What does it mean to be loyal to your friends? To respect your parents? In Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard, Pen’s life is governed by the loyalty and respect others demand from her — loyalty to her best friend Colby, even if it means aiding his womanizing; respect to her old-fashioned parents, even if their expectations of who Pen should be don’t match who Pen knows she is.
What does it mean to be a girl? A boy? Despite others assuming at first glance she’s a boy, Pen knows she’s a girl who likes playing video games, doing yard work and (if she ever finds someone who’s interested) dating other girls. However, her mother wants Pen to wear dresses and makeup, learn how to cook and find a nice boy to date, like Colby. Colby wants Pen to be his wingman and help him create the illusion he’s a nice guy to date because he’s friends with a girl, even if she dresses and acts like one of the guys.
It doesn’t matter to Pen that Colby doesn’t stay in a relationship for long, that is until two things happen: One, she meets Olivia, one of Colby’s former flings who’s keeping a secret; two, she gets a girlfriend in Blake, a fellow classmate who Colby was initially interested in dating. These two new relationships force Pen to reevaluate her role as friend and daughter and her understanding of loyalty and respect. She’ll make some hard decisions about the type of person she wants to be as well as the types of people she wants in her life.
Girard captures not only how complicated friendships can become as children grow into teenagers but also how hard it is to struggle with the world’s perception of who you should be and how you should act versus who you know yourself to be. Girl Mans Up is brutally honest from start to finish in its depictions of gender identity, sexuality and bullying as well as the complications that accompany strained family relationships. It’s not an easy book in terms of topic, although it is a quick read, and Pen is a strong, complex character. Readers looking for more books featuring LGBTQ characters and themes should also check out The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey and Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown.
For some, having magic run in your family would be pretty cool; you could heal injuries, conjure light and even talk to the dead. But for Alex, who watched magic drive away her father and distort her memories of her favorite aunt, magic is nothing but trouble and pain. Seeking to escape her family’s struggles, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her magic. But in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, rejecting the gifts of your ancestors comes with horrific consequences, and Alex is going to have to work very hard to fix her mistake if she ever wants to see her family again.
The trouble begins on Alex’s Deathday, the day her entire family (living and dead) gather to bestow their blessings on a bruja, or witch, newly come into her power. When Alex damages the cantos they were performing, she calls an entity known as the Devourer, who then steals her family away. To rescue them, Alex will have to journey to the world of Los Lagos, an in-between limbo where nothing is what it seems, accompanied by Rishi, her best friend, and an untrustworthy brujo named Nova. There, she’ll have to face horrific monsters, powerful curses and her own painful memories as she begins to understand not only her role as one of the most powerful bruja in a generation, but also her place in the long tradition of her family.
Córdova expertly blends Latin American traditions, Latinx culture and urban fantasy to create a fresh, richly detailed story filled with diverse characters, but Labyrinth Lost isn’t just about magic. Alex’s physical journey may take her through the twisted wonderland of Los Lagos, but her emotional journey requires her to work through her fears and anger in learning to accept her family’s love and acceptance.
Fans of the book should know this is the first of the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy, although there’s no publication date yet for the second book. Readers who enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone or When the Moon Was Ours should consider giving Labyrinth Lost a try.
In 1943, Virginia’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory had a problem: It needed computers to help engineer better airplanes to guarantee American success over the aerial battlefields of World War II. The computers required were not the electronic devices we use today; instead, they were women with comprehensive mathematics backgrounds. Women who have largely been forgotten by history despite their role in shaping it.
And a core group of these "hidden figures" were black.
Using research and interviews, Margot Lee Shetterly highlights the lives of three “human computers” in particular — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson — who worked at Langley during the war and, once it was established, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In doing so, she returns these women and their fellow “computers” to their proper place in the tale of one of mankind’s greatest achievements: space travel. The intertwined stories of each woman provide a deeper insight into the ingenuity, hard work and determination from all involved — male or female, black or white — that took us from airplanes to space shuttles.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race isn’t just about a group of mathematicians and engineers whose efforts helped break the sound barrier and put a man on the moon. Shetterly also delves into how the environment these women worked in was impacted by the racial and sexual politics and tensions of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s and what it meant for each woman to gain the position she did. She celebrates these women and what they achieved despite the discrimination they faced due to their skin color and gender.
When you’re finished with the book, you can check out the movie, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, in theatres January 5, 2017. Also, readers wanting more information on the contributions of African Americans and women to the space race should check out We Could Not Fail by Steven Moss and Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt.
Say “Shakespearean tragedy” and everyone who has attended a high school English class can tell you how the play will end — with blood everywhere and a high body count. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could take control of a character’s destiny and alter his or her fate? What if you could be Romeo and/or Juliet in a way that didn’t end in the lovers' suicides?
Enter from stage right: Ryan North, with his retooling of Romeo and Juliet in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. That’s right, Choose Your Own Adventure, with all the multiple endings (over 100 in all, some still ending in death — this is a Choose Your Own Adventure model after all) that implies. Readers initially can play as Juliet or Romeo, choosing to follow the original story to its bitter end. Or they can pick a different path to see where that could lead — marrying other people, leading a life of piracy, owning a body building gym, operating giant robots, even crashing the plots of other Shakespeare plays.
There are plenty of Easter eggs for Shakespeare fans; North populates the book with references and character cameos from Shakespeare’s other works. If you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, though, don’t worry: You don’t have to understand the references to appreciate North’s wacky sense of humor. He’s also enlisted a whole battalion of illustrators to better visualize the end you choose, also to great comedic effect. This isn’t North’s first time around doing this, either; his first Kickstarter novel To Be or Not to Be, or Hamlet as told as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, was the second-most funded publishing project on Kickstarter as of 2013.
If you’re looking for a good laugh or want to play with a play, Romeo and/or Juliet is an excellent choice, spinning a familiar tale of woe into something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Fans of the book may also enjoy Kate Beaton’s Hark, a Vagrant! or Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.
When we talk about the distant future, we almost always look at it from how our current perspectives will change — what new technologies will emerge, what catastrophes may occur, what discoveries will be made, etcetera. But often we also assume that what we know as true today will still be true in the future.
But what happens if it turns out that what we believe now is proven false in some far-off future?
Chuck Klosterman plays devil’s advocate with that notion in his book But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by examining the idea that what we believe as infallible now will be proven invalid in 100 or 200 or 500 years’ time. Just because we believe it now may not necessarily mean it’s really true. After all, people used to believe that the sun went around the world, among other things. Then the Scientific Revolution happened and our understanding changed. So, Klosterman argues, what’s to say that won’t happen again?
This book is a delightful mind trip, equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining. Klosterman works interviews with various notable scientists, writers and philosophers into the text, posing such questions as “are we right about gravity?” and “do we understand what time is?” as well as “will the NFL and other sports leagues still exist?” and “which artist will define rock’n’roll music for future generations?”. His style of writing and use of humor keep the book from getting too esoteric; Klosterman is just as funny and approachable here as he is in his other works. Just don’t expect any definite answers — But What If We’re Wrong? is largely an exercise in conjecture and speculation.
Because after all, who knows what the future holds?