This installment: a teen book set in the deep South (f); Orleans on libraries (nf); fleeing to the high desert (f); a well-off family on a steep slope (f); a teen book set in Nigeria (f); and an interesting perspective on breast cancer (nf).
Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll
I didn’t know there were stores that sold lost luggage, but here in Alabama, the eponymous establishment is a haven for 3 teens who work there. Doris is an oddball who has a gift for finding that which is lost. Nell has been yanked from Chicago, leaving a biracial boyfriend behind. And Grant, once a football star, has been lurching into alcoholism. Doris’s Aunt Stella, her unconventional role model, is dead and carried the family secret shame. A fine stew of discovery and growth in the deep South. Another teen book and quite enjoyable—compact, easy to grasp, and true.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
What a fabulous storyteller! Orlean manages to take a subject very dear to my heart but thought of by some as stodgy and build in drama, mystery, and social commentary in a dizzying whirl. She starts with the huge fire of 1986 which almost gutted the central L.A. library and takes us back and then forward to how things work now. Each chapter starts with a short list of seemingly unrelated volumes which end up illuminating the topic at hand. The portraits of L.A. library directors through the ages are astonishingly varied and surprising in themselves. A true treasure trove.
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
Daphne, who administers a university grant in Berkeley, is in emotional crisis. A student she sent off to Turkey was killed in a car crash. Engin, her Turkish husband, is marooned in his homeland, snagged by a bureaucratic “error.” Honey, her 1/1/2 year old, is a handful. On impulse she flees with Honey to a tiny high-desert town where she inherited her grandparents’ mobile home. Not hospitable in terms of climate and amenities (although there are moments of beauty) and mind-crushingly boring. She skypes with Engin when she can get a signal and kind of does her job at a remove, not telling her employer where she is. A very eccentric old lady on a quest provides company of sorts and there’s a shocking denouement (which didn’t surprise me). Kiesling does a bang-up job describing the tedium and desperation of being solely responsible for a toddler 24/7, using run-on sentence structure to convey the petty pace. I ached for her. There are also flashes of humor amid the bleakness, thank god. Compelling.
We All Love the Beautiful Girls by Joanne Proulx
A Canadian author writing about a well-off American family on a steep slope. Michael’s friend and business partner has done him dirty—his accountant uncovers the damage. Their teenage son Finn who’s in love with his babysitter of yore, is beset by jealousy at a party, gets very drunk and passes out in a snowbank with disastrous results. Michael starts hitting baseballs in an abandoned field, joined by a sketchy street kid. It’s muffled rage and desperation all around until events turn violent and tragic. We hear from each character in turn as the months go by, including Michael’s wife Mia, a photographer. Definitely the “descending tone,” as I characterize experiences suffused with despair, but intense and fascinating regardless.
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
Time travel gone awry as Polly tries to save her lover Frank. To pay for his treatment she signs up to work in the future as an upholsterer. Their plan: to meet when he’s well; they’ve pinpointed place and year. But she lands 5 years off and then it’s a desperate, futile search with lots of scary and/or humiliating experiences along the way. An interesting denouement—not what I expected (yes!). Ahh, dystopia—a little too close to home these days but still riveting.
Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
A teen book which takes us to village life in Nigeria through the eyes of a spirited, ambitious girl. She dreams of going to high school, of a boy named Success, and her primary anxiety centers around waiting for exam results. Then Boko Haram attacks with a swath of nightmarish killings, kidnapping, and enslavement. The girl is eventually freed but her life is totally upended and she’ll never be the same. Vivid, powerful—history compacted yet eloquent.
Flat—Reclaiming My Body from Breast Cancer by Catherine Guthrie
A queer young journalist, Guthrie was diagnosed at 38 and hoped her experience writing about women’s health would prepare her for the challenge, but a series of botched surgeries almost flattened her. Breast reconstruction seemed to be expected, but she was wary of implants, concerned about effects of further surgery on her muscles, and decided to go without prostheses. Her partner Mary hung in there but the relationship was sorely strained along the way. Candid, a good read, and a cautionary tale.
Back next week.