You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane

innocent

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

when she woke

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).


 

Dear World by Bana Alabad

dear world

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A child’s account of surviving and escaping the ongoing war in Syria.

What made me pick it up: Bana Alabed’s pleas for peace and assistance reached the world through Twitter, but I knew her book would tell a more complete story.

My favorite things: Bana’s clear voice is heartwrenching, a reminder to care for refugees. Her mother, Fatemah, includes essays written for Bana, explaining her point of view and her experiences. Their words in concert with each other serve to humanize the numbers and news reports and give a personal story to the images of Syrian children that have circulated widely.

Who it’s great for:  Adults and teens trying to understand the war in Syria. Readers who to understand what the day to day struggle is like in the Syrian Civil War, and those wanting to build empathy for refugees.

Abby’s rating: four shells


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


 

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

shadowshaper

Originally published in: 2015

What’s it about: Brooklyn teen Sierra Santiago’s summer vacation is interrupted by weeping street murals, family secrets, and a kind of magic that links the world of the living with that of the dead.

What made me pick it up: I remember seeing good buzz about this when it came out a couple of years ago, so I checked it out when I saw that the audiobook was available.

My favorite things: Once I started this book I didn’t want to stop. The story is engaging and moves quickly with a sense of urgency that will make it hard to put down after “one more chapter.” Woven throughout the story are critiques of a sort of neocolonialist anthropology, gentrification, and erasure of cultural traditions – all of which come together to create a complex portrait of a changing Brooklyn.

Who it’s great for:  Teens interested in urban fantasy.

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


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


 

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

animators

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: The story of two friends, partners in art and life, creating animated works that bring them a sort of fame while also forcing them to confront difficult truths and traumas in their lives that other people would like to leave in the past.

What made me pick it up: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available, has gotten a lot of good press, and has a cover that makes me want to read it.

My favorite things: Whitaker treats characters suffering addictions almost without judgment in a way that is refreshingly humane. She takes the time to develop every character’s layers and the complexity of their relationships.

Who it’s great for:  Readers looking for complex relationships between characters or an exploration of identity.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


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


 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

thepower

Originally published in: 2016 (North American edition 2017)

What’s it about: This reads like a thought experiment gone very, very right.What would happen in a world where women developed a physical power that men couldn’t match?

What made me pick it up: I think I put this on hold because there was a blurb from Margaret Atwood on the cover. But I’m also just a sucker for speculative work that is (post)apocalyptic and/or dystopian.

My favorite things: Somehow this book is both a very heavy-handed critique of global patriarchy and an electrifying story. The novel is bookended by letters between two writers, Naomi and Neil, whose gendered interactions flip the script in a way that will entertain anyone tired of mansplaining.

Who it’s great for:  Fan’s of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Readers looking for unapologetically feminist read that doesn’t sacrifice story for politics.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


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


 

Light the Dark edited by Joe Fassler

light the dark

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A variety of writers reflect on specific lines or verses that they find to be particularly profound or informative and discuss how those lines impact their writing processes or the way they approach writing.

What made me pick it up: Much like Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers, I found this while browsing a curated list of downloadable audiobooks and ebooks collected to inspire writers during NaNoWriMo.

My favorite things: This is such an interesting insight into the minds and processes of so many favorite contemporary authors. I would never have connected some of these writers to the pieces that inspire them. There are more than forty contributing authors and each essay is relatively short, which makes this an easy book to dip in and out of as you need inspiration or have the time to pick it up.

Who it’s great for:  WriMos in need of a little inspiration through the second half of NaNoWriMo. Anyone interested in reading about the writing that highly regarded contemporary writers find inspirational and formative.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


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


 

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

claytonbyrd

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: Clayton Byrd loves nothing more than playing his blues harp with grandfather – Cool Papa Byrd. When Cool Papa Byrd passes suddenly Clayton struggles to adjust. He leaves home hoping to catch up with Cool Papa’s band of Bluesmen and finds an unexpected adventure on the way.

What made me pick it up: This is one of the finalists for this year’s National Book Award in Young People’s Literature – the winner will be announced tomorrow!

My favorite things: There’s a reason why Rita Williams-Garcia has won so many awards – she’s a masterful writer who never shies away from difficult topics. She takes a tale of love, loss, and grief and makes it thrilling but relatable. She weaves music throughout the story, making Clayton’s world come alive. No character is two dimensional, rather, she writes everyone as a full and complex person.

Who it’s great for:  Middle-grade readers looking for a story that treats black boys as real people and not as stereotypes. Fans of Williams-Garcia’s other work. Readers interested in the roles music can play in life.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


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


 

Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers by James Gulliver Hancock

artists writers

Originally published in: 2014

What’s it about: A visual biographical encyclopedia of innovative individuals throughout history.

What made me pick it up: I was intrigued when I stumbled across it while browsing an ebook and downloadable audiobook collection curated to inspire writers during NaNoWriMo.

My favorite things: Hancock believes that the objects and people that individuals surround themselves with can be very revealing. He enhances the understanding of notable historical figures by focusing on these aspects of their lives, rather than simply on their achievements. Hancock’s cartoonish drawings are an engaging jumble of small images that help to paint a picture of each subject’s life.

Who it’s great for:  Readers intrigued by the daily lives of famous artists and thinkers. Fans of graphic biographies.

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


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


 

The Goat by Anne Fleming

thegoat

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: Kid and her parents leave Toronto to spend six months in New York City dogsitting for her father’s cousin while her mother performs in an off-broadway play. She befriends Will and the two of them confront their biggest fears to determinedly search for a goat rumored to bring seven years good luck to anyone who can spot him.

What made me pick it up: This was recommended by a colleague whose current ambition is to convince as many people as possible to read this book.

My favorite things: Fleming does a great job of introducing a variety of obstacles that characters face in daily life- in the form of disability, mental and physical illness, and loss – without sensationalizing them at all. Rather, each character’s experience of difference is matter-of-fact and something to be taken in stride rather than agonized over throughout the book. It’s a fun, quirky story that many readers will find both outrageous and relatable.

Who it’s great for: Middle-grade readers who like a quirky adventure. Fans of E.L. Konigsburg.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


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