Reviews of the Week, with Shel Silverstein, Jesmyn Ward, Joshua Green, and more!

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online that highlights starred reviews, high-demand titles, and / or titles especially relevant to our current issue’s spotlight. We’ve collected the reviews from July 24 through 28 so that you can revisit the week’s best books.


July 24

Devil’s Bargainby Joshua Green

After finishing this account of the Steve Bannon–Donald Trump relationship, some readers may want to take a bath—something that presidential advisor Bannon, according to at least one source, doesn’t do that often. Author Green’s look at how Trump and Bannon found and recognized each other, if not precisely as kindred souls, but as useful tools, makes for discouraging reading about the current state of politics. In many ways, the book is more like a long-form magazine piece than an in-depth analysis. Beginning with the surprise election-night victory (a surprise even to the Trumpites), the narrative moves briskly through the 2016 campaign, with stops to fill in Bannon’s history (these are the most useful sections).

July 25

Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

Jojo, 13, and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, while their mother, Leonie, struggles with drug addiction and her failures as a daughter, mother, and inheritor of a gift (or curse) that connects her to spirits. Leonie insists that Jojo and Kayla accompany her on a two-day journey to the infamous Parchman prison to retrieve their white father. Their harrowing experiences are bound up in unresolved and reverberating racial and family tensions and entanglements: long-buried memories of Pop’s time in Parchman, the imminent death of Mam from cancer, and the slow dawning of the children’s own spiritual gifts.

July 26

You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins

How do you make a sweeping family saga feel present and relevant for a teen audience? Jump across time and space and highlight just those pivotal adolescent moments that are as unifying as they are unique: starting a new school, claiming one’s faith, embracing one’s identity, or falling in love. Perkins has created a resonant and memorable tale that is both episodic and wholly unified. Sonia and Tara Das immigrate to New York City with their parents in the 1970s. They are swept into the culture of the vibrant city and quickly push back at their mother Ranee’s traditional expectations of good Indian girls, while their more permissive father encourages Tara’s acting, Sonia’s activism, and independence for both.

July 27

Notes on a Foreign Country, by Suzy Hansen

Americans are taught that they are exceptional, brave, and fearless. Hansen’s must-read book makes the argument that Americans, specifically white Americans, are decades overdue in examining and accepting their country’s imperial identity. In 2007, journalist Hansen won a fellowship to live abroad and chose Turkey because American author James Baldwin wrote he felt more like himself, a gay, black man living in the 1960s, in Istanbul than New York. How could that be? Hansen’s argument goes beyond the factual assertion that Americans are ignorant of the country’s long, complicated, invasive histories with many other countries around the world. She makes the paradigm-breaking claim that what Americans are taught about their national and personal identities disallows the very acquisition of this knowledge.

July 28

Runny Babbit Returns, by Shel Silverstein

Author and illustrator Silverstein may have died in 1999, but his oeuvre lives on. Runny Babbit (2005) here gets a companion piece. As the titles suggest, Silverstein uses spoonerisms—transposing the first letters or syllables of words for humorous effect—to enliven his rhyming text. And here, that effect is very, very humorous. There’s Runny Babbit’s disappointment when he buys a “hed rot” and there’s no “kustard” or “metchup” available (but that’s why the dogs cost a mere “sickel”). He’s excited when he gets a job being “cot out of a shannon,” and he loves dancing the “bitterjug” with his gal pal.



About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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