Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, Ghana Must Go, begins with an end. Sai family patriarch Kweku lies in the dewy grass before dawn, slowly dying in his garden amidst a riot of African color and beauty. Get up, call for help, the reader wants to shout at this Hopkins-educated physician; instead, Kweku passively waits for his heart to stop beating.
Selasi’s title refers to the forced expulsion of Ghanaians from neighboring Nigeria as well as to the distinctive, cheap carryall bags in which they stuffed their belongings. Dr. Kweku Sai is from Ghana and his wife Fola is Nigerian. They meet in Pennsylvania where he is completing surgical training and she is in law school. They marry, have four intelligent and driven children, move to Boston, and continue to rack up professional and personal accomplishments. The Sai family epitomizes immigrant success until one unjust and cataclysmic event causes the foundation of the family to crumble and collapse. Written in three sections, “Gone,” “Going,” and lastly “Go,” Selasi allows her characters to reveal the insecurities which enabled their family bonds to stretch, break, and perhaps reform. Recollections, some of which are poignant and others shocking, are integral to understanding each of the family members.
This is a story of Africa and of America, of third world attainment and stellar achievements by anyone’s first world standards, and of a family unraveled and lives destroyed. It is a story of putting one foot in front of the other when one foot is in Africa and the other foot stateside. It is a story of leaving and of rebuilding. With its image-rich prose, acidic observations, and perceptive take on family relationships, Ghana Must Go is also very much a story to enjoy.
Jennifer McMahon’s latest novel, The One I Left Behind, begins in 1985. Reggie is thirteen years old and a murderer is terrorizing her hometown of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. The serial killer, nicknamed Neptune by the local police and press, is kidnapping and murdering women, leaving their bodies to be found by local police days later. The fourth and final victim is Reggie’s mother Vera. Unlike the other three women, Vera’s body is never found. For years the case is left unsolved, leaving Reggie with no closure.
Twenty five years later in 2010, a woman is found at a homeless shelter and identified as Vera. Vera’s reappearance forces Reggie to face emotions she hasn’t dealt with in years. At the same time, it reopens the unsolved Neptune murder cases, and creates new questions—why was Vera allowed to live, and where has she been all these years? Reggie brings her ailing mother back to their hometown to stay somewhere familiar in hopes that it will make her more comfortable. As the residents of Brighton Falls learn that Vera is alive and in town, the desire to learn the identity of Neptune is renewed. When another woman is kidnapped, Reggie realizes that Neptune has returned and takes matters into her own hands, investigating the murders and new disappearance on her own.
Switching back and forth between Reggie’s childhood, the present, and excerpts from a book about the Neptune serial killer, The One I Left Behind gives readers multiple sides to this mystery, taking readers along for Reggie’s search for the truth about her mother’s disappearance. The One I Left Behind is a thrilling mystery that readers won’t be able to put down.
Elizabeth Strout is adept at creating flawed, ordinary characters mired in a changing, unforgiving world, and instilling in them traits that all can recognize. In her latest novel, The Burgess Boys, the highly regarded writer returns to a small town in Maine with an observant, tragic-comic story of a family as burdened by its past as it is overwhelmed by its messy present. Clearly, navigating life and the human condition is never easy.
For Jim and Bob Burgess it is also complicated by family ties. Both New York attorneys, the middle-aged brothers fled long ago from down-on-its-luck Shirley Falls, where now Somali immigrants are changing the face of their hometown. Their divorced sister, Susan, has remained. When her lonely teenage son, Zach, is accused of a hate crime involving a Somali mosque, the brothers reluctantly return to Shirley Falls to obviate the legal crisis. It's hard to tell who is under more stress: the Mainers and immigrants who fret over what Zach's crime means for the community they now share, or the Burgess siblings who continue to define themselves by past demons. Jim, a celebrated defense lawyer with a big house and pretty wife, is revered by his siblings despite acting like a jerk to his younger brother. Nice guy Bob, who works for Legal Aid, drinks way too much. Scarring everyone is a long buried family tragedy that continues to ooze close to the surface.
Strout, whose last novel was the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, has again drawn with polished prose emotionally untidy characters whose seemingly unremarkable lives yield the hallmark of human character. With a reflective tone and pitch-perfect dialogue, Strout's fluid storytelling yields a simple, yet difficult message: connections matter.
The darling daughters of Downton Abbey would surely have shopped at Selfridge’s, England’s first modern department store. In Shopping, Seduction, & Mr. Selfridge, Lindy Woodhead transports readers to a bygone era when nattily dressed ladies and gentlemen made shopping an event. Woodhead also shines a light on the man behind the mannequins, the inimitable Harry Gordon Selfridge.
Selfridge began as a stock boy working at Marshall Field’s in Chicago and eventually became a partner in that established business. His dreams were big and at the turn of the century he was able to make his magic happen in England. He wanted to bring to London a store that was unrivaled in extravagance. It took several years, but London’s first dedicated department store built from scratch opened in a halo of hype. The publicity was well-deserved, as the store really was larger than life. With six acres of floor space and every conceivable amenity, Selfridge’s was a legacy to limitless luxury. There were elevators and a bank, an ice skating rink and a restaurant with a full orchestra. Shopping was like an entertainment at Selfridge’s, where regular customers could mingle with celebrities such as Anna Pavlova and Noel Coward.
Woodhead tells the story of the retail revolution of the early twentieth century, but also focuses on the rise and fall of one visionary, but ultimately doomed man. Selfridge’s life was as large as his store and filled with mistresses, mansions, and money. This is the fascinating true story that inspired the Masterpiece series Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven, currently airing on PBS.
Cities are constantly abuzz with activity in every direction. But how much of what goes on around a person is seen? And how much noticed? In her book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz gets to the bottom of how people can do their best to take note of the world around them. The author starts by taking her dog around a large city block in Manhattan. As Horowitz is a dog behaviorist by training, she is well aware that the things a dog notices on a walk are not the same as those a human does. (Dog walkers, of course, notice more of the same things as dogs than do other humans.)
After this control walk, Horowitz then invites others to take similar walks with her. She takes along a sound designer, who notices much more of the clatter of the city, things that Horowitz herself had largely tuned out. She realizes, however, that along with the noise of traffic and construction she has also come to ignore pleasant sounds such as birds, and children playing. Another walk is with a child, whose perception and interests are considerably different from the author’s. Additionally, Horowitz accompanies a geologist, an artist, and a number of others, all of which expand her own horizons of what she can discover on a walk around the block. She urges all of us to simply pay attention, and the rewards of looking can be marvelous.
Gingersnap, by Patricia Reilly Giff, introduces Jayna and her brother, Rob, who are living in upstate New York in 1944. Their parents were killed in a car accident, and Rob, a Navy man, was able to remove Jayna from foster care to create their little family. Both are wonderful cooks, with Jayna specializing in soups, and they dream of owning a restaurant of their own one day.
But World War II is still raging in the Pacific and Rob gets called to duty, leaving Jayna in the care of their landlady, Celine. Between Celine’s falling hairpieces and constant harping on good manners, Jayna can’t imagine a worse guardian. When a telegram arrives informing her that Rob’s ship has sunk and he is missing, a distraught Jayna decides to run away. She needs to get to Brooklyn to find a woman named Elise, who may just be her grandmother. Elise operates a bakery named Gingersnap--which is coincidentally Jayna’s nickname. Jayna packs her bag, an old recipe book, and her turtle named Theresa. She is guided on the journey by the helping hand of a partially visible girl ghost who first appeared when Rob shipped out.
Jayna meets Elise and becomes part of the fabric of her Brooklyn neighborhood. As Jayna gets to know Elise, she longs for this wonderful, gentle woman to be her grandmother. The two work together and Jayna’s soups become a popular fixture at the bakery. These simple, yet yummy sounding soup recipes appear between each chapter and reflect Jayna’s mood and situation. Jayna’s voice is real and while the setting is historical, the separation of families and feelings of displacement are easily understood today. As Jayna struggles to maintain hope for her brother and find a family, readers rooting for this spirited little girl will be delighted with the last recipe in the book - Welcome Home Soup.
A deadly allergy to the sun, and a sport which involves jumping off skyscrapers - what at first glance may appear to be a work of science fiction, is actually Jacquelyn Mitchard's new teen novel What We Saw at Night. Allie Kim and her two best friends, Rob and Juliet, have a rare disease known as Xeroderma Pigmentosum. This is an inherited genetic disorder which manifests as an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light, and in some cases neurological complications. The three teens must spend their waking hours at night because exposure to the sun can be lethal. It is an isolated kind of existence that fosters a tight bind between the friends. When Juliet, the most adventurous of the trio decides to take up Parkour, her friends join her in learning this extreme sport which involves climbing, jumping, and tumbling between buildings. A dangerous sport during normal daylight hours, it takes on a new level of risk as they work to master the techniques at night.
During one evening of building jumping, the friends see something that changes everything. After landing a particularly difficult jump onto the balcony of an apartment building, they see what appears to be a murder. Tension develops as Allie and her friends have different ideas regarding what was actually witnessed. The tone of the novel takes on a sinister feeling as Allie tries to uncover if a young woman was actually killed at the hands of a man in the vacant apartment. Her inquiries have attracted the attention of someone who could prove to be even more deadly than her disease. Learn what life is like with Xeroderma, discover the exciting sport of Parkour, and relish What We Saw at Night.
Heading out on a lifetime of adventures is considered in two new books for young readers. Flight 1-2-3, written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout, is an ultra-clear counting book featuring the people and activities found at an airport. Intentionally using a typeface that is used in airport signage worldwide, the sleek, digitally-created images allow for first-time flyers to experience this new setting calmly and without fear. Perfect as an introduction to this often unfamiliar place, it covers elevators, security agents, and the gates, along with other concepts that a young child will encounter in the terminal and concourses.
Barbara Kerley’s The World is Waiting for You, full of incredible National Geographic photos, is truly a young explorer’s dream. This photo essay encourages the young and young-at-heart to follow whatever path they might choose. While many books focus on inner journeys, this is one that strongly pushes for literal treks. The text presses the reader to tackle apathy and laziness, and push forward to “climb”, “soar”, or even “poke around for a while”. Kerley, author of other National Geographic titles such as One World, One Day and A Cool Drink of Water, is a former Peace Corps volunteer whose belief in sharing the world with kids shines through. Photo credits and inspirational quotes complete the book, which will likely inspire young readers to see the featured places themselves.
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.