Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

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Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A modern southern gothic story set in a contemporary rural Mississippi Gulf Coast community chronicling a family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, incarceration, and the ghosts of past injustices.

What made me pick it up: I read Ward’s early novel Salvage the Bones last year and was excited to pick up her newest work.

My favorite things: Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and almost painful to read from the first page. The climax, however inevitable, left me stunned and heartbroken – but I’m here for it. The saddest parts of Ward’s stories don’t feel like cheap shots or emotional manipulation the way writing sometimes comes across. Instead, it feels honest and necessary. I love the way she seamlessly incorporates ghosts and spirits into the fabric of this family’s life.

Who it’s great for: Southern gothic readers; fans of Beloved.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Think Winter’s Bone meets a politician’s pre-campaign book release and that’s pretty much what you’ve got.

What made me pick it up: Let me start by saying that I’m not from Appalachia, but I grew up in a much more economically stable (read: college town) community nearby. Growing up I was acutely aware that there was a sharp economic and cultural divide between families associated with the university and those from working-class backgrounds that had been around for generations. That is to say that I am not from the community Vance is discussing, but I have lived most of my life in close proximity to another part of Appalachia and have been consistently disappointed with the way it is represented and talked down to by people who want to ‘save’ it. When I saw the rave reviews for Hillbilly Elegy I was excited to read a voice from within Appalachia speaking about it.

My favorite things: Okaaaay. I did not love this book. I probably should have read reviews a bit more closely, but I wasn’t prepared for this book to be quite so politically charged as it is. Maybe I read it this way because I am inclined to disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, but it seems to me that Vance has incredibly little compassion for the members of a community he professes to love. Vance spends the first chunk of the book singing the praises of his hillbilly Mamaw and Papaw and then subtly, and perhaps not intentionally, turns toward a much more critical discussion of the challenges faced by these communities. What I am struggling with the most is that this book is being read and celebrated as universally true for people from Appalachian communities when it is definitely not. Vance’s Appalachia is comprised of people who would rather talk about working hard than actually work hard, suffer addiction due to poor choices, and are – apparently – all white.

Abby recommends: Look, everybody seems to be reading this book right now and many are taking it as a universal truth for Appalachian life and poverty. So, definitely read this, but then read bell hooks’ poetry in Appalachian Elegy.


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Jomny, a lonely alien, is sent to Earth to study humans in this charming graphic novel. Instead, he encounters a variety of Earth’s creatures and, through their humanity, learns some of life’s biggest lessons.

What made me pick it up: When I saw the word aliebn on a book spine I thought my fever brain was playing tricks on me, but after I took a closer look I needed to know more about these aliebns.

My favorite things: It was adorable, funny, poignant, and smart. Each of the creatures Jomny meets teaches him something new about what it means to be an individual and still be part of a community. Like the story, the art is simple but compelling. I especially enjoyed the endpapers of the book, which contained a log Jomny keeps of his adventures on Earth as well as his charming interpretations of each interaction.

Who it’s great for: If you loved The Giving Tree but also love The Oatmeal, this book is for you.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this title at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Hunger by Roxane Gay

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Roxane Gay reflects on her life in her body. She explores struggles with size, eating disorders, assault, and what it’s like to exist in a world that wasn’t designed to accommodate your body.

What made me pick it up: I love Roxane Gay’s work and I thought this book sounded important.

My favorite things: Take a deep breath before you dive into this because it is deep, raw, and painfully honest. She doesn’t shy away from details of her assault or the ways she thinks of her assailant to this day. She even takes the time to explain why she’s more comfortable identifying as a victim of sexual violence rather than as a survivor – without condemning or questioning those who do identify as survivors. The courage and openness throughout Hunger is consistently inspiring.

Who it’s great for: Fans of Roxane Gay’s other work. Memoir readers looking for something heavy to dig into.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Find this book at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell

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Originally published in: 2013

What it’s about: COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg considers her own experiences and gives advice for women on investing fully in career and life. You can also read Erica’s review of Sandberg’s later book Option B.

What made me pick it up: I’ve been meaning to check it out for a while and the audiobook was available to check out.

My favorite things: Some will argue that this is geared only toward certain women, but Sandberg does a great job of identifying her own privileges and trying to adapt her advice to women who may not have the same opportunities. She also encourages women to fully commit to whatever decisions they make even if they aren’t the same ones she would make.

Who it’s great for: Women looking for advice on career and life or insight into one woman’s rise to the top. Readers who enjoyed Sandberg’s later book, Option B.

Abby’s rating: three-shells


Find this book at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: In this second book of the Lowriders in Space series, three friends close their garage and journey to the center of the earth to rescue their cat, Genie, from Mitlantecuhtli the Aztec god of the underworld.

What made me pick it up: This was recommended and lent to me by a coworker.

My favorite things: Camper’s liberal use of Spanish vocabulary (with translation in footnotes and a glossary at the end of the book) adds depth to the story. The translations appear after only the first time each Spanish word appears and I appreciated the assumption that the readers are capable of learning terms that might be new to them. The art, making use of only blue, red, and black, is fun and engaging and has the feel of something that might have started as a (very impressive) doodle.

Who it’s great for: Tweens looking for a fun adventure with a bit of mythology thrown in the mix.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Marlena by Julie Buntin

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Fifteen-year-old Cat is uprooted from her middle-class suburban life and finds herself a member of the rural poor. She fills her days with Marlena, the neighbor with whom she develops a teenage friendship defined by wildness, loss, and addiction.

What made me pick it up: I heard a review of this on a podcast and was immediately intrigued.

My favorite things: The story is told through both reflections by an adult Cat still struggling to make sense of her time with Marlena, and by teenage Cat as she experiences the life-defining friendship. Cat’s two voices weave together to seamlessly to illustrate the desperation and urgency of her friendship with Marlena. Bonus: the whole time I was reading I had that one Wallflowers song playing in my head.

Who it’s great for: This is a good choice for fans of Elena Ferrante or readers looking for something with a similar feel to Winter’s BoneThe Lovely Bones, or History of Wolves.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Set in the politically charged late 1960s Chicago, a young girl struggles to solve the mystery behind the death of her strange and alluring upstairs neighbor. She lives her life through monsters and horror films, desperately trying to escape the reality of her family’s struggles and her own outcast status.

What made me pick it up: I read a preview of this that made it sound incredible. (It was.)

My favorite things: First, let me just say that I was so pleased to find “Book One” written on the spine because this volume opens up far too many threads to close. The story is mysterious, heavy, exciting, and grim, and it pulls you in from the beginning. The art is made up of these beautifully crosshatched panels made up to look like the notebook of a young girl, and Ferris effortlessly recreates classic works of art in her own style.

Who it’s great for: Fans of graphic novels looking for monsters, murder, mystery, or history.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A graphic memoir exploring love, art, loss, memory, and mortality.

What made me pick it up: I can’t seem to pass up a graphic memoir.

My favorite things: Radtke’s art is done in a simple grayscale that perfectly complements her story. I loved the way she tied together her own restlessness with an examination of mortality. The way she chronicles her own loss and grief through a growing fascination with deserted towns is honest and compelling.

Who it’s great for: Readers looking for an engaging exploration of mortality and meaning. Fan’s of artists’ memoirs.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A fictionalized account of a 1979 murder that took place in the author’s hometown while he was in high school. Told through 6 different narrators – including the killer.

What made me pick it up: I was intrigued by the plot, but when I realized it was based on a real murder from my hometown’s past I knew I had to read it.

My favorite things: Wolf changed the name of the town and the people involved, but he kept the names of streets, events, and local businesses. For a native of the town where the murder occurred, reading this was a bizarre experience but still engaging. I love the variety of voices, used to paint a more complete picture of the events that took place, with each of the narrators trying to discover ways they could have prevented the senseless murder.

Who it’s great for: Older teens and adults who crave mysteries or suspense. The short chapters and rotating narration make this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.