Reviews of the Week with Shannon Hale, David Lagercrantz, Mary H. K. Choi, 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 continuing illustrated saga of a beloved sixth-grader; the latest and perhaps last chapter for Sweden’s favorite hacker/avenger; a budding romance between a pop star and a less-than-average Joe; the extraordinary story of Korea’s unified Olympic women’s hockey team; an inspirational story of endurance in the face of many obstacles. The most anticipated and best-reviewed titles are in this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between August 26 and August 30, below.

Monday, August 26

Best Friends, by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Hilary Sycamore

Following right on the heels of her graphic memoir Real Friends (2017), Hale continues the story of her struggles to find friends in elementary school. Now in sixth grade and finally at the top of the social heap, Shannon starts out the year fully ensconced in the in-crowd. Queen Bee Jen is her locker mate; the girl who spread lies about her the year before is leaving her alone; and she finally feels like she has a group of real friends. At least, at first. Before long, Shannon starts noticing that the games and activities she likes most—writing, playing make-believe—aren’t as fun for her friends, who are starting to go with boys and only talk about TV shows and pop music, none of which she can keep up with. Meanwhile, Shannon’s issues with anxiety, which began appearing in Real Friends, become even harder to ignore, and Pham’s depiction of her intrusive thoughts—a black, fuzzy cloud with jittery, scratchy white writing, in sharp contrast to her warm, full-color figures elsewhere—really drives home how jarring those thoughts can be.

Tuesday, August 27

The Girl Who Lived Twice, by David Lagercrantz

Lagercrantz repeats the three-peat with his third Millennium novel starring Lisbeth Salander, following the original trio by the late Stieg Larsson. If this turns out to be, as Lagercrantz has suggested, the final installment in the series, it’s going out on a resounding tonic chord. As usual, there are two stories in play here, the first involving Stockholm investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist’s attempt to identify a homeless man, and the second, of course, featuring Salander, who is on the trail of her sworn enemy, twin sister Camilla. If this installment has a weakness, it’s that Blomkvist’s search, which leads to a tragedy that happened years before on Mt. Everest, seems unnecessarily complex. That might be fine in another novel, but here the reader wants more of Salander and less of mountain climbing. Fortunately, Lagercrantz, when he can get himself down the mountain, delivers in high style. The final chapter in Salander’s ongoing quest to close the book on her malignant past, we learn, involves settling scores with Camilla, who is equally determined to rid the world of Salander, which Camilla plans to do by exploiting her sister’s fondness for Blomkvist. Bad move, Camilla.

Wednesday, August 28

Permanent Record, by Mary H. K. Choi

Pablo has dropped out of college, is massively in debt, and feels aimless. One night when he is working the overnight shift at the 24-hour health food bodega, he meets Lee, who breaks him out of his rut. They have witty banter and great chemistry, but at the end of their encounter he figures out that she is Leanna Smart—the pop mega-star whose image is plastered everywhere and whose songs are inescapable on the radio. Navigating these barriers while falling in love pushes them into uncharted territory, and while it’s swoony and dramatic, it’s also messy and fraught. Choi (Emergency Contact2018) has penned a smart and funny read that is as much about finding your path as it is about falling in love. Pablo is a winning narrator with a natural voice, and readers will root for him in his romance with Lee, as well as on his rocky journey to self-actualization.

Thursday, August 29

A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History, by Seth Berkman

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, featured a team whose story was as unlikely and inspirational as that of the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1988 Winter Games—or even the legendary Miracle on Ice achieved by the 1980 men’s hockey team. This one began with a band of sisters from South Korea, plus several recruits of Korean descent from the U.S. and Canada (affectionately called “the imports”), who, along with  head coach Sarah Murray, defied language and cultural barriers to forge a squad ready to represent the host country. Yet, with a mere two weeks’ notice prior to the start of the Games, the leaders of South Korea and North Korea announced that they would be combining their women’s hockey teams and would play as one unified team representing all of Korea. Berkman, a New York Times contributor who was born in Seoul and raised in New Jersey, does a fantastic job of providing historical context and capturing the tremendous sacrifices made by the players as well as the passion they shared for the sport.

Friday, August 30

Bouncing Back, by Scott Ostler

Thirteen-year-old Carlos lost almost everything in a car accident: his parents, the use of his legs, even his status as a basketball star. Now, his loving aunt wants him to try wheelchair basketball. Carlos is reluctant, because he doesn’t consider the game a real sport, and, besides, he sucks. It takes time, but thanks to a wise coach, Carlos improves, learning new strategies and becoming part of his co-ed team. Then comes bad news: the city is going to demolish their beat-up old gym, leaving the kids with no home court. Carlos does a school project on the history of the gym, and inconsistencies begin to pile up. With the help of concerned adults and new friends, Carlos uncovers a conspiracy involving the mayor and a building contractor (who happens to be the father of the school bully).'

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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