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Tag Archives: book club spotlight
Today, we are looking at another memoir of a woman who is grieving the loss of her mother. But unlike our last Spotlight, I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, Michelle Zauner’s relationship with her mother was tender and precocious despite their differences. Her memoir, Crying in H Mart, having spent 55 weeks on the New York Times’s bestseller list, is Zauner’s story of returning to her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, to be by her mother’s side as she succumbs to cancer. Her loss inspired Zauner’s debut studio album, Psychopomp. The album was highly praised, and since then, Zauner has reached commercial success, being named one of Time Magazine’s most influential innovators in 2022.
Michelle was always told that 25 would be an important year for her. After all, it is when her mother, Chongmi, met and married Michelle’s father, an American living in Korea for work. For Michelle, 25 was the year cancer slowly took her mother’s life. As a first-generation Korean-American, Michelle did not have the easiest time growing up. Between facing racism from her peers and pressure from her mother to be the perfect daughter, Michelle poured her heart into creative passions like music and writing. When Chongmi was diagnosed with cancer, Michelle was in a creative and financial rut. Her band at the time wasn’t reaching much success, and her day jobs consisted of whatever part-time gigs she could manage. So when the diagnosis came, she dropped everything to attend to her ailing mother, hoping to repair the bond between them and repay her for the unending love and care she didn’t cherish when she was younger. Throughout the memoir, Zauner attempts to nourish her and her mother’s relationship while nourishing their bodies through learning to cook Korean food.
Crying in H Mart explores the bonds between food, culture, and family. While a strict parent, Zauner’s mother expressed her love in subtle ways, such as preparing traditional meals. Having found comfort and safety in these meals, Zauner learns to cook them for her mother as a quiet way to repay her for the life she was given. Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, her mother was Zauner’s only connection to her Korean side, so she finds herself inexplicably lost when she realizes there is no one left to help keep this half of herself alive. She contemplates how children of immigrants often feel a need to become Americanized to fit in, which leads to polarization or loss of the cultural heritage that their parents represent.
It’s not often that a book comes with a built-in soundtrack, and I highly recommend listening to Psychopomp for a whole reading experience. The album, named after entities that are said to shepherd souls to the afterlife, revolves around Zauner’s mother and her final days, featuring Chongmi on the album cover and her voice in the title song comforting Michelle. This multimedia experience is an excellent way for Book Club Groups to delve into the different ways we grieve, our interpersonal relationships, and how creativity and beauty can blossom from pain.
If you’re interested in requesting Crying in H Mart for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 5 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
Zauner, Michelle. Crying in H Mart. Vintage Books. 2021.
In 2007, with the help of the newly launched iPhone and the increasing popularity of YouTube, Web 2.0 was taking off in a big way. To cash in on this cultural zeitgeist, Nickelodeon premiered what would be one of their biggest sitcom hits, iCarly. And it was through iCarly that Jennette McCurdy caught her big break and became a household name for tweens everywhere. Now, almost ten years after the original show’s ending, McCurdy released her memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, detailing the struggles of being a child actor under the shadow of her abusive mother. Based on her one-woman show of the same name, I’m Glad My Mom Died has sold nearly 2 million copies in the year it has been out, was number one on The New York Times Best Seller List for eight weeks, and is currently on its 50th week on the list. McCurdy’s memoir is not the first from this generation of former teen sitcom stars, but none have come close to reaching such success.
Everything in young Jennette McCurdy’s life revolves around her mother. Debra wanted to be an actress, so Jennette must be an actress. Debra has cancer, so Jennette must submit to daily intrusive body examinations. Debra fears gaining weight and looking old, so 11-year-old Jennette learns to have an eating disorder and undergoes cosmetic procedures. Despite having an innate talent (especially for crying on cue), Jennette doesn’t want to be an actress. But she fiercely loves her mother and doesn’t want to hurt her. Unfortunately, Debra’s controlling behavior only worsens the more famous her daughter becomes, leaving Jennette with no control over her assets or life. When she is 21, Debra dies from cancer, and without her constant presence, Jennette begins to spiral. Her eating disorder and alcoholism worsen, and her mental health hits rock bottom. Without her overbearing mother, she is on her own for the first time, and it almost destroys her. Years pass, and Jennette has to face the reality of her mother’s abuse despite still loving her.
I’m Glad My Mom Died is the perfect avenue for Older Teen and Adult Book Clubs to have great discussions. Readers who grew up watching McCurdy on TV will find the “behind the scenes” look fascinating and heartbreaking, and those who didn’t will still find immense value in her fraught relationship with her mother and how it shaped her self-perception even up until today. Apparent from its success, I’m Glad My Mom Died has had a remarkable impact on Millennial and Gen-Z readers. Nickelodeon’s Sitcom production has been full of scandal, especially regarding the predatory behaviors of their main showrunner, who is featured prominently but not mentioned by name in McCurdy’s book. As time has passed, Nickelodeon stars have begun to speak out more against “The Creator,” and the internet has become invested in the unraveling story. Those who grew up watching Nickelodeon and McCurdy and were subsequently horrified learning about everything the seemingly energetic teen went through and hearing it straight from her is a game changer. McCurdy writes with an immensely personal and intimate voice that connects her with readers she has never met but have known her for 16 years. The result of this connection and her impact was put best by a friend on Goodreads: “I wish I could take the joy she gave me and give some back to her.”
If you’re interested in requesting I’m Glad My Mom Died for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request form here. There are 5 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
McCurdy, Jennette. I’m Glad My Mom Died. Simon & Schuster. 2022
Today, as we continue to celebrate Disability Pride Month, we’ll discuss the exciting and beautiful middle-grade novel Song for a Whale by author and sign language interpreter Lynne Kelly. Being her sophomore novel, Song for a Whale, received the 2020 ALA Schneider Family Book Award. Established in 2004 by Dr. Katherine Schneider, the first blind student to graduate from the Kalamazoo public school system, the award recognizes children’s and teen novels that excel at disability representation. Dr. Schneider says of the books chosen for the award: “The disability experience in these wonderful children’s books is a part of a character’s full life, not the focus of the life” [ALA.org].
Iris is lonely. As the only deaf person at her school, she has difficulty communicating with anyone and spends most of her days talking to her interpreter or missing conversations altogether. Her grandparents, both deaf and speak using sign language, provide her with a refuge where she doesn’t have to worry about being understood. But since her grandfather’s passing, Iris has found it harder to communicate with her grandmother despite their shared language and wishes to be close to her again. Despite the language barriers, Iris is comfortable with her deafness but hopes for a community where she doesn’t have to worry about being left behind. That’s when she learns about Blue 55, a whale who sings at a frequency no one else can understand, giving it the nickname the “loneliest whale in the world.” And Iris is determined to let him know that he, like her, is not alone. Armed with a song at a frequency made just for him, Iris sets out to find Blue 55, even if it takes her all the way from Texas to Alaska.
For young readers and beyond, Song for a Whale exemplifies the mission of the Schneider Family Book Award. Iris is an incredible protagonist and role-model. She’s incredibly tech-savvy, spending her free time fixing antique radios and other electronics, so you don’t doubt for a second she is capable of greatness even if she can’t hear. During the journey, Iris gains the courage and ability to advocate for herself, even when the odds are against her. Author Lynne Kelly has included an Author’s Note at the end that covers everything from the whale that inspired the novel, and the deaf community that is an integral part of the story. For reading groups and classrooms, there are plenty of resources and activities to enjoy. The website Book Units Teacher has an incredible collection of downloadable activities and study guides. Kelly also has a resources page on her website Lynne Kelly Books, including visual whale calls and an Educator’s Guide.
If you’re apart of an older group who is hesitant to read children’s novels, I encourage you to give them a shot! There’s always more to learn. From the essay, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You are so Old and Wise by Katherine Rundell:
“When you read children’s books, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back, back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened, as if it were an optional extra.”
If you’re interested in requesting Song for a Whale for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request form here. There are 10 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
Kelly, Lynne. Song for a Whale. Yearling. 2019.
Summer is a great time of year because we get to celebrate so many wonderful communities. First, there is LGBTQ+ Pride and Juneteenth in June, and then now, in July, it’s Disability Pride Month! This month is a time to honor and celebrate the disability community, their history, and their achievements while also acknowledging their struggles on the anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Today’s Book Club Spotlight, Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig, encompasses disability pride wholeheartedly. Dr. Taussig, who holds a doctorate in Creative Nonfiction and Disability Studies, currently works as a writer and teacher, focusing on “disability representation, identity, and community.”
Sitting Pretty is a memoir in essays focusing on Dr. Taussig’s experience as she navigates the world in her disabled body. When Taussig was four months old, cancer attacked her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. By age two, Taussig is cancer-free and going about her life as any other kid would; only after noticing how disabled people were portrayed in media and movies (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Forrest Gump, etc.) did she realize she was different. Seeing how disabilities were represented, mocked, and othered, she learned to resent her body and the special accommodations it needed. Throughout her life, Taussig has had to work immensely hard to unlearn all the negatives she was taught about her body and handle people treating her differently because of her disability, from teaching her first class to navigating how strangers want to comment on her love life. In the essay Feminist Pool Party, Taussig struggles with the ethics of making room in the conversation for disabled people. She wonders if she is a “good enough advocate” or is “too privileged” to be the one talking about it in the first place. But like with any minority group or life experience, no one person encompasses every aspect of the culture. All that matters is that the voice is there, to begin with.
Books like Sitting Pretty are essential for a multitude of reasons. They teach empathy, humanize a group that is often dehumanized or vilified (i.e., Captain Hook), and raises our awareness of stories unlike ours. And, as Taussig points out, disability can happen to anyone at any time. Car accidents, illness, and normal aging processes are all disabling events, and accessibility focusing on disabled people can only help us in the long run. Book Clubs and Groups shouldn’t shy away from stories like these. While Taussig’s knowledge and ideas come from a place of well-researched and thoughtful academia, her language and ideas are accessible to anyone and show a nuanced approach to the societal “otherness” placed on disabled people. Group discussion will benefit from being able to talk about these themes together and share their own experiences with disabilities, the disability community, or any moment of “otherness” felt from inaccessibility or social stigma.
The reason we are able to hear stories like Taussig’s is because of the amazing disability advocates that came before us. The biggest demonstration that helped spur the passing of the ADA is known as the Capital Crawl in 1990, where about 1000 people with disabilities took to the US Capital, and many, without their mobility devices, crawled up the steps as a physical demonstration of inaccessibility. The youngest activist to participate in the crawl, eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, has since continued her advocacy, and her illustrated children’s biography All the Way To The Top will be featured this summer through the National Library Service Summer Reading Program!
“So happy disability pride in every flourish and form. Here’s to knowing in our bones – we deserve to be here, too. We are a vital part of all this. The world might still act like you’re holding things up or making things too complicated. But know – you are the best part. You are the piece that changes the whole f- game.– @sitting _pretty
Taussig, Rebekah. Sitting Pretty. HarperOne. 2020.
It is only fitting that we ring in this year’s Pride Month with a book by the incredible modernist writer Virginia Woolf. Born in 1882, she held “an intense belief in the importance of arts and a skepticism regarding their society’s conventions and restraints.” Not one to repress her romantic feelings for other women, Woolf subverted the system of the time by living openly as a queer woman, with her and her husband happily pursuing a non-monogamous lifestyle. While it’s easy to see the tragic figure of Virginia Woolf, who unfortunately took her life in 1941, it’s hard not to be amazed by her persistence in pursuing mundane beauty and wholeness in both her writing career and her social life despite adversity. These sentiments and strengths have always been at the heart of Pride, and in her novel Mrs. Dalloway, we are given front-row seating to these ideals as we revolve around the daily life of London post-First World War.
It’s the middle of June, the war is over, and Mrs. Cassandra Dalloway is getting ready to host a party. As she moves about London to finish her errands, we pass through the lives of others along the way. Sometimes fleeting, sometimes intimate portraits of everyday people as they move past each other, none the wiser. One focus we find ourselves with is in the thoughts of Septimus Smith. Suffering from “shell-shock” (PTSD) after World War 1, he struggles to get through his everyday life after seeing a man he loves die on the battlefield. No longer satiated by poetry and art like before the war, he has become haunted and void of all feelings, much to his distress. As Big Ben chimes along, Mrs. Dalloway, constrained by English society and her own choices, pushes her anxieties aside as she focuses on creating a perfect party. Attempting to balance her need to participate in the world while deeply fearing it. Emotions run high as she meets old lovers—specifically, the adventurous but self-important Peter Walsh and her first love Sally Seton, and she wonders what could have been had she chosen differently. Finally, the day comes to a head when Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus must choose if being constrained by the set social order is worth the pain it causes.
Known for being a subversive writer, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, pioneered how literature can pull back the layers of everyday people to reveal their deep inner worlds. In her hallmark, stream-of-consciousness writing style Woolf produces a respectful depiction of a man going mad from PTSD and criticizes the lack of proper care for veterans. While having no real connection to Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus serves as a counterpoint to her daily exhaustion and disillusionment to an extreme degree. And while the titular Mrs. Dalloway does not struggle in the same way, as a woman, she has had to repress many parts of herself to fit into society and is expected to play the role expected of her to the bitter end. As a result, both characters try to balance wanting to be included in society and life while needing privacy to deal with their turbulent emotions. A novel revolving around the enormity of daily life, Mrs. Dalloway is a beautiful classic to include in any Book Club group, especially for those who enjoy diving deeply into the emotional life of characters and its slow but poetic paces.
If you’re interested in requesting Mrs. Dalloway for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request form here. There are 10 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt Inc, Inc. 1925.
We’re diving right into celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by spotlighting The Namesake by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri! Raised in America by Bengali immigrants, Lahiri was expected to embrace her heritage from an early age. And Lahiri’s writing draws on her experiences as a first-generation Indian-American focusing on the immigration experience and the effect of cultural displacement. Mostly known for writing collections of short stories, The Namesake was her first novel and received the New Yorker Debut of the Year award and the PEN/Hemingway Award.
Spanning a total of 35 years, we open in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where newlywed and newly American immigrant Ashima Ganguli awaits for the birth of her son. She is nervous about giving birth in a foreign country, far away from her family in Calcutta. Even though Ashima’s arranged marriage to Ashoke Ganguli is going well, she is often left to navigate the unfamiliar world and culture on her own. Like most immigrant parents, Ashima and Ashoke raise their American-born children with the hope of keeping a piece of home alive through them. The family eats Indian food, celebrates Hindu holidays with other Bengali families, and takes yearly trips home to Calcutta. But Calcutta is not their children’s home, and it’s certainly not Gogol’s. As he grows, we follow their son, named after Russian writer Gogol, as he tries to find his place in the world, ideally independent of his Indian-American label. Despising the name its foreignness, he attempts to cut all ties with it and beings to go by the writer’s first name, Nikolai, instead. In changing his name to something less noticeable, he hopes to obfuscate his Indian upbringing and heritage. But his problems are more complex and follow him through young adulthood. When his father dies suddenly, Gogol, now legally Nikolai, has to reckon his love for his family and culture with his attempts to push it away and assimilate. He must find a way to reconcile both his cultural and self-identity together, honoring both but not letting either completely take over.
This family saga follows the Ganguli family, as each member experiences their immigrant experience differently in attempts to find that perfect balancing act between childhood and independence. Lahiri emphasizes this struggle in The Namesake through the meaning and strength we have in our names. She discusses how in India, each person has two names, a “pet name” the family uses and a “good name” fit for school and formal occasions. And how these family names can be a home and culture in themselves, making Gogol’s hatred of his name a dismissal of his parents’ culture and, to a lesser extent, themselves. A thoughtful read for any adult book club, Lahiri writes a beautiful and quiet portrait of the Indian immigrant experience in a way universally understood by anyone who has felt as if they have been pulled in two separate directions by what’s expected of him and what they aspire to become.
If you’re interested in requesting The Namesake for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 15 copies available (A librarian must request items)
To see more of our Asian American/ Pacific Islander Book Club Kits, visit the link here.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Mariner Books. 2004.
We follow two reluctant readers: Widower Mukesh, who, upon reading an old library book left by his late wife, finds comfort and solace in the characters who help the memory of his wife live on. Energized by the experience, Mukesh decides to make an effort to connect with his shy granddaughter through her love of books—leading him to a small Wembley library. In the library, we meet Aleisha, a disillusioned but whip-smart teen working in the slowly dying library over the summer to support her sick mother. Aleisha has no particular love for libraries or books until she is handed a mysterious list of books titled “Just in case you need it.” Inexplicably drawn to reading the first on the list, To Kill a Mockingbird, Aleisha encourages Mukesh to read it as well. Soon they are both making their way down the list and are surprised to find how much they want to talk with someone about the books or maybe just to talk with someone at all. Much like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the titular “list” in The Reading List serendipitously makes its way across London, finding people who could use a break or a breakthrough. When tragedy strikes, the group’s bond and the lessons they learned from the mysterious reading list and each other become more important than ever.
New to our collection, The Reading List is the perfect book club pick because it centers around characters who inexplicably find themselves in a far-reaching book club. In the beginning, Aleisha and Mukesh are nervous about discussing the books themselves, feeling like they need to be some sort of expert or have an earth-shattering revelation to be worth sharing. Still, as time goes on, they gain confidence in sharing their ideas. While each book might not be the ideal fit, they still find something to discuss and enjoy. The idea of the modern-day book club started as an avenue to encourage open discussion, and they still play an essential role in expressing that inherent want to connect (but I may be biased). People are always looking for connection and community; reading and hearing others’ stories and struggles makes us more open, compassionate, and self-confident. Unlike other “books about books,” there is no magic library or all-powerful novel in The Reading List. Instead, there is simply the magic and importance of people. And at the end of the day, the people and their community are the most critical asset to libraries.
Request The Reading List for your Book Club here. There are 5 copies available (A librarian must request items)
Adams, Sara Nisha. The Reading List. William Morrow. 2022.
In my opinion, the best books are about what it means to be a human and humanity as a whole—which are usually best represented through a different species. And it’s only fitting that fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett would explore this age-old philosophy through rats. Well… educated rats and one amazing cat. In honor of Respect Your Cat Day, today’s spotlight, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, is a stand-alone novel in Pratchett’s expansive Discworld series and the first in the collection written for a younger audience.
Magically gifted with speech and consciousness, a clan of self-dubbed “Educated Rodents” and a con artist cat, the “Amazing Maurice,” travel from town to town with a young piper in tow. They successfully run scams where the rats “infest” a town so the boy can pretend to lead them away à la the Pied Piper. Agreeing to one last job, they arrive in the village of Bad Blintz, only to find that the town already has a massive rat infestation. But they can’t seem to find any of these rats anywhere. Realizing that something sinister is at play, the rats, the boy, and Maurice find themselves in more trouble than they ever imagined. And with more than a payday at risk, the newly self-aware rat clan and Maurice don’t know if they can turn their backs and leave the town to fall into ruin. So what’s a cat to do now that he’s got morals and ethics to deal with?
Pratchett is a widely well-regarded author, and for a good reason, with The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents awarded the Carnegie Award for Children’s Literature. It is one of those rare books written in an accessible manner for younger audiences while still treating them as intelligent and capable of understanding its philosophy. Even though it reads like one, the reader is often reminded that it is not a fairytale and there are dire consequences to be had despite the tap-dancing rodentia. Sure, the book is cute and filled with talking animal shenanigans, but it also shows a grittier side, with rat-on-rat violence, dog-on-rat violence, and laxative-on-man violence. Maurice is perfect for a group of YA readers and beyond who love discussing theories and pondering the Big Questions, such as what comes after death? What would it mean to suddenly have consciousness and a moral code? Can community and strength overcome inherent nature? And what would you do in the face of the Grim Squeaker?
Request The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents for your Book Club here. There are 14 copies available (A librarian must request items)
Pratchett, Terry. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. HarperTrophey. 2001.
March, being Women’s History Month (shoutout to women), gives me an excuse to visit a book in our collection that has influenced and consoled countless young girls and women since 1970. Selected as the 1970 New York Times “Outstanding Book of the Year,” listed in Time’s 2010 list of “All-Time 100 Novels”, and in Scholastics’ “100 Greatest Books for Kids/100 Must-Read Books”, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume has carved a legacy and guided our approach to educating young people about puberty. And pioneered middle-grade fiction at a time when books for kids “on the cusp” of puberty were nowhere to be found.
Eleven-year-old Margaret Simon’s relationship with God has nothing to do with religion. Her parents, one Christian and one Jewish, decided to raise her outside of any faith because of the pressure they received from their own religious upbringings. Even still, Margaret frequently talks to God, whoever he is, about her problems and insecurities, confiding in things she couldn’t tell anyone else. After moving to the New Jersey suburbs, Margaret is tasked with a year-long school project of her choosing. Deciding her project will be to finally find a religion that fits her (much to her parents’ discomfort), Margaret attends Jewish and Christian services, hoping to feel God there the same way as when she talks to him alone. At the same time, she and her group of friends, smartly named “The Pre-Teen Sensations,” wrestle with more down-to-earth issues, like boy problems and bras. All the while eagerly awaiting their first period, deathly afraid that something might be wrong with their bodies when it doesn’t come as soon as other girls in their class. Together, Margaret and her friends face down the scariest enemy of all: the epic highs and lows of being a pre-teen girl.
Margaret’s message is still relevant to young girls today. Despite being written over 50 years ago, young readers, alone or in a reading group, can see themselves in Margaret, even the parts they try to hide. Blume’s works encourage open and honest communication, creating a space for community and empathy, which is the foundation of any good book club. To be sincere, to experience new perspectives, and to grow together. All these years later, Judy Blume is still a household name, and for good reason. She created a space where it is easy and necessary to talk about ourselves and our feelings without shame. In school, we giggled and commiserated over her plain and frank depictions of real problems and things happening with our bodies that other adults might have shied away from talking about. But she never did. We’d pull from the advice of Blume to let us know there was nothing wrong with us, we were growing up, and that’s ok.
Amy Weiss-Meyer, a senior editor at the Atlantic, best sums up Blume’s influence and genuine care for nurturing young girls in the article We Still Need Judy Blume: “The letters started right after Margaret. The kids wrote in their best handwriting, in blue ink or pencil, on stationery adorned with cartoon characters or paper torn out of a notebook. They sent their letters care of Blume’s publisher. “Dear Judy,” most began. Girls of a certain age would share whether they’d gotten their period yet. Some kids praised her work while others dove right in, sharing their problems and asking for advice: divorce, drugs, sexuality, bullying, incest, abuse, cancer. They wanted to scream. They wanted to die. They knew Judy would understand.”
The first film adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret will be released in April 2023, starring Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates, with Judy Blume as a producer.
If you’re interested in requesting Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 13 copies available (A librarian must request items)
Blume, Judy. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Bradbury Press. 1970.
It’s our first Book Club Spotlight of Black History Month, which means this month, we’re showcasing books by incredible authors to celebrate Black Voices in literature. Today’s author, Jason Reynolds, is the recipient of awards such as the NAACP Image Award and multiple Coretta Scott King honors and was the 2020-2022 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Reynolds encourages us not to see the genre of YA as limiting, enjoying the freedom of emotion young people carry to tell good stories. Today’s spotlight, recipient of the Printz and Newbery Honors, Long Way Down, is written in free verse, through snippets of dreams and recollections, as a young boy is visited by the ghosts of his past.
After witnessing his brother’s murder, Will knows what he has to do. Follow The Rules.
1) Don’t Cry 2) Don’t Snitch 3) Get Revenge.
He doesn’t know who created The Rules and when, but he does know that it’s his duty to follow them. Because he knows, or at least he thinks he knows, who killed Shawn. Will finds his brother’s hidden gun, gets on the 8th-floor elevator and presses L. As Will goes further down the elevator, he is visited by those who are gone because of the same Rules he is now going to follow, and he is given a chance to either continue the cycle or break it apart.
For ages 12 and above, Long Way Down skillfully employs free verse to weave together an unforgettable story about the cycle of violence, especially in how it affects urban and Black communities. Reynolds prefers not to shy away from realism and challenging topics in his novels because the kids reading them have experienced or will experience the same situations in real life. Reynolds, himself, almost fell victim to the cycle when he was younger, and he uses his real-life experiences and emotions to cut to the core of why violence like this continues to happen. Much like Will’s elevator ride that only takes sixty seconds, but lasts a whole novel, reading Long Way Down, can be taken at whatever pace is comfortable to the reader’s skill level. And as violence in schools continues to be a constant fear, there will be plenty for young reading groups to discuss as the floors tick by.
If you’re interested in requesting Long Way Down for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian)
To read more by Jason Reynolds, check out his Track Series, or, The Boy in the Black Suit (One Book For Nebraska Teens 2019).
Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Atheneum. 2017.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a quiet atmospheric story that takes the reader through the formative years of the titular Cameron as she comes into herself as a person and as a lesbian. Written as the dissertation for her Ph.D. at UNL (co-directed by author Timothy Schaffert and the late Gerald Shapiro), emily m. danforth was inspired by sentimentalist women’s literature, stories of teens being sent to religion-based conversion therapy camps, and her own upbringing in Miles City, Montana. Published three years before the federal protection of same-sex marriage, Miseducation’s impact on normalizing queer culture and issues is phenomenal, especially in how it honestly approaches teens and their families in the discovery and acceptance of their sexuality.
Growing up in early 90s Montana, Cameron Post did her best to keep her head down, not wanting anyone to look further than her “wise-cracking orphan” façade. But, if anyone started to look too closely, they would see she was in hiding. Hiding her feelings for other girls. Detailing her loves and loves lost while fogged in religious guilt pushed on her by her ultra-religious aunt, Cameron learns how to keep her true self out of sight. Betrayed and forced out of the closet, the looming threat of being sent to conversion therapy camp becomes a reality. Cameron must endeavor against those who want to change her and find solidarity amongst the powerless teens also caught up in the mess of religious zealotry and homophobia. Cameron’s story is, of course, a “miseducation” at its core. She isn’t some unachievable, idealized-perfect person, and she shouldn’t have to be. Finding yourself is not easy; you have to be prepared to face what finds you in return.
Perfect fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and John Green, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is appropriate for mature teen and adult book groups. It approaches complex topics with care and empathy. Because it takes place in the 90s, some language is out of date, which opens up room for an interesting group discussion on how we have treated and talked about LGBTQ+ issues and if Cameron’s story would be different if she were a teen today. danforth has the skill to give her characters space to tell their own stories rather than focusing on teaching us a lesson or a hard-hitting moral. Like life, Miseducation revels in its slow pacing. The book is a long scenic road to get where it wants to be. Only a few chapters in, and it feels like you have known Cameron forever.
And if your reading group is interested in a movie night, the 2018 movie adaptation of Miseducation won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic category. I watched it this weekend, and it was incredible. From a review of the movie in the New York Times: “Miseducation is neither a glib sendup of a less enlightened era nor a pious reckoning with the bygone injustices of the past. It is more interested in how its characters feel than in what they might symbolize, and in how they grapple with the conflicting demands of faith and desire. It’s also about the struggle between earnest young people and the equally earnest, painfully misguided adults who are trying to save their souls”.
To see more of our LGBT+ & Queer book club titles, visit the link here.
If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian)
danforth, m. emily. The Miseducation of Cameron Post. HarperCollins. 2012.
In today’s spotlight, we will continue our look back to the historic American frontier and the people who shaped it. If you, like me, grew up in the early 2000s, chances are you’ve read a book by Linda Sue Park. Her Newberry Award Winning novel, A Single Shard and Project Mulberry, were some of my absolute favorite books in middle school, and I was over the moon to learn that she is still writing! Our book today, Prairie Lotus, is a new addition to our collection and is the most recent in Linda Sue Park’s bibliography. Being a 2021-22 Golden Sower Novel Nominee, Prairie Lotus has also earned a Children’s Literature Award Honor from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. In addition to being an esteemed author, Park is the founder and curator of Allida Books (a HarperCollins imprint) and a board member for the non-profit We Need Diverse Books and the Rabbit hOle museum project.
At the beginning of Prairie Lotus, Hanna has three goals, graduate from school, become a dressmaker, and make a real friend. As pioneers, she and her father have been traveling across the west for quite some time when they end up in the small Dakota Territory town of LaForge. Hanna is especially excited to live in town so she can finally attend a real school, just like her late mother dreamed of her doing. But, unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Despite being intelligent and resourceful, Hanna is half-Chinese and faces a lot of discrimination from the white settlers who try to stop her from going to school or even running errands. Refusing to give in to their hate, Hanna now has to figure out how to still graduate from school, prepare for the opening of her father’s store, and keep up with her household chores, all the while dealing with the cruelty from the townsfolk. And she has the strong spirit of the American frontier and the strength of her mother in her corner.
Like The Birchbark House, Prairie Lotus is perfect for young (or adult) readers interested in reading about early American history from a fresh perspective. Exploring life in this pioneer community, we are shown the strength and daily life of the women who settled in the West, and the life of the local Indigenous women, specifically from the Ihanktonwan (Yankton Sioux) tribe. The story purposefully reads similarly to Little House on the Prairie and is heavily influenced by the series (you’ll even see some familiar faces). As a daughter of Korean immigrants, Park says, “Hanna’s story is in many respects a kind of ‘conversation’ with the iconic Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, I spent hours imagining that I too lived on the frontier in the 1800s, and that I was Laura’s best friend”. And Park makes no mistake that she wrote the story as a way for her to come to terms with a story she loves while also challenging its more problematic history, which is discussed more in the Author’s Note at the end of the book.
More by Linda Sue Park:
If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian)
Park, Linda Sue. Prairie Lotus. Harper Collins. 2020
While we’re busy getting snowed in this week, you’ll want to hunker down with a good book like this week’s spotlight! During the winter holidays, many of us spend our time around family or loved ones, and The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma is, first and foremost, a book about family. Written as a love letter to his brothers, Obioma explores the intrinsic connection between siblings and how easily chaos can sow a rift between them. I love sharing books that have a special connection to Nebraska, and The Fishermen, recipient of the 2016 Nebraska Book Award for fiction, is an excellent example of one such book. Born in Nigeria, Chigozie Obioma is currently the James E. Ryan Associate Professor of Creative writing at UNL. The Fishermen, his debut novel, also won the Inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Award for Fiction, the NAACP Image Awards for Debut Literary Work, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize.
In 1990s Nigeria, under the dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha, there is a family of brothers. Ikenna, the oldest; Boja and Obembe in the middle; and the youngest, Ben as our narrator. When their father moves away for work, the delicate family structure begins to crumble without its leader. In a fit of rebellion, the four boys go behind their mother’s back to fish in a forbidden and polluted river, leaving her clueless, tending to their two youngest siblings. At the river, the boys encounter the town’s prophetic madman, who convinces Ikenna that he will be murdered brutally by one of his siblings. Driven mad by this prophecy, the family suffers the loss of another authority figure, as their eldest brother becomes suspicious, anxious, and even violent toward them. So, the four brothers, like Cain and Abel before them, are plunged into turmoil, testing their bond and loyalty to the bitter end.
Perfect for an adult book group that enjoys character-driven plots that tell a deeper story, The Fishermen is rife with metaphors and parables from Obioma’s Igbo roots. Described as “an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions—economic, political and religious—and the epic beauty of its own culture,” each of the brothers represents the four major tribes of Nigeria and how the political tumult in the country led to unrest between them. Even though the novel is an allegory for and takes place during a dangerous time in Nigeria’s history, this is not a historical war novel. While affected and aware of the situation, the children are more invested in their interpersonal lives rather than politics. This style reminds me of the show Derry Girls in how it isn’t only addressing issues in a political sense but also in a personal sense. And in this book is about strife and torn bonds, Obioma delivers hope for the future resting on the next generation’s unmarred shoulders.
If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 20 copies available with large print and audio CD (Items must be requested by a librarian)
Obioman, Chigozie. The Fishermen. Little, Brown and Company. 2015.
For 60 days in the winter of 1957-1958, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate raced across Nebraska and Wyoming, leaving 11 dead in their wake. As one of America’s most infamous and widely-reported killing sprees, Starkweather and Fugate are immortalized through movies, music, and literature. And Liza Ward, the granddaughter of two victims, Lauer and Clara Ward, decided it was time to tell the story from a new perspective. Her 2004 novel Outside Valentine is the story of her family and the trauma that has consumed it for generations. But instead of focusing on the notorious Starkweather, this novel takes a step back, concentrating on Caril Ann and those he left behind in a stunning re-telling of what happened that winter.
Outside Valentine is a fictional account of the Starkweather killing spree, following the three narrators simultaneously. One narrator, Caril Ann Fugate, is a disenfranchised impressionable 14-year-old who finds solace and a desperate love with 19-year-old Charles Starkweather. Their romance soon burns too hot when he takes Caril on a joyride, murdering her family and anyone found in the way of that love. Four years later, the story follows Susan Hurst, who finds herself obsessively reading about the killing spree, envious of the pair’s violent love. Desperate for this kind of love and recognition, she lives a lonely life with her emotionally distant parents, all the while harboring a secret obsession for the surviving son of the Bowmans (the fictionalized Lauer and Clara Ward), whom she has never met. The son, Lowell Bowman, is our third narrator, who, 30 years later, is still dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy. Unable to cope, he runs away from his wife and children, both from and to his past.
Outside Valentine is an engaging and lyrical read that isn’t quite “true crime” but still has that thrilling air. Because the story takes place over 30 years, the reader follows how Fugate and Starkweather’s actions spiral bigger than just themselves. Ward creates an atmosphere that sucks you in so deeply and wholly that you forget where you are. And the stark winter setting makes this a perfect book club selection coming into the colder months. Book club groups, especially those here in Nebraska, will find plenty to discuss in how Ward uses the setting to instill her characters with deep longing and isolation. She does an incredible job of identifying the true loneliness of being a young girl and the dark side of romanticism.
While both were found guilty and Starkweather sentenced to death, Caril Ann Fugate spent 17 years in prison on a murder conviction before she was paroled in 1976. In 2020, With her father’s support, Liza Ward advocated for Fugate’s pardon, believing her grandparents “would want people to know the truth,” and that it is “time to show that young girl’s stories are worth being listened to.” And she gives young girls that opportunity in Outside Valentine.
If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 12 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian)
Ward, Liza. Outside Valentine. Picador. 2004.
For November, we are spotlighting titles in our Book Club Collection written by Indigenous authors for Native American Heritage Month. In 1976 Cherokee-Osage Native American Jerry C. Elliott-High Eagle authored the Congressional legislation for Native American Awareness week, which grew into what we now celebrate as Native American Heritage Month in 1990 with a declaration from then-President George H.W. Bush. This month is a great opportunity to read and learn about whose ancestral land you live on, their history, colonization, and all the incredible works of Indigenous art and literature.
Past Book Club Spotlights featuring Native American Authors:
18-year-old Daunis Fontaine is the product of a scandal between a white woman and an Ojibwe man. Even though her mother’s family is well-respected, and her father’s side are revered Firekeepers, Daunis is an outsider. She is not welcome in her predominantly white town or at the reservation, where tribal leaders deny her parentage and membership. But when murders and overdoses related to drug trafficking slowly spread around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Daunis is witness to it all. Now she must team up with the new (and mysterious) star hockey player to use her knowledge of science, Ojibwe medicine, and these tight-knit communities to uncover long-held secrets.
Excitable and brave spirited, Omakayas, or Little Frog, is a young Ojibwe girl who lives with her family near present-day Lake Superior. As white people begin to take over the land, Omakays and her siblings continue their way of life while the adults fear that they must move soon. We follow the local community as they survive, learn important lessons and skills, and enjoy a peaceful life together. But when a sickly visitor crashes a powwow one night, he brings deadly smallpox to the area; and the course of the community and Omakayas’ life are changed forever.
You can find a list of both our fiction and non-fiction titles on our Book Club Kit page under the Native American Voices keyword.
And if like me, you’re excited about the food-heavy holidays, we have a few foody titles in our collection that your club might be interested in as well: