Reviews of the Week with Peter Bognanni, Delia Owens, Philippe Besson, 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.

The earnest misadventures of one cinephile and his attempt to save the local movie house; the delicate and compassionate narration of one woman’s fight for survival; a newly translated family crime drama about the gritty Calabrian underworld; a moving graphic novel illustrating the enduring inspiration of music; an author’s nostalgic look back to a formative yet secret love affair. The drama of growing up and older is the focus for the Reviews of the Day from this week, March 18–March 22, below.

Monday, March 18

This Book Is Not Yet Rated, by Peter Bognanni

Seventeen-year-old Ethan’s life centers around the Green Street Cinema. He works there, retreats there, and reveres the art house as the special place he and his film professor father bonded. Now his father has been dead for several years, and the dilapidated movie house is going to be torn down, leaving its assortment of misfit employees out of work and disoriented. Ethan, the erstwhile manager of Green Street, feels obligated to save the theater, a Don Quixote-like endeavor; his windmills will include karaoke-singing real-estate developers and rats fat from gorging on Junior Mints. Add to the mix the reappearance of Raina, Ethan’s first love, who has been making movies in Hollywood, and Ethan feels like he’s in his own movie—one that probably won’t have a happy ending.

 

Tuesday, March 19

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens and narrated by Cassandra Campbell

The tidal pull of a stellar performance will lure listeners into the virgin Carolina coastline waterways and marshlands of the late 1940s through 1970. Born last to a large but dysfunctional family in an era and region staunchly segregated by race, gender, and class, Kya Clark witnesses continuous departures of family members. Ultimately, she is nurtured only by that which she observes in nature. Kya’s keen observation of the natural world serves her well—her existence is fraught with the struggle for food, to barter, to survive. Campbell’s subtle southern drawl supports the delicacy of Kya’s introverted gentility, yet her measured tone lends strength to this thoughtful, independent character. Her narration skillfully portrays Kya from childhood to young woman, emoting curiosity, longing, sincerity, and innocent vulnerability.

 

Wednesday, March 20

Black Souls, by Gioacchino Criaco

In the hills of Calabria, three boys (Luciano, Luigi, and our anonymous storyteller) begin a journey into organized crime that will lead them to heady power before a fitting if tragic fall. In the 1970s, marginalized from educational and job opportunities, Calabria’s shepherding families develop a dark criminal partnership with the Ndrangheta Mob, hiding criminal fugitives and kidnap victims on their remote farms. Raised among Ndrangheta secrets, the three boys naturally begin plotting their own entry into the criminal world. Within a few short years, they’ve pulled off the robbery of a well-connected brothel owner, which seeds another ambitious venture: establishing Italy’s first heroin pipeline. Fueled by the narrator’s charismatic leadership, guided by Luciano’s genius, and protected by Luigi and their new brother Sasa’s bravery, they ride the heroin wave to unimaginable wealth, pivoting easily toward cocaine when heroin loses appeal. But, when a newly energized law-enforcement regime prompts the brothers to plan their underworld exit, they find themselves hunted by a vengeful former partner.

 

Thursday, March 21

Operatic, by Kyo Maclear, Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

With swirling, artful visuals and a thoughtful approach to middle-school emotions, this tender, quiet graphic novel follows Charlie and her friends as they work on a music class project and, more deeply, consider their own friendships and identities. When her music teacher, Mr. K, asks his students to find one song that speaks to who they are, Charlie is stumped until she hears an aria performed by Maria Callas. As she listens to more opera, she finds an outlet for the feelings she’s tried to keep stifled—worry about a classmate who stopped coming to school, a crush on a quiet boy others don’t seem to understand, pride in herself, and empathy and compassion for those around her. It’s a revelation beautifully depicted in Eggenschwiler’s thick-lined artwork with warm, jewel-toned accent colors, which does an excellent job of capturing the emotional tenor of each scene; for instance, a cloud of butterflies engulfing Charlie’s crush.

 

Friday, March 22

Lie with Me, by Philippe Besson

In Besson’s (In the Absence of Men, 2003) award-winning novel (120,000 copies sold in France), a middle-aged writer recalls his teenage first love, prompted by the impossible appearance of a young man who is the spitting image of his past amour. Back in 1984, the object of 17-year-old Philippe’s secret (he thinks) and burning crush, a schoolmate he’s never met named Thomas, shocks Philippe by asking him on a date. So begins their thrilling clandestine relationship. As he looks back, Philippe reminds readers so often of his passion for inventing stories and the fallibility of his memory that it’s hard to believe he’s telling anything but the truth. Discovering a therapeutic and devastating new ending to their story in the present, Philippe considers the absurd alignments that become life’s defining moments.

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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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