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).


 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

girlwho

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Luna is stolen from her mother before she can walk and is rescued and lovingly raised raised by a witch who unintentionally grants her magic. She helps to unravel truth from the lies that mirror it in a battle that pits love and compassion against sorrow and violence.

What made me pick it up: This is the winner of the most recent Newbery Medal – I added it to my TBR list as soon as the award was announced.

My favorite things: The family Luna knows and loves is charming in their absurdity; an ancient witch who is feared and loved and, above all else, misunderstood; a perfectly tiny dragon with the capacity to become simply enormous if only he were ready to grow up; and a bog monster older than time who speaks almost exclusively in poetry. I love Barnhill’s whimsical style and it is sure to help young readers expand their vocabularies.

Who it’s great for: Middle grade and younger readers who like fantasy and can handle a bit of darkness. Those looking for strong female characters will find many here to inspire.

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


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

dreamland

 

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The story of a 1921 murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma unwinds through two perspectives: William’s, set at the time of the murder, and Rowan’s in the present day.

What made me pick it up: I read a prepub review that piqued my interest and put it on hold as soon as our library ordered it.

My favorite things: Latham uses the dual timelines explore the parallels between racially motivated violence in the early 20th century and the violence of today that has inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the 1921 massacre of Tulsa’s African American community, the author effectively uses mystery and suspense to bring attention to an often forgotten part of American history.

Who it’s great for: Teens interested in understanding racial violence and justice in American history. Fans of murder mysteries and readers of historical fiction.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (2013)

womanI have complex feelings about this book. It has such a strong narrator, equally well represented in audio. It will appeal to 20- and 30-something professional women who don’t feel like they have it all figured out. And yet… it never really got past three shells for me. So I set out to interview my friend and fellow librarian Shannon (and the one who recommended it to me) to find out where I took a turn. Here goes:

Erica: You really enjoyed this book. Why?
Shannon:  I really liked The Woman Upstairs because it was feminist. This woman makes her own choices and goes her own way. They might be bad choices, but they are hers and she owns them. Also, the central conceit of being the “woman upstairs” really spoke to me. How women are supposed to be nice and sweet and unnoticed most of the time, and how the main character railed against that.
Erica: Why did you think I would like The Woman Upstairs? What made you recommend it to me?
Shannon:  I recommended it because we share similar values and ways of thinking. We both enjoy feminist characters and ideas, we both strive to be strong and independent like the main character, and I have the feeling we both have felt the way the main character does as a woman upstairs: chafing against what society expects women to be.
Erica: Yes. But back to your earlier comment about how she rails against that concept. Does she? I got the sense that she thought about doing it but kind of just kept going along with her day to day existence as expected. She just thought about it a lot.
Shannon: It’s been a while since I read it, so my memory may be hazy.
[SEMI-SPOILER WARNING]
Erica: Ok, so she kind of does art when she has her awakening. And she kind of has an affair. And then at the end she takes a small break from teaching to travel. But then what? Does she remake her life? Or does she fall back passively into the same life?
Shannon: I have the suspicion that she falls back, and that’s the true tragedy of it, I suppose. Or is this a watershed moment for her? I don’t know.
Erica: I also thought that nothing would change. She had tried and failed and been broken. I mean, yeah, sure, she’s angry. But she was kind of already angry. I think I was disappointed that her drive just wasn’t there. I was half asleep on the plane when I got to the point where she went to Paris and I was so excited that she was finally doing it! Making her art! Doing her thing! Traveling! And then I listened again and was like “Oh…” She just… doesn’t do what I thought. I think it was the let down that kept me from rating it higher. I think I wanted this strong voice to be a strong character. How do you reconcile the two?
Shannon: Well I guess that’s the thing. Her character is complicated, and that is what makes her interesting as well as frustrating. I think you would need an entirely different character to have the ending we want, where she strikes out on her own and does her art. Maybe we are supposed to take her as an example of what not to do.

And there you have it. Sometimes characters who don’t have it all figured out just don’t figure it out. I for one am not fond of that type of narrative, but that’s ok. Every book its reader.

Erica’s rating: three-shells
Shannon’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells