How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir is Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: A memoir told through reflections on life-shaping relationships and interactions with animals.

What made me pick it up:  This book is SO CUTE!

My favorite things: I was pleasantly surprised by how effortlessly readable this was. Montgomery’s anecdotes vary between heartwarming and heartbreaking, but always highlight the importance of connection and family – even when your family doesn’t fit the traditional mold. I also found Rebecca Green’s illustrations to be absolutely charming.

Who it’s great for: Fan’s of Sy Montgomery’s other work. Readers interested in memoirs with unusual structures.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Gmorning Gnight by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: 100 bits of encouragement from Lin-Manuel Miranda in the form of pairs of morning and evening tweets with illustrations by Jonny Sun.

What made me pick it up: A better question is what took me so long to pick it up?

My favorite things: I love that you can flip to any page in this book and find something inspiring to lift your mood and affirm your self-confidence.

Who it’s great for: Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and/or Jonny Sun. Anyone in need of a little pick-me-up.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

American Hate: Survivors Speak Out Edited by Arjin Singh Sethi

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about:  Sethi met with a variety of survivors of hate crimes and those that lost family members to hate crimes, drawing an explicit link between the rise in hate-inspired violence with the rhetoric of the current administration.

What made me pick it up: I saw this arrive at our library and said: “I do not need to read that.” So a colleague promptly put it on hold for me and I couldn’t resist when it appeared on my desk.

My favorite things: Sethi clearly lets the survivors drive their own narratives rather than shaping the interviews with leading questions. He is completely invisible in each interview. I also appreciated the recognition of the variety of people impacted by hate crimes. Sethi includes the voices of people marginalized based on religions (Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish identities), race and ethnicity, gender, and ability.

Who it’s great for:  Readers interested in learning more about the realities of violence based in hate in the United States as told by those who have survived it.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

There There by Tommy Orange

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about:  An exploration of identity, community, and meaning-making in contemporary Native life. Told through multiple perspectives, there is a focus on what it means to be, as Orange describes, an Urban Indian when the rest of the world believes the American Indian story exists only on reservations and in history books.

What made me pick it up: I read a few promising blurbs. It also has a page count under 300 and my attention span is short right now.

My favorite things: I tend to love stories told from multiple perspectives, and Orange does an incredible job of tying all of his varied characters’ lives together. He also brings in his own identity as an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma to inform his characters’ experiences.

Who it’s great for:  People interested in contemporary Native American voices and experiences and readers of stories that complicate our understanding of identity and the world.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about:  17-year-old Kiko Himura spends her days struggling with her social anxiety and feeling like her half-Japanese identity means she’ll never fit in anywhere – especially not with her mother. She lives for the day she’ll escape to art school, but first, she has to get in.

What made me pick it up: It was a finalist for the Morris Award given to the best YA debut novel.

My favorite things: Bowman includes the most magical descriptions of Kiko’s art. They make her paintings and drawings come to life and reflect and inspire real emotion. There’s a strong romantic element to the story that is perfectly complicated.

Who it’s great for:  Teens interested in a complicated romance with lots of family drama.

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


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

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Originally published in: 2017 (English translation in 2018)

What’s it about: A collection of brief biographies of a variety of extraordinary women whose lives have left lasting impact on history – all in graphic novel form.

What made me pick it up: I couldn’t not pick it up.

My favorite things: Bagieu profiles a wide variety of women from artists to activists, doctors to astronauts. Each woman gets several pages for her story to paint a more full picture of her life and impact

Who it’s great for:  For teens and adults who are fans of Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders and Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky.

Abby’s rating: five shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Roughneck by Jeff Lemire

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Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A former hockey player struggling to keep it together find his life interrupted when his younger sister comes home years after disappearing. The siblings wrestle with violence and addiction, family and identity, and a constant sense of alienation.

What made me pick it up: I love Jeff Lemire.

My favorite things: I can’t remember where I read it, but someone described this as Fargo but in Canada and I can’t think of a better way to describe the cold, bleak tone. As always, Lemire’s art is stunning and perfectly fits the mood of the dark story and complex characters.

Who it’s great for:  Fans of Lemire’s other work, particularly Essex County. Graphic novel readers looking for a family drama.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon.


 

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane

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Originally published in: 2016

What’s it about: A quick guide to avoiding implicating yourself in criminal activity while talking to the police. Tl;dr don’t talk to the police. No really, don’t.

What made me pick it up: It is very short and the title intrigued me.

My favorite things: Duane tries to balance every critique of police interrogation techniques with positive words about their work. He doesn’t identify the police as a problem, but rather insists that they are very good at finding evidence – even when it implicates innocent people. Duane also offers very specific advice on what you do have to tell the police and when and how to effectively demand to speak with a lawyer.

Who it’s great for:  Anyone curious about what you actually have to tell the police. A good primer for anyone worried about dealing with the police

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


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

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Originally published in: 2011

What’s it about: In a near-future dystopian United States, Hannah has been subjected to chroming – her skin genetically altered to bright red – to publicly indicate her guilt as a violent felon in a society that has moved quickly toward a theocracy.

What made me pick it up: I’d heard that this was a modern-day Scarlet Letter with a strong Handmaid’s Tale feel, which was impossible to resist.

My favorite things: While the latter part of the book didn’t wow me, the opening and the premise are nearly perfect. Jordan creates a complex main character who wrestles with her own values as she moves away from a total acceptance of the righteous and utterly restrictive laws that rule much of the country. Though she is in a world where religious moralism reigns supreme and bodily autonomy doesn’t exist, her struggle to find peace with herself and her actions gives hope in a time of what feels like insurmountable tension and divisiveness.

Who it’s great for:  Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and other dystopian stories with a strong feminist bent.

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


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Through the Ages.

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: A collection of short stories featuring queer and trans teens by queer and trans writers. The stories span the gamut from fantasy to historical fiction, folklore to realistic stories.

What made me pick it up: I put this on hold as soon as I saw that Malinda Lo contributed a story to this collection.

My favorite things: I love that this collection celebrates a variety of LGBTQ experiences and that in these stories a queer identity doesn’t necessarily mean pain or struggle in the way that common in many books. The stories are short but the emotions are intense! There is enough wildly varying content that there is something for everyone in this collection.

Who it’s great for:  Teens and adults looking for engaging stories with well-developed characters.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).