This installment: desperation on a raft in the jungle (nf); a house reflects society’s ills (f); financial hi jinks with a touch of Blake (f); a huge family afflicted with mental illness (nf); queer in high school (f).
Editor’s Note: Much of our print collection is now available for holds again. The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with special notes made of digital ebook and eAudiobook availability.
Ruthless River by Holly Fitzgerald
I heard a short version of the story on the Snap Judgment radio show and wanted the full experience because I have a bottomless appetite for tales of people overcoming great odds. Subtitled “Love and Survival by Raft on Amazon’s Relentless Madre de Dios.” Here young, intrepid Holly and Fitz are marooned after a plane crash in the jungle but don’t want to wait 3 months for the next plane out. So down the river they go on a balsa-log craft they dub the Pink Palace for its shower curtain tent. The trip almost seems magical until a storm blows them out of the main current and into a watery, featureless expanse. They run out of food and take desperate measures until they’re finally rescued. Very vivid and suspenseful even if we know the ending, Can you imagine downing raw snails, grasshoppers and tiny frogs while covered with bees slurping up your sweat?
Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
A house is built by a lake, with great skill and charm. Details like a hidden closet, a little iron bird decoration, windows of colored glass. But this domicile moves through many owners and tenants. The first are Jews, and Hitler’s on the rise. They bury precious objects before they flee. These are unearthed sporadically as each remodel takes place. An enigmatic, hermetic gardener stays throughout the turnover until he gets too old and fades away. And how could I forget the malevolent fairy tale opening that ends up defining the land on which the house rests? Original language, dreamlike construction which sometimes made it hard to track, but I didn’t care because the book was so evocative.
The Echo by Minette Walters
A convoluted, fascinating mystery in which financial high jinks and William Blake meet in a dark alley. A homeless fellow, “Billy Blake,” ends up in Mrs. Powell’s garage, dead. Why does she pay for his cremation? Therein lies the tale, and Deacon, a journalist, pursues Billy’s identity and uncovers all sorts of surprising, disturbing connections. Towards the end, my head was spinning from the revelations and plot twists, and I couldn’t totally track it, but so intense and well-done, I didn’t care. The philosophical layer—Billy’s obsessed with the poet—adds dimension.
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
Subtitled Inside the Mind of an American Family. The Galvins had 10 sons and two daughters. Six of the 10 were schizophrenic. Two eventually died. They were a handsome bunch and mother Mimi tried to keep the surface looking good until acting out and increasingly bizarre occurrences kept erupting. It’s an almost unbelievable story but thoroughly documented and told with excellent journalistic balance. Kolker also explores the mysteries of the condition, the lamentable lack of progress in diagnosis and treatment, and possible breakthroughs which may take place down the road. I was mesmerized by the chronicles of those who went under and those who survived a very bizarre upbringing with its denials, delusions, loyalties, and tragedies.
Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard
I resisted this teen book at first—the tough tone, all those references to video gaming. But as I got to know Pen and her challenges, I kept going. Short for Penelope, a name she refuses to use. Her immigrant Portuguese parents are appalled by her outfits and behavior—not at all ladylike. She hangs out with a posse of neighborhood boys until Colby turns against her. He also callously impregnates a classmate, Olivia, whom she befriends. And there’s Blake, a fellow gamer, who gets her a job; they fall for each other. A school project that deliberately mismatches black and white photos of classmates with captions of each kid’s “truth” gets considerable notice. Queer identity in high school is a rough road, and we follow Pen along it as she finds her feet under her and learns to hold her ground. Set in Canada; thought-provoking.