This installment: Ferrante’s latest (f); cool off in Iceland (nf); a poet’s experience in El Salvador (nf); Picoult’s latest (f); and how to address gender-fluid folks (nf).
Editor’s Note: The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with occasional notes made of digital eBook and eAudiobook availability.
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
Giovanna at 14 is totally thrown when her father says her scowl makes her look as ugly as the dread Aunt Vittoria, a relative she’s never met. This plunges her into an emotional maelstrom that propels complex action and reaction. She manages to meet this aunt, learns many things about family connections and disconnections, and her up-to-then cozy world starts to fall apart. Gianni is smart, endlessly suspicious, gets mixed up in many relationships, and at the end takes matters into her own hands to claim herself. A Ferrante book is always a workout that sometimes leaves me almost dizzy with revelations and this one delivered in spades.
*Also available as an ebook on Hoopla.
Names for the Sea by Sara Moss
Subtitled Strangers in Iceland. At 19 she took a madcap summertime trip there. 12 years later she’s back with family in tow and a university teaching job. What bizarre setting with its volcanic terrain, extremes of light and weather, limited foodstuffs, natural beauty, and (as she discovers) contradictory stories about the government and the economy. Not exactly crime-free, egalitarian, or “the happiest people on earth” but a mix of pleasures and frustrations (just like life). Two young children, fear of driving, language challenges (her 2-year-old picks up Icelandic fast), cooking (whale meat, bought by mistake, and dreadful produce)—this kind of personal detail brings it all home for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the place but was so glad to go there just between covers, as it were.
What You Have Heard Is True by Carolyn Forche
Subtitled A Memoir of Witness and Resistance. In 1978 at 27 Forche found herself in El Salvador, in league with Leonel, a mysterious figure dedicated to combating the tyrannical, corrupt government. As a poet, she often wondered what she was doing there and how she could help, but Leonel first asked her to pay close attention and then involved her in strategies that proved useful to the cause. It was often confusing, shocking, and dangerous but there were also times of beauty and deep connection. This is an extraordinary document and indeed, the poet’s sensibilities tell the story with focus and power.
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
An almost unbelievable beginning: Dawn survives a plane crash and ends up in Cairo which she left abruptly 15 years ago. She was an egyptologist on the verge of a stunning discovery, but when she learns her mother is moribund, she goes home, brings up her brother Kieran, and becomes a death doula. Her husband Brian, a physicist, and her unhappy 13 year old daughter Meret, don’t know what to make of this. But Dawn is compelled to reconnect with the life she abandoned, as well as Wyatt, the lover she left behind. This book is packed with rich material: Egyptian lore, death lore, and the concept of multiverses. There’s also incredible suspense—which life will she choose—and a big surprise. A whopper!
How to They/Them by Stuart Getty
Subtitled A Visual Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity. As the grandmother of someone who uses the pronouns they/them, I found this book extremely helpful as well as delightful. At first I’d often stumble when trying to use that pronoun but now I manage it most of the time and understand how important it is to recognize and honor their identity. Getty covers many aspects of the nonbinary world from science to grammar to history and tackles tricky questions—ones you might feel embarrassed to ask. Fresh, fun, essential.
Back next week.