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This installment: a poignant, profound kids’ book (for everyone); a book on CD about messing up and finding oneself; and a gritty mystery set in Albuquerque.

   Wonder by R. J. Palacio

The theme, facing life with a major facial deformity, is of particular fascination to me. (I have two friends who faced this challenge by becoming successful storytelling performers.) I don't think of myself as vain but am grateful I don't look weird. August does, in spades. He's been home schooled by very good parents, so far, but it's time for 5th grade, and what a petri dish of potential bullying and isolation that can be (even for "regular" kids). We get August's perspective in some chapters, and those of his friends and his younger brother in others. All the voices are distinct and pitch-perfect for their ages. This book is categorized as juvenile fiction but I think it's profound and worthy of a read whatever your age.

   While I'm Falling by Laura Moriarty

It's hard to witness a character's plunge into mistake after mistake, and Veronica, a college student, is in deep. A pre-med, she can't seem to grasp organic chemistry. An RA in her dorm, she studiously avoids her duty and her charges, including pathetic, needy Marley. Meanwhile, her mother Natalie is on her own downward spiral, having been caught in a romantic indiscretion and booted out of the house by her tough lawyer husband of many years. As Veronica makes even worse impulsive decisions (I kept wanted to shout, "don't do it!") I had trouble seeing how these messes could resolve with any grace. But the underlying theme is the need to be true to one's self and the grotesquery of trying to fit other's preconceptions, especially her dense, ambitious father's. I listened to this in the car and so caught up in the family maelstrom, it was difficult to put the compelling story on hold each time I'd arrived at my destination.

   The Missing Person by Alix Ohlin

In some ways, Albuquerque is a central character in this book, that gritty, benighted, unsung contrast to precious, fabled Santa Fe. Lynn has fled to NYC but her brother Wylie is acting strange and her mother calls for help.Turns out he's part of an odd, loose eco-terrorist collective. Among them is Angus who exudes considerable animal magnetism and tough Czech immigrant Irina with her baby Psyche. Lynn ends up hanging out with this unwashed bunch, even going along on some of their crazy forays. She and Angus conduct their loose, steamy affair primarily in sleazy motels. The grand finale has tragic elements. Knowing the city (my sister lives there) I loved reconnecting with it on the page and falling into a screwy, picaresque scene that would make me very nervous in "real life."

Back next Monday.

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