Neshama’s Choices for March 15th

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A Danger to Herself and Others

Recently I thought I’d had my fill of teen books for a while—all those proms and acne and angst—but this one was so haunting I want to share it.  Hannah is an overachiever with a “perfect” family.  So what’s she doing in the bin? Yes, her best friend tumbled from a high window ledge after a game of truth or dare, but it wasn’t her fault. The law may not be convinced and she’s stuck until her hearing. Hannah seems so obnoxious at first but gradually we get inside her, and through the ministrations of “Dr. Lightfoot” (Hanna’s nickname since the doctor wears ballet flats), we come to understand the extent of her delusions and what protection they provide. Not a hopeful ending, I have to warn you, but very moving and original.  (And I’ve read a lot of books about mental illness.)


A thriller in which quantum physics runs amok. Matt is working at Dartmouth on a project that the Department of Defense has an interest in.  He experiences frightening episodes that land him in the hospital. Could it be related to quantum entanglement? An obnoxious billionaire wants to hire him away. His wife Brigid is hard of hearing and very smart. A policeman on the edge of retirement, Emmett, joins forces with her when Matt is abducted and they follow through to the Schroediger’s cat-like denouement—will they get to the hostages before the bomb goes off? Entertaining.  (But one editing quibble: sister Aimee became Amy for two pages toward the end until she reverted to the proper spelling.  How do these things happen?)

Our Endless Numbered Days

Mix mental illness and a survival tale and I’m a happy (if weird) camper. Peggy’s mother, Ute, is a German concert pianist.  Her father James has built and provisioned a bomb shelter and Peggy has a meticulously timed routine to get there at the sound of his whistle. Ute finally goes back on tour and James essentially abducts his 8-year-old daughter to rural France in search of Die Hutte for refuge since the world is about to end. Turns out the place is a wreck but they eke out eight fraught years there until the inevitable tragic events send her back into the world and him out of it forever. Fascinating and creepy.

Stepping Stones

I was curious what one of my favorite graphic artists would do with a kid’s book and came away very pleased. After the divorce Jen moves to the country. Her mom has always wanted a little farm. The work is hard, and when boyfriend Walter’s two daughters arrive for the summer, it turns intolerable. Andy is a know-it-all and little sister Reece a whiner. Of course there’s finally a truce (whew) and even fondness, but along the way emotions run hot and Knisely depicts them boldly, which got me in touch with my inner child.  I also appreciated her characterization of Walter—he’s maddening, but loved that in the acknowledgements she spoke of “Warren who would been very sweet and very annoying about this book.” That’s the mix of tenderness and edginess that I so appreciate in her work.

Utopia Avenue

The eponymous, eclectic band comes together through need and a series of coincidences. Elf sings, Dean’s a wildcard, Griff plays it close to the vest. Cool, mysterious Jasper seems to have arrived from nowhere and everywhere. Three write songs. It’s ’67, tough going, but success arrives until…Real life figures show up, like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. Paranormal influences appear via Jasper, a member of the fabled de Zoet family. (I made their acquaintance in Mitchell’s fascinating The Thousand Autumn of Jacob de Zoet.) So much inside dope about the craft and business of music-making. I think Mitchell’s a genius and was over the moon to finally find such a solid, exhilarating read.

Back next week.