Reviews of the Week with Verlie Hutchens, Don Winslow, Laurie Halse Anderson, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight. We’ve collected the reviews from January 7–January 11 below.

 

Monday, January 7

Trees, by Verlie Hutchens and illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong

Free verse poems succinctly extol the virtues of 14 types of trees. For example, “Aspen, tall and graceful, / dances on her tippy toes. / Her golden leaves like castanets / shimmer in the breeze.” A double-spread illustration accompanies the words and shows aspen trees in autumn with their bright golden leaves in front of snow-capped mountains. The wide variety of trees mentioned include palm, red bud, dogwood, white pine, birch, and willow. Poems, consisting of only one or two sentences, explain why each type of tree is unique and special. The illustrations, “rendered as a digital collage of block print and hand-painted elements,” are lovely and include other living creatures in addition to each highlighted tree, such as people, birds, cats, and squirrels. Tall trees—oak, spruce, and sequoia—require the book to be turned vertically for some poems to be read and the illustrations admired.

 

Tuesday, January 8

The Cassandra, by Sharma Shields

Mildred Groves is poor, gauche, and prone to seizures, sleepwalking, and prophecy. Stuck caring for her angry mother in a small town in Washington State, she finally escapes in 1944, when the military’s top-secret Hanford nuclear-production facility along the Columbia River begins hiring. Mildred happily befriends a nurse, bunks down in a rudimentary barrack, and serves as secretary for a high-ranking physicist. But her trances intensify, reflecting the horrors of Hanford’s “product”: plutonium. Shields (The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac​, 2015) has created a dawn-of-the-nuclear-age Cassandra in this galvanizing variation on the ancient Greek tale of a seer doomed always to be right, yet never to be believed. Shields summons the spirit of the besieged land in a heron, coyote, and rattlesnake who reveal, in surreal and terrifying visions, the horrors of the radiation contaminating the region and the hell to come in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

Wednesday, January 9

The Border, by Don Winslow

The publication of the concluding volume in Winslow’s epic Cartel Trilogy represents a landmark moment in crime fiction, and it couldn’t come at a more propitious time—just as debate over the construction of Donald Trump’s ballyhooed border wall has closed down the U.S. government. The intermingling of fact and fiction is even more omnipresent here than it was in the earlier volumes—and this time, it includes a bloviating, would-be-wall-building president under investigation for his son-in-law’s ties not to Russia but to the Mexican drug cartels. Connecting the dots from fictional characters and events to real-life ones will fuel much commentary in the coming weeks, but in the end, it is Winslow’s remarkable ability to translate the utter fiasco of our 50-year War on Drugs—the thousands upon thousands of lives lost in cartel-driven violence, the journalists assassinated, the addicts dead from overdoses as the heroin epidemic spreads across America—into the most wrenching of human stories, tragedy seemingly without end, that gives this novel its unparalleled power.

 

Thursday, January 10

Trouble No Man, by Brian Hart

In a near-future dystopia, food, fuel, and safety are scarce in California, where warring militia groups have ousted the federal government. A grieving man retrieves his wife’s ashes and prepares to take her to Alaska, where his daughters wait in safety. As he packs up, militia rowdies shoot his dog, and he’s forced to take a dangerous detour to see a veterinarian friend. In an alternating story arc, Roy, a professional skateboarder and rolling stone, is on a path to nowhere. He’s left Karen, the only woman he’ll ever love, after chafing at her plans to settle down, and escaped into the hard-partying skate-tour scene. Roy and the grief-stricken family man’s stories jump back and forth in leaps marked only by their approximate ages and locations (“R < 25, CA 96118”), finally converging at Karen’s farm, where she’s dug in, determined to wait out the escalating militia violence. California, she says, moves in cycles.

 

Friday, January 11

  Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Almost two decades after the publication of her Printz Honor Book and National Book Award finalist debut Speak (1999), Anderson offers up a memoir in verse that covers her difficult early childhood, her own rape at the age of 13, her trauma and slow recovery through her high-school days, and the experiences surrounding her publication of Speak. With a veteran father whose PTSD steered the family directionally, and a mother who didn’t deal with things head-on, Anderson began life with “the inherited, / trauma-fed ability / to stay silent in every situation.” In blunt and biting verse that builds consistently in strength and assurance, she relates her story and her growing awareness that “shame / turned / inside out / is rage.” In the final section, Anderson’s focused, first-person narrative becomes more of a chorus as she recounts the stories that readers, female and male, adults but especially teenagers, have shared with her about their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment.

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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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