Prolific author Chris Crutcher turns the old adage "appearances can be deceiving" upside down in his latest novel Period 8. For many teenagers, lies come easily. Bruce “Logs” Logsdon, a teacher at Heller High School, does his best to counteract this fact by running Period 8—a lunchtime class open to students each year. The rules of Period 8 are simple: Talk about anything, do not hurt others, and tell the truth. It becomes a sanctuary for many kids as the one place they can share their thoughts and feelings without fear. When one of the Period 8 kids goes missing, the group dynamic is threatened. It turns out that everyone has something to hide, even the seemingly perfect ones, and the truth soon turns ugly.
On his website, Crutcher labels himself "Author and Loudmouth", so it is no surprise that his writing is often controversial. Period 8 is full of rough, blunt language and the idea of sexuality as a biological imperative rather than a choice drives much of the action. His writing is introspective and revelatory in a slow, deliberate way. Ultimately, the crux is that truth lives outside of the black and white, balancing precariously atop places that often cannot be talked about.
The disappearance of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Amity Gaige’s latest book, Schroder, is a kidnapping tale with a twist: it’s told from the perspective of the kidnapper, who is also the child’s father. Eric Kennedy is writing to his estranged wife from prison, explaining why he abducted their daughter Meadow and chronicling the time he spent on the run with her. His story becomes a broader reflection of his life and his misguided decisions and deceptions.
When Eric feels he’s being unfairly treated in divorce proceedings, he drives off with his daughter during one of his custody visits. Through the course of the story, the reader learns the history of Eric, who was born Erik Schroder in East Berlin. He and his father emigrated to the United States under murky circumstances, and Erik originally used the name Eric Kennedy to gain admission to a summer camp. The name sticks, staying with him into adulthood, although modern technology and identity tracking make it increasingly difficult for him to maintain a false persona. Gaige does an excellent job building two contrasting main characters: Meadow is an incredibly perceptive yet wholly innocent six-year-old, while Eric is a deeply flawed adult who puts his daughter’s safety at risk multiple times. There is a train wreck feel to the story as he makes one poor decision after another.
Gaige drew inspiration for this story from the famous case of Clark Rockefeller, whose multiple false identities were discovered after he kidnapped his daughter in 2008. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal is an account of that story. In Schroder, Gaige manages to show that Eric is not a terrible person, just a “bad choicer”, as she refers to him in an interview with NPR.
Jennie Shortridge’s contemporary novel, Love Water Memory, takes the reader into the unsettled and uncomfortable mind of a woman suffering from dissociative fugue. In this uncommon condition, often caused by a traumatic experience, a person instantly develops a complete amnesia. As the book opens, Lucie is found wading in the waters of San Francisco Bay, hundreds of miles from the Seattle home she shares with her fiancé Grady.
Short chapters using the alternating narrations of Lucie, Grady, and Lucie’s estranged aunt Helen make for a compelling read. Grady, an engineer at Boeing with a dark past of his own tries his best to understand Lucie’s condition. With the help of his large Native American family, Lucie attempts to reconnect with the world that she has utterly forgotten. There are no easy answers; Lucie and Grady are only weeks from their planned wedding, but no longer truly know each other. Helen is the only family Lucie has, and the story of her connection and estrangement from Lucie ties many threads together. Grady’s point of view, as a person trying to understand an amnesiac, provides a good counterpoint to Lucie’s own thoughts. The theme of water flows through the book from the initial rescue of the wading Lucie, Grady’s connection to swimming and his own childhood tragedy, and the surfeit of tears shed during the reconnection process. Successful in taking a baffling medical condition and making it the focus of the novel, Love Water Memory is a look into a world few people ever experience.
Kimberly McCreight’s engrossing debut novel Reconstructing Amelia takes on the hidden life of a teenager. Kate Baron, a single mom and busy attorney, is in a meeting when she receives a call from her 15-year-old daughter’s school. Amelia is being suspended, and the school wants Kate to pick her up immediately. Kate leaves work and hurries to the school to find out what could have possibly caused her good girl daughter to be suspended, but when she reaches the school, there are emergency vehicles outside. She is stunned when they tell her that her daughter has fallen from the roof of the school and is dead. After an investigation, Amelia’s death is ruled a suicide. Weeks later, as a devastated Kate returns to work, she receives an anonymous text message that stops her in her tracks. “She didn't jump.” Could there be another explanation for this unimaginable tragedy?
Slowly, Kate begins to uncover the truth about the last months of Amelia’s life. Through text messages, emails, and social media posts, Kate unearths the secrets that Amelia kept, including a pile of notes in Amelia’s bedroom that say “I hate you.” How could there be so much about her daughter’s life that Kate never knew? McCreight intersperses chapters from Amelia’s perspective among those about Kate’s investigation to give readers a better understanding of what was really happening in Amelia’s life and at her exclusive private school. The story is both suspenseful and heartbreaking as Kate learns the reality of Amelia’s world and the truth about how she died. Reconstructing Amelia will appeal to readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult’s novels or William Landay’s recent bestseller Defending Jacob. Reconstructing Amelia’s emotional depth and exploration of current social issues make this a great pick for your next book club discussion.
Set in New Orleans circa 1920s-50s, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is an original family drama that mixes matters of the heart with elements of magical realism. Dancy, a waitress at the local diner, and William, a young lawyer, fall in love. Tragedy is destined to strike, but not before an extraordinary new life is created.
Meet Bonaventure Arrow and you will discover that he is as exceptional as his name. Although his vocal cords are healthy, he is born without a cry. Denied conventional speech, Bonaventure discovers that he possesses a supernatural sense of hearing. From the sound of dust falling from a moth’s wing to his mother’s cigarette smoke floating to the ceiling, he can hear what no one else can. However, this unworldly gift comes with great responsibility. When he hears a small sadness held inside a small box in a chapel wall and the painful secret hidden in his mother’s closet, he knows he can bring comfort and hopefully closure to his family, who are still plagued by the secrets of the past.
Inspired by the work of Flannery O’Conner and Ann Patchett, Leganski has created an earnest Southern hometown and populated it with mysterious characters. There’s the disfigured man only known as “The Wanderer,” Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole woman who has her own mystic ability, and Brother Harley John Eacomb, a sham preacher who has a feverous following. Faith, love, and providence are all tested in this tale of charm, love and forgiveness.
When the average Joe hears the word “Scientology,” Joe might think of celebrity devotees like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Perhaps Joe thinks of founder L. Ron Hubbard and remembers the vast array of sci-fi pulp fiction stories authored by Hubbard. Does Joe, however, know what Scientology is? Is it a religion, a philosophy, a science or a cult? Lawrence Wright, in his book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief takes an in-depth look at Scientology’s founder, Hubbard, and his successor, David Miscavige, the history of the organization, and its beliefs. Miscavige’s niece, Jenna Miscavige Hill, has a turn telling her story in Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, which she co-authors with Lisa Pulitzer.
In Going Clear, Wright begins with an overview of Hubbard’s erratic early life, which includes stories of bigamy, psychological disturbances, and the near-death experience in the dentist’s chair which led to his formulation of the Scientology doctrine and the publication of what may be its bible, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Wright explores the growth of the movement, its appeal to the Hollywood crowd, and especially looks at the elite, highly committed and rigidly controlled Sea Org corps members.
Hill opens Beyond Belief by describing how she, at seven years old, signed a contract binding herself to “the Sea Organization for the next billion years...” As a Thetan, a sort of immortal soul, she would continue to inhabit bodies to fulfill the contract terms. Living on a ranch with other Sea Org children, she saw her parents only on Saturday nights. Her dedication to Scientology remained strong but as the demands of the group worked to increasingly both isolate and punish Hill, she broke ties with the community, as did her parents. Hill’s book is a very personal account of her Scientology experience, while Wright’s take is more scholarly, but both books examine the dichotomy of an organization espousing independent thought as essential to enlightenment while using coercive and intimidating tactics to maintain its membership base.
Online poker was a hot phenomenon in the early 2000s, and Ship It Holla Ballas! by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback traces the trend by focusing on some of the hottest players. Ship It Holla Ballas is a name coined from a poker term, a celebratory cheer, and urban slang and was chosen as the crew name by an elite group of poker players who studied the online game and figured out how to win. This group of college dropouts met on a popular message board and soon got together in person. While the authors introduce the main players using their online handles, all of them, including, Irieguy, Raptor, and Good2cu, are real guys who got to live lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Most of these young men weren’t even old enough to gamble in a casino when the crew was formed, but they took advantage of the online games to win millions of dollars. Those millions helped these enterprising, if nerdy, teens transform themselves into players with fast cars, big houses, and beautiful women. They eventually took on Vegas, winning some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world, and garnering even more attention.
Readers will get a sense of the personalities of these players and their individual motivations behind dominating this complex card game. The authors frame the story of the crew by outlining the rapid rise and fall of online poker. At one point as many as 15 million people were betting online. But on April 15, 2011, the government shut down the three largest sites, effectively killing the games. This is a story filled with ego, dedication, success, and excess. It is also the story of how the smartest guys in the room parlayed their brains into big bucks.
The Critter Club is a newly published series for the brand new First Chapter book reader. The first in the series, Amy and the Missing Puppy, by Callie Barkley, introduces four friends (Amy, Ellie, Liz and Marion) at their weekly sleepover party just before spring break. While her three friends have cool plans over the vacation week, Amy is left to hang out in her mother’s animal clinic reading Nancy Drew books. When a neighbor’s puppy goes missing, Amy gets inspiration from the classic girl sleuth she's reading and investigates on her own. Luckily, her three friends’ plans are altered so they can assist Amy with her case. Barkley uses simple yet descriptive language to engage the reader and make the story interesting, but not too complicated. With adorable illustrations by Marsha Riti and big, simple text, (as well as charming stories about friendship and animals), The Critter Club series is a great starter series for the young reader. Ellie’s story is next in All About Ellie.
Introducing a new line of fairy books told from the human side! Disney’s Never Girls series transports four girls to Pixie Hollow. In certain circumstances, when Never Land gets too close to our world and at just the right time, "Clumsies" (as the fairies like to call humans) can visit Never Land. In a Blink, by Kiki Thorpe, is the first title in the series. Kate, Lainey and Mia are playing soccer in the backyard, when a blink-talent fairy pops into the garden. Mia’s little sister Gabby still believes in fairies, so when Prilla blinks in front of her, Gabby catches hold and all four girls are plopped into Pixie Hollow. The girls meet Tinker Bell and the other Disney fairies as they enlist their help to get back home. Fans of the Disney Fairies series will love this extension of the series, and it’s perfect for readers who devoured Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Magic fairy books.
In Goldilocks and Just One Bear, a bear lost in the big city stumbles into the apartment of an absent human family. Confused, hungry, and tired, he samples three types of “porridge” (including a bowl of cat food – “too crunchy”), sits on three “chairs” (one of which is a cactus), and sleeps in three beds (he finds the bubble bath “too frothy”). When the family returns, the mama human and the bear are in for a big surprise – and so is every reader with the great good fortune to read this charming book. Leigh Hodgkinson’s sketchy, retro-modern illustrations pack every page with humorous detail and covetable interior design.
Not all Goldilocks stories are guaranteed to have a happy ending. In Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Mo Willems sets up a more ominous premise. As the book begins, Mama Dinosaur rubs her hands together in nefarious fashion: "I SURE HOPE NO INNOCENT LITTLE SUCCULENT CHILD HAPPENS BY OUR UNLOCKED HOME WHILE WE ARE… uhhh… SOMEPLACE ELSE!" she hollers, preparatory to tiptoeing out of the house to hide in the nearby bushes with toothy Papa Dinosaur and a dinosaur visiting from Norway. The reader’s brain automatically supplies the classic version of the Goldilocks tale, so that the two stories, old and new, play simultaneously like melody and harmony.
Maggie Silver (at least that’s her name for this go-round) is a born and bred spy, part of a group of undercover operatives known as the Collective. Her areas of expertise, honed since childhood, are lock-picking and safecracking. Maggie has always been a part of her parents’ missions, but this time she has an assignment all her own in Robin Benway’s snappy, fast-paced Also Known As.
Whisked from the 24-hour sunlight of Iceland, the "Silvers" find themselves ensconced in a SoHo loft apartment. It seems Manhattan-based magazine editor Armand Oliver is working on an exposé that threatens the identities and very existence of the Collective, and sixteen year-old Maggie has been tasked with gaining access to his computer and e-mails. She’s been enrolled at the exclusive Harper School for the express purpose of befriending Armand’s son, Jesse. Used to international capers in the company of adults, Maggie’s forced to navigate intricacies of high school, from the importance of properly accessorizing the mandatory uniform to surviving the oral French exams to making a friend or two. Luckily for her, there’s Roux, a girl known for wearing her plaid skirt and accompanying blouse inside out as an act of rebellion. Ostracized by the rest of the student body for a certain poor choice, Roux happens to be a longtime friend of Jesse’s.
But what happens when the object of your spy mission is handsome, funny, and even romantic and vulnerable? And what if someone you trusted with your life was ready to sell you out? Also Known As is an engaging, entertaining, dialogue-driven read that quickly grabs your attention, defying you to put it down before you’re finished. Consider it the perfect summer teen read, or a novel for a spring day that feels like summer.