This installment: an incredible graphic novel that explores race (f); Palacio’s book on WWII-an important message for kids these days (f); more lost girls—a scary psychological thriller (f);a magnificent kids’ graphic novel about an iconic librarian from Puerto Rico (f); Saunders’ message about the environment from the mouth of a fox (f); and a haunting novel from Norway (f).
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Subtitled A Memoir in Conversations, this graphic novel explores the subject of racism in a way that really talked to me. The author, daughter of East Indian immigrants, married a Jew. Their boy asks those really uncomfortable questions with the innocence and transparency of a kid and they do their best, but it’s a hard job. Like how can her husband’s parents support Trump? Other concerns: her parents are racist in their own way; she’s too dark to attract an ideal husband. There’s a particularly grotesque scene in which she attends her in-laws’ “bark mitzvah” party and their unwitting friends take her for the maid. It’s brilliant, with no easy answers but lots of thought-provoking candor. A winner!
White Bird by R. J. Palacio
A beautiful kids’ graphic novel (a Wonder story) in which Julius, the boy who bullied Auggie, is now attending a new school. His assignment: interview a relative. He picks his grandmother and it turns out her story is so painful she’s never shared it with the family. But now it’s time and we go back to France in the 30’s. From her coddled fairy-tale childhood she’s thrust into terrifying survival mode when the Nazis make life intolerable. Her friendship with a local outcast (Julian’s his namesake) saves her both literally and figuratively. Exquisite drawings by the author and the book’s message is extremely timely.
Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna
A psychological thriller which teams Cap, a PI, with Alice who’s brought in because she has had success finding “lost” children. The girls’ mother is pretty slipshod but still…The local police aren’t the sharpest, but it’s especially tricky because Cap was ousted from the force, taking the rap for a family man. Lots of obstacles, lots of resistance, but the partnership eventually takes hold in more ways than one. Very suspenseful and great characterizations.
Planting Stories by Anika Aldamuy Denise
Subtitled The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre, this joyous kids’ biography features a young woman from Puerto Rico who arrived in NYC in 1921 and got the job because she spoke Spanish, English and French. She couldn’t find any folktales from her homeland to read to the kids, so she wrote one up, sent it to a publisher, and was launched! A beautiful blend of Spanish and English in the text, and warm illustrations. Note: I, a storyteller, didn’t even know this book existed until I saw it face-out on our very own shelves.
Fox 8 by George Saunders
I almost gave up on this slim little fable because Fox8 can’t exactly spell and his approximations made me initially crazy. But a colleague encouraged me to persevere and I got to accompany this articulate, naïve critter on his journey from his familiar woods, now turned shopping mall, into the terrifying world of “Yumans.” Hope, tragedy, and a plea to those yumans to become aware of what happens when they (we) ride roughshod over Mother Earth. As always, Saunders is very original.
Across the China Sea by Gaute Heivoll
A strange, haunting book from Norway about a family that provides a home for mentally unstable unfortunates, including five siblings whose parents neglected them (and themselves) criminally. The narrator, their young son, accepts the eccentricities as a given, including a girl who can’t speak but mostly howls. There’s a tragedy. The mother leaves and returns periodically, overcome with grief, yet there’s also great beauty in the surrounding countryside and community support. We get three decades of family history as the boy, now grown, dismantles the house after his parents’ deaths. For me it was a little like watching an old Bergman film: serious, detailed, and luminous.
Back next week.