Reviews of the Week, With Sok-Yong Hwang, Melba Pattillo Beals, Jana Casale, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or high-demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight. We’ve collected the reviews from April 2–6 below.

 

Monday, April 2

 Familiar Things, by Sok-Yong Hwang

Award-winning Korean author Hwang (The Ancient Garden, 2010) presents a coming-of-age story about two brothers-by-circumstance-rather-than-blood. Woven into their familial struggles, clubhouse adventures, and city forays, however, is a potent, haunting parable about the mindlessly disposable nature of modern society, about how quickly all “familiar things,” even relationships, can grow into a festering island of relentless waste while survival ultimately depends on salvaging anything that might prove useful.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 3

 From Twinkle, With Love, by Sandhya Menon

Told in Twinkle’s letters to female filmmakers, interspersed with occasional text and email messages, this is an often laugh-out-loud funny journey through the tribulations of high school that’s tempered by Twinkle’s very real feelings of isolation and her understanding that it will be more difficult for her to succeed at filmmaking as a woman of color. There aren’t any surprises here, but the teen voice is pitch-perfect, and Menon navigates through Twinkle’s missteps and reparations with aplomb.

 

Wednesday, April 4

 March Forward, Girl, by Melba Pattillo Beals, narrated by Janina Edwards

Beals’ memoir describes her life before she became one of the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to attend Little Rock Central High School, in 1957, and gives listeners an unflinching look at the horrors of growing up under Jim Crow in Arkansas. Beals tells of her bewilderment at being forbidden to touch items in stores, how her family blacked out their windows after dark to avoid drawing the attention of the Ku Klux Klan, and of burying her face in the pew as a man was lynched in front of her at church.

 

 

 

Thursday, April 5

 Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente

Billed as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets Eurovision, Valente’s latest novel for adults (after Radiance, 2015) delivers perfectly. Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes is a blip in glam-rock history, until aliens come to Earth to gather contestants for a galactic musical competition, with nothing but the survival of our species at stake. The other surviving member of the band, Oort St. Ultraviolet, has tried to move on, but when the fate of humanity depends on getting the band back together, you get the band back together.

 

Friday, April 6

 The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky, by Jana Casale

Readers meet Leda, the “girl” at the steady center of Casale’s sharp debut, during her college years and spend the rest of the novel, which is also the rest of Leda’s life, getting to know her. Inspired by the, no doubt, impeccable taste of an intriguing but surly coffee-shop stranger, young Leda buys a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Problems of Knowledge and Freedom. She’ll keep it forever, through decades and moves and weedings of her ever-growing book collection, but won’t ever know much about it beyond that it smells good.

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About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

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