, the ominous M, and a plucky thief, Francine. These characters serve as representations of the perennial virtues and vices of human beings; each helps Adam learn that the best way to honor the past is to move on.

The novel is set in New York and contains clever historical allusions. Its villain, greedy Robert Tweed Barron, is an allusion to notorious robber barons and figures like Boss Tweed, who fed corruption into nineteenth-century New York. Such touches emphasize the dangers of unregulated corporations and the corruptive potential of wealth.

Resolving mysteries and featuring glimpses into its hero’s future, No Ordinary Thing is no ordinary time travel story; it contains timeless lessons on friendship, bravery, and letting go.

VIVIAN TURNBULL (August 27, 2020)

The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories

Book Cover
Caroline Kim
University of Pittsburgh Press
Hardcover $23.00 (222pp)
978-0-8229-4648-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Caroline Kim’s masterful short story collection captures myriad voices with nuance and insight.

Their subjects impressive in their breadth, the stories focus on characters young and old, both women and men, and across cultures and eras. These include a jaded teenage girl; a father who’s overwhelmed with emotion at the prospect of losing his daughter and granddaughter in California; a melancholy widow wandering Paris; and a child about to emigrate to America without understanding what that means.

In “Mr. Oh,” a Korean immigrant struggles to express himself in English and understand his Americanized children in a society where he’s achieved success yet feels empty. In “Arirang,” the Korean War transforms a woman’s bleak prospects when she meets an American soldier who’s from Montana. The hilarious satire “Therapy Robot” includes blistering commentary on American consumer culture through the diary of a suburban woman.

The stories are energized by their diverse settings. In “Lucia, Russell, and Me,” a young immigrant witnesses American poverty and abuse and transcends their limited opportunities, only to lose a sense of community. In “Seoul,” a boy and his family escape North Korea on foot during the war and struggle to retain their humanity while surviving on the gritty streets of a war-torn city. “The Prince of Mournful Thoughts” reimagines the short, tragic life of Prince Sado, who lived in eighteenth-century Korea. Told like a fable, it reveals the disastrous implications of misinterpreting another’s actions and acting in a rash way because of a wounded heart.

Worth savoring, the stories of The Prince of Mournful Thoughts are intimate, often wistful portraits set amid the stifling and conflicting expectations of families and cultures.

WENDY HINMAN (August 27, 2020)

Barefoot Books Amazing Places

Book Cover
Miralda Colombo
Beatrice Cerocchi, illustrator
Barefoot Books
Hardcover $19.99 (64pp)
978-1-64686-067-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Introducing the next generation of travellers to the architectural feats of modern and ancient civilizations, the book includes the moai statues of Easter Island, the temples of Chichén Itzá, and the ethereal Neuschwanstein Castle, fit for a fairy tale. Original artwork in soft hues helps to explore the history, geography, and lore of each site, while travelogue-worthy practical tips help plan when to visit, what to pack, and even how to enjoy these wonders from the comfort of home.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (August 27, 2020)

The Redshirt

Book Cover
Corey Sobel
University Press of Kentucky
Hardcover $29.95 (328pp)
978-0-8131-8021-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Corey Sobel’s magnificent debut novel, The Redshirt, exposes the hypermasculinity of collegiate football as a freshman starts at a Division One school.

Miles is younger and smaller than the rest of his teammates at King College. He’s also grappling with his identity: he’s gay, but has never acted on his desires for fear of being shunned by his teammates. His roommate, Reshawn, is a physical prodigy at the sport he loathes. He’d rather be deep in his literature classes, but with his family depending on his scholarship and stipends to get by, he has to continue to play football.

Miles’s and Reshawn’s freshman year is shared from Miles’s perspective. Miles reveals that, until summer football camp, he had never been alone in a room with a Black person. The rest of the cast, including sweet and brawny football players, the team bullies, and introspective party animals met off of the field, are approached in terms of their relationships to Miles, too.

Miles takes the standard classes that the athletic department recommends his first semester, but in the spring, he joins Reshawn in literature classes, where they read Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, seeing themselves in classic books that help to guide them through their identity struggles. Both come to realize that the other has what he wants: either the scholarship, the place on the team, or the acceptance of his true self.

Literary and beautiful lines transport readers to the boys’ Southern college, where the football team is no good and no one cares. The Redshirt is a gorgeous novel in which two young men learn who they truly are, with and without the drama of college football.

ASHLEY HOLSTROM (August 27, 2020)

Barbara Hodge

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