Reviews of the Week with Kosoko Jackson, Samira Ahmed, Angie Thomas, 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.

A burgeoning relationship between two boys in 1997 Kosovo; chasing the murderer of a Moroccan immigrant in a small desert town; a frightening alternative present where one girl fights against the unjust internment of Muslims; a boundary-expanding fantasy narrated by a god; the much-anticipated sophomore release of youth fiction’s most exciting voice. It’s Friday again and we’ve collected the Reviews of the Day from this week, February 4–February 8, below.

Monday, February 4

  A Place for Wolves, by Kosoko Jackson

It’s 1997, and James Mills has been dragged to a small town in Kosovo because his adoptive parents are part of a foreign aid mission. Struggling against parental expectations, standing out as a Black teen in a very white population, and trying to master yet another foreign language, James is fortunate enough to have befriended Tomas, the son of a Brazilian family also working in the area. As the two develop deeper feelings for each other, the political climate in Kosovo deteriorates as the Albanians and Serbians fight against each other for control and superiority. When James’ parents disappear, both James and Tomas have to make life-altering choices to try to escape atrocities they never imagined. Questions of morality and blame are skillfully explored throughout the narrative as James and Tomas confront soldiers and desperate civilians and are forced to make choices about who, in the end, can be saved.

 

Tuesday, February 5

  The Other Americans, by Laila Lalami

Who killed Driss Guerraoui? Was it an accident, a hit-and-run in the wee hours of the morning? Or was it murder, a brutal act against the Moroccan immigrant who might pose a threat to a neighborhood business in a small Mojave-desert town? The mystery at the center of Lalami’s (The Moor’s Account, 2014) novel brings together an intriguing set of characters, including Driss’ daughter, Nora, a struggling composer who returns home to the remnants of her family. There’s Maryam, Driss’ wife, who misses her native country; Iraq War veteran Jeremy, who is battling his own demons while trying to help Nora; and African American detective Coleman, who is trying to work out the mechanics of the case while facing her own domestic challenges.

 

Wednesday, February 6

  Internment, by Samira Ahmed

Set shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Ahmed’s novel presents a chilling depiction of America, in which U.S. citizens allow themselves to be controlled by prejudice and fear and succumb to the hateful rhetoric of a populist leader. Seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are among the Muslims rounded up and transported to Manzanar, an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. While most people quietly comply, Layla is determined to fight back for the freedom that is rightfully hers. Layla finds allies both inside and outside the camp, and before long, she herself is at the center of a rebellion against the despicable people in charge. This is a poignant, necessary story that paints a very real, very frank picture of hatred and ignorance, while also giving readers and marginalized individuals hope. It emphasizes that the oppressed have a voice and the power to speak up and fight back, while also reminding us that all citizens have the obligation, responsibility, and power to raise their voices and defend their fellow citizens from mistreatment or abuse.

 

Thursday, February 7

  The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

Leckie’s (Ancillary Justice, 2013) fantasy debut presents a world in which politics and history are shaped by the actions of extremely powerful yet vulnerable gods. The story alternates between two major threads. The first is told in second person to Eolos, a trans man and aide to Mawat, the heir to the Raven’s Lease of Iraden. The Lease, Mawat’s father, agrees to be sacrificed when the Raven’s Instrument, a mortal bird whose body hosts the Raven god, dies. When Mawat and Eolos arrive after hearing the news, they discover that Mawat’s father has disappeared, and his uncle Hibal has taken the Lease for himself. Alternating with Eolos’ search to discover the truth behind this strange turn of events is a story narrated by a god older than humanity itself, whose story not only reveals more about the nature of gods but weaves itself into the mysteries of the present.

 

Friday, February 8

  On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas

Thomas follows up her blockbuster, The Hate U Give (2017), with a sophomore novel that’s just as explosive. On the Come Up tells the story of talented Bri, daughter of a deceased underground rapper, who’s pursuing her own rap career. Bri is more than her dreams of making it out of the hood and reaching rap stardom; she is a girl who loves her family and friends fiercely. Bri’s chance at fame comes after a rap battle in which the song she pens garners massive attention. When Bri’s mother loses her job, Bri’s rap ambitions become more crucial than ever. They could be her and her family’s ticket to a better life unthreatened by poverty. Bri is a refreshingly realistic character with trials and triumphs, strengths and flaws. She’s also a teen with a traumatic past who is still going through things in the present. She still, however, manages to find the beauty and joy in life despite her tribulations, and this is where On the Come Up truly shines in its exploration of Bri’s resilience, determination, and pursuit of her dreams.

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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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