Reviews of the Week with Sonia Sotomayor, Margaret Atwood, Jojo Moyes, 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 inclusive picture book penned by a Supreme Court justice; the compelling true story of a courageous and defiant Olympic horse rider; the much-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale; a character-rich historical fiction tale for library lovers. The most sought-after, highly praised titles make up this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between September 3 and September 6, below.

Tuesday, September 3

Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, by Sonia Sotomayor and illusrated by Rafael López

In this inviting picture book, 12 friends are planting a garden. Each child is distinct in appearance and personality, but other differences are harder to see or to understand. Seven-year-old Sonia tells of pricking her finger to measure her blood sugar and giving herself insulin shots to manage diabetes, which she briefly explains. Next, Rafael talks about having asthma and using an inhaler when he has trouble breathing. Ten more children in succession talk about their wheelchair, blindness, deafness, dyslexia, autism, stuttering, Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, nut allergy, or Down syndrome. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who began giving herself insulin shots at age seven, offers an amiable, matter-of-fact text in which each child handles a challenge with courage and grace. Created with pencil, watercolor, and acrylic, then digitally manipulated, the vibrant artwork celebrates these self-assured kids, shown working, communicating, and interacting with nature.

Wednesday, September 4

Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race, by Richard Askwith

In a follow-up to Today We Die a Little! (2016), about the legendary Czech Olympic runner Emil Zátopek, Askwith recounts the life story of another Czech athlete, equestrian trailblazer Lata Brandisová (1895–1981). While she is relatively unknown, even in her own country, her life story is both compelling and heartbreaking. Brandisová grew up in a world of aristocracy but lived in poverty most of her adult life. She defied gender norms to compete numerous times in the dangerous cross-country steeplechase race, the Velká Pardubická, or Grand Pardubice. In 1937, before a crowd of 40,000, she became the only woman to win the event, riding to victory on her beloved golden Kinsky mare, Norma. Together they bested a field of men that included several SS officers.

Thursday, September 5

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) is a prisoner’s memoir written in shock, despair, and longing by a woman who has been hijacked from her life and enslaved in a tyrannical theocracy on a poisoned planet where human fertility is imperiled. Margaret Atwood’s concussive and prescient novel remains electrifying and appallingly relevant in the Trump era, both on the page and in its Emmy-winning television adaptation. In her avidly awaited sequel, Atwood returns to Gilead, 15 years after the Handmaid called Offred recorded her indelible experiences. Readers will again enter a dystopia of eerie orderliness as women under ruthless surveillance, their social status indicated by cumbersome, color-coded uniforms, are forced into dehumanizing rituals of sex and punishment. One key character returns, the formidable Aunt Lydia. But in this very different novel, three women tell their stories, the lens widens so that Gilead is seen from the outside, and the focus is not only on men oppressing women, but also on women wielding power. The result is a shrewdly suspenseful tale of survival and resistance. And Atwood’s wit is phosphorescent.

Friday, September 6

The Giver of Stars, by Jojo Moyes

When Alice marries the charming, athletic Bennett Van Cleve, she imagines bustling city life in America, so unlike her staid English existence. But when she gets to Baileyville, Kentucky, she finds her peers are suspicious and gossipy, her house is a shrine to Bennett’s late mother, and her father-in-law sleeps in the room next door. Desperate and lonely, she surprises herself by volunteering to help with the new Baileyville Packhorse Library, run by the indomitable Margery O’Hare, who has an unsavory reputation as a moonshiner’s daughter, though no one dares say it to her face. Of course, spreading education and information, especially to the womenfolk, threatens the man who runs the coal mine—Alice’s father-in-law.

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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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