Reviews of the Week with Barry Wittenstein, Nnedi Okorafor, Erin Entrada Kelly, 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.

An inspiring visual journey into the “I Have a Dream” speech; the uplifting story of a writer’s struggles and successes; the just-awarded Voice of Choice narration from a teen coping with extraordinary growth; a vibrantly illustrated adventure inspired by Filipino folklore; the multicultural history of the resilient women in one writer’s family. Beautifully written tapestries of life, culture, and significant events are offered in the Reviews of the Day, posted between June 17 and June 21, below.

Monday, June 17

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation, by Barry Wittenstein, illusrated by Jerry Pinkney

The civil rights movement is magnified through the intimate lens of Martin Luther King Jr.’s momentous “I Have a Dream” speech, as—in the Willard Hotel before the March on Washington—he wrestles with what to say. Thoughtful, humble, vulnerable, and strong, Dr. King weighs his advisers’ guidance. As he bends over a legal pad, pencil in hand, the faces of those for whom he fights sit on his shoulders. “Martin saw Rosa, / Fannie Lou, / Emmett, / . . . and so many others / . . . arrested, beaten, shot, and hung.” Several important African American figures are honored—past, present, and future—all of whose fates intersect in the moment when the reverend takes the pulpit. Dr. King leaves uncertainty behind as he abandons the agonized-over speech in favor of improvisation, summoning “the passion of a Sunday morning sermon.” Wittenstein’s free verse, beautifully subdued, flows crisp and clear, leaving room for Pinkney to shine.

Tuesday, June 18

Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected, by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor, a Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winner, is the author of richly imagined, African-rooted works of science fiction and fantasy––including the Binti trilogy, the Akata books, and titles in the Black Panther comic series, including Long Live the King and Wakanda Forever, starring female characters, namely the Dora Milaje and Shuri, and the forthcoming LaGuardia. In this galvanizing account, she shares the shock and horror of medically caused paralysis and her grueling, ultimately triumphant reclamation of the use of her legs. This harrowing and uplifting chronicle of the derailment of a young, brilliant, ambitious college student and athlete and the making of a trailblazing writer will awe and transport any reader, while Okorafor’s many devotees will gain even deeper appreciation for the reach and fluidity of her artistry and the resonance of her sources of inspiration, from butterflies to her Nigerian heritage.

Wednesday, June 19

XL, by Scott Brown, read by Robbie Daymond

At 4’11“ on his sixteenth birthday, Will is short. Not just shorter—truly, undeniably short. Despite his best efforts at finding the magic growth formula via suspicious herbal formulations on the Internet, nothing seems to help. But then, the measuring tape finally moves—and keeps moving until Will towers high above his peers and parents, and most definitely outgrows his Fiat. Daymond—known largely for his superb work with young protagonists—shines here, allowing Will a full range of emotions as the teen cycles through excitement, wonderment, anxiety, fear, and acceptance of his rapidly changing shape.

Thursday, June 20

Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly, illusrated by Lian Cho

On the island of Sanlagita, the strongest men have always sailed north in search of fabled Mount Isa. It is said that there are riches at Isa’s peak, chief among them a yellow flower that can cure disease. All her life, 12-year-old Lalani has watched the sailors leave—including her own father—only for them never to return. When Sanlagita is beset by calamities—first a drought, then torrential rains, and finally illness befalling Lalani’s mother—Lalani finds inspiration in the tales of Ziva, the precocious girl who long ago dared to stow away on a ship bound for Isa. Stealing a boat, Lalani sets sail hoping against hope that the smallest and least imposing of Sanlagita’s sailors can be the greatest of all. Inspired by Filipino folklore, Newbery Award winner Kelly has woven her narrative with a mythology that is rich and delicious; it is also one fraught with peril.

Friday, June 21

In the Country of Women, by Susan Straight

Lifelong booklover Straight married her high-school sweetheart, basketball player Dwayne Sims, and they bestowed on their three daughters a global heritage—African American, Cherokee, Creek, English, Filipino, French, Haitian, Irish, Mexican, Samoan, and Swiss. In her first work of nonfiction, a captivating mixture of family history and memoir, much-honored novelist Straight tells the stories of powerful and courageous women in both her and Sims’ bloodlines, determined survivors of complex traumas who “crossed thousands of miles of hardship” on quests for freedom from poverty, slavery, and violence. Readers meet Sims’ great-great-grandmother, Fine, born and quickly orphaned in Tennessee soon after the Civil War, and Straight’s mother, who escaped a grim, motherless childhood in the Swiss Alps. With stirring details and delving perceptions, Straight chronicles the repercussions, generation after generation, of enslavement, Jim Crow, and immigration as well as rape, murder, grueling work, and single motherhood while tracing the journeys of the women in her clan to Canada, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, and finally, gritty, multicultural Riverside, California, Straight’s hometown.

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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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