These posts will always focus on books for young people. At the bottom of each list, however, I will include the books for ‘old people’ that I’ve been reading—but only if they’re at least as good as the rest of the list.
Book of the month:
Forgotten Fire, by Adam Bagdasarian
Historical fiction YA. A teenage boy survives the Turkish massacre of Armenians during and after World War I. The evil depicted in this book would be impossible to bear except for the narrator’s voice: simple, unembellished, straightforward. I could not fully engage with the character, but even that is part of the point here: He lives through things that are inhuman. A book that will introduce readers to a chapter of history that needs to be known. National Book Award nominee, 2000.
- Steal Away, by Jennifer Armstrong. Historical fiction MG. This story of two girls–one white, one black–making their way from the South to the North before the Civil War. An interesting structure, told from three points of view. The structural premise didn’t quite work for me, but the story itself is compelling and well-written.
- Ajeemah and His Son, by James Berry. Historical fiction YA. In 1807, the British outlawed slave trading. The year before that saw slave-traders in a frenzy to do as much “business” as possible before the law took affect. Ajeemah and his son were kidnapped in Ghana, took the Middle Passage to the Caribbean and ended up as slaves on different plantations. An example of a book that “breaks the rules” and, to my mind, succeeds: very short, but YA, and a point of view that jumps all over the place–the two main characters plus omniscience. This took me a while to adjust to while reading, but I predict the story will haunt me for a long time.
- A Step from Heaven, by An Na. Contemporary YA about a Korean immigrant family as told through the daughter. The book spans several years and the first-person present-tense voice ages with the character with great skill. No grand story arc, more a series of anecdotes, but beautifully written.
- Rats Saw God, by Rob Thomas. Contemporary YA. Diary-like entries of past memories set in Houston alternate with narrative of teen Steve York’s current life in San Diego. A hilarious, painful and accurate portrayal of contemporary high-school life. At times the humor seems a little too clever, but I cared about Steve so much that it’s a minor complaint.
- The Truth about Rats, Rules, and Seventh Grade, by Linda Zinnen. Contemporary MG. Sharp and smart first-person voice. A girl learns the truth about the accident that took her father’s life when she was only two. Great use of setting here, refreshing to read about a Midwestern small town instead of a southern one!
Adult fiction: Life, A User’s Manual, by Georges Perec. Destined to become one of my all-time favorites: One hundred rooms in a Paris apartment building, each room holding dozens of stories. A brilliant insane romp of a novel that you will either love or hate.
Food writing: Pig Tails ‘n’ Bread Fruit, by Austin Clarke. A childhood memoir of life in Barbados. Do not look for recipes here; it won’t teach you how to cook, but it might just teach you a little bit about how to live.