Reviews of the Week with Gail Shepherd, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Natalie Scenters-Zapico, 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 textured family history as told from a girl in 1980s Tennessee; a sweeping fantasy series brought to life by calm, measured narration; an ode to reading appreciation written by a wealth of creative voices; a prominent scholar’s vital look at the impact of Jim Crow laws; a vibrant and daring collection of verse revealing a poet’s two homelands. Our issue spotlight on the historic and poetic continues as we bring you the Reviews of the Day from this week, March 4–March 8, below.

Monday, March 4

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins, by Gail Shepherd

Lyndie, 11, is pretty happy with her life in Love’s Forge, Tennessee, circa 1985. But then her father, a Vietnam vet, loses his job, and the family must move in with her paternal grandparents. Rule-happy, highfalutin Lady and her granddaughter are destined to butt heads, and do. But Lady’s just a part of Lyndie’s troubles. Her father has started drinking and disappearing, her mother is depressed, and Lyndie can’t share her troubles with her best friend, Dawn, which leads to a rift. To cap it off, D.B., a reform-school boy offered a second chance, comes to live at Dawn’s, adding further complications. The framing story of how veterans can struggle is not unusual, but debut author Shepherd gives it new life by filling it with layered characters who jump off the page. Lyndie’s narration is frank and funny, but it’s her love of research and history that sets her apart as she tries to acclimate herself to a changed environment that puzzles and stifles her.


Tuesday, March 5

The Tensorate Series, by Jy Yang and narrated by Nancy Wu

A richly developed, Asian-influenced epic fantasy world comes to life through a narration that will multiply devotees of Yang’s work. When Protector Sanao pays a debt owed the Head Abbot, he gives the Grand Monastery newborn twins instead of her sixth child as he’d assumed. The inseparable twins will study Slackcraft, the magic of the five natures, and live simply. Wu’s narration gradually ages and refines the light, airy voices of the children, Mokoya and Akeha, without implying gender, until their choice of gender has been made. When Mokoya’s dreams prove prophetic, the Protector’s desire to exploit their visions draws both twins back into Protectorate machinations. As Mokoya’s visions set Akeha on their own path of self-discovery, Wu subtly reflects growing divide by diverging the twin’s voices until each is unique, while still echoing their origins. By the second novella, Akeha has found his place as an outlaw. The focus shifts to Mokoya’s self-determination to create an identity separate from being a prophet while facing overwhelming grief. As the points of view expand in an epistolary style in the third novella, Wu provides clarity to the grander scope of the civil war fomenting against the Protectorate with Mokoya’s and Akeha’s help.


Wednesday, March 6

A Velocity of Being, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick

This is best described by the editors themselves as an eight-year “labor of love.” This chunky anthology includes letters and art from 121 writers and artists in the form of poems, personal narratives, cartoons, instructions, reflections, and more. Indeed, it breaks all sorts of literary boundaries: genre, form, audience. Contributions come from a dazzling array of people: journalists (Maria Bustillos), radio hosts (Krista Tippet), film directors (Shonda Rhimes), musicians (Yo-Yo Ma), and numerous writers who share their own experiences with reading. Some sought solace, others adventure. Some read avidly as children, others grew to love books as adults. All encourage young readers to linger with stories and be moved by the experiences they encounter. Each narrative is carefully paired with an illustration by an artist selected to “bring its message to life.”


Thursday, March 7

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Prominent and prolific scholar, writer, filmmaker, and educator Gates has long been compelled by Reconstruction and its rapid and bloody deconstruction. In his signature lucid and compelling approach to history, he tracks the vicious backlash against the post–Civil War constitutional amendments (the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth) that abolished slavery, established citizenship for African Americans, and ensured Black men the right to vote—and the resultant election of numerous Black legislators. White southerners retaliated with white-supremacist propaganda, “scientific racism,” racial violence, including lynchings, and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation laws. Accompanying Gates’ illuminating narrative are bold “visual essays” presenting appalling mass-produced racist images casting African Americans as less than human, weaponized representations accompanied by hoaxes, or fake news, crafted to amplify demeaning stereotypes and heighten fears, especially of Black men as rapists. The parallels to renewed white-supremacist ideology and reactionary politics in the wake of the first African American presidency are staggering.


Friday, March 8

Lima :: Limón, by Natalie Scenters-Zapico

In her scintillating second collection, Scenters-Zapico adopts citrus, fruit derived through hybridization, a union of strands so closely related as to be inseparable, as a signifier of duality. With unabashed passion, the poet returns to subjects introduced in her first book, The Verging Cities (2015), further complicating binary notions of language, geography, and gender. In gleaming, evocative verse that combines Spanish and English, the poet interrogates her homelands of the mirror cities of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso while exploding timeworn notions of masculinity and femininity (“I call my man, Mi reina over & over”).



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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