Reviews of the Week with Nikki Grimes, Yoko Ogawa, Téa Obreht, 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 powerful memoir told through poetry; a dystopian nightmare where even remembering is a crime; the long overdue biography of the man behind the 1963 March on Washington; a beautiful and complex tale of two converging characters in the wild 1890s American desert; a headline-inspired entry in a popular spy series. A diverse range of stories lyrical, fantastic, and real assemble the Reviews of the Day, posted between June 24 and June 28, below.

Monday, June 24

Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

With Ordinary Hazards, Grimes delivers a memoir in the form of a powerful and inspiring collection of poems. She details her early life through adulthood, and she unabashedly explores the highs as well as the lows. Grimes’ struggle with a mother suffering from mental illness, an absent father, and an abusive stepfather plunged her life into turmoil at an early age. Yet through it all, she persevered and used writing as an outlet for her pain. She delves into finding a loving found family after being separated from her older sister and bounced around in foster care, ultimately having to choose between her found family and her birth mother, after her birth mother claims to be well enough for Grimes to come home. Young adults will identify with and connect to the many challenges explored in Grimes’ work, which delves into issues of love, family, responsibility, belonging, finding your place in the world, and fighting the monsters you know—and the ones you don’t.

Tuesday, June 25

The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

Without names, these people, this island, could be anyone, anywhere. As fantastical as the premise of her latest anglophoned novel seems, Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor, 2009) intends exactly that universality. Initially, small things disappeared—“Ribbon, bell, emerald, stamp.” What didn’t just vanish was destroyed. And then people disappeared—those able to remember were removed by the Memory Police to ensure community uniformity. A novelist, whose mother was a sculptor with secret-filled drawers, her father an ornithologist, lives alone while writing her latest book about a voiceless woman. When her editor reveals that his memories remain intact, the novelist immediately recognizes the danger. The novelist works with her trusted childhood nurse’s husband, now a daring duo, to build a hidden refuge in the novelist’s house. Then books disappear, the rest are burned; the single library, too. And still, the disappearing doesn’t stop.

Wednesday, June 26

Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man behind the March on Washington, by Jacqueline Houtman, Michael G. Long, and Walter Naegle

Though little remembered today, Bayard (rhymes with fired) Rustin was a major leader of the American civil rights movement, a chief organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A committed pacifist and believer in the power of nonviolence, Rustin was actively involved in civil rights protests, landing himself in prison 20 times by 1969. His commitment to human rights found expression not only in the U.S. but internationally as well. So why is he largely unsung? The authors (Jacqueline Houtman, Michael G. Long, and Walter Naegle) argue it is because of his sexuality. While presenting a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rustin, President Barack Obama confirmed this, saying, “This great leader . . . was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay.” The three authors of this thoughtful and informative biography—the narrative text of which is greatly amplified by a generous collection of black-and-white pictures and sidebar features—have gone a long way to rectifying this injustice.

Thursday, June 27

Inland, by Téa Obreht

Obreht, whose award-winning debut, The Tiger’s Wife (2011), became an international bestseller, brings her extraordinarily intricate worldview, psychological and social acuity, descriptive artistry, and shrewd, witty, and zestful storytelling to another provocative inquiry into the mysteries of place, nature, and human complexities. In this audacious tale in sync with those of Rick Bass, Hannah Tinti, and Karen Russell, we’re privy to the thoughts of two haunted characters running on separate, ultimately colliding tracks. Lurie is a young fugitive roaming the Southwest, communing with ghosts, and puzzling over his distant origins. Nora’s escalating struggle takes place on a drought-stricken homestead in the Arizona Territory in 1893. Even though she converses with her dead first child, she blames clairvoyant Josie for Nora’s youngest son’s claim that he’s seen a frightful winged beast. While Nora’s newspaper-owner husband is off searching for water and their older sons are responsible for the paper, a vicious controversy whips up like a dust devil and Nora’s already precarious situation worsens.

Friday, June 28

The New Girl, by Daniel Silva

In August 2018, Silva began working on a novel about a Saudi prince who hoped to modernize his country, based on Mohammad bin Salman. The writer’s plans changed shortly thereafter when MBS was implicated in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last fall. This novel, rewritten from that first draft, still centers on a Saudi crown prince, here called Khalid bin Mohammed (KBM), but Silva also brings the murdered journalist into the story. In Silva’s telling, Khalid remains redeemable if deeply flawed. We see both the flaws and the humanity in the despot following the kidnapping of his daughter, which takes place in the book’s opening chapters. In an audacious alliance, Khalid turns to Gabriel Allon, chief of Israeli intelligence, for help in finding his daughter, and Allon, seeing the possibility for positive change in the Middle East, reluctantly agrees.

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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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