Reviews of the Week with James Rhodes, Megan Angelo, 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 revealing first-person exploration of L.A.’s graffiti subculture; a vivid introduction to classical music’s renowned rebels; a 2020 #Mewbery nominee starring a playful orange tabby (adorbs!); an empathetic, illustrated journey to a better life; a dynamic debut novel with savvy warnings about technology. Illustrated and stunningly expressive portrayals of life fill this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between October 21 and October 25, below.

Monday, October 21

Going All City: Struggle and Survival in LA’s Graffiti Subculture, by Stefano Bloch

Urban dwellers have long regarded graffiti as an unsightly nuisance, at best. At worst, it’s been treated as a criminal enterprise, necessitating tactical response teams, nighttime raids, and numerous arrests. But Bloch, a former street tagger and current professor of geography, reframes these not-strictly-legal endeavors by telling the stories of those who spend the midnight hours writing their noms de plume on viaducts, billboards, and bus stops. This autoethnography, which Bloch helpfully defines as “the writing about one’s self as mediated through an analysis of culture,” takes readers for a tour of the 1990s graffiti scene in Los Angeles, sharing intensely personal memories of growing up destitute with a drug-addicted mother while also providing a wider analysis of the socioeconomic, legal, and spatial relationships at play.

Tuesday, October 22

Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound, by James Rhodes and illustrated by Martin O’Neill

When first approaching any art, nothing enhances the experience like encouragement from a friend in love with the work, and that’s the role played by concert pianist Rhodes in this vibrant introduction to classical music. His love is palpable, sure to infect anyone who gives classical music (and this book) a chance. Great lengths have gone into presenting the stereotypically unappealing subject through terms that will appeal to modern teens, from the book’s design—including dynamic typography and O’Neill’s lively punk-psychedelic collage work, all set in the dimensions of a record jacket—to Rhodes’ conversational text that often utilizes pop-culture references to make the material more relatable. Seven of the most notable classical composers are presented—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel.

Wednesday, October 23

Stretchy McHandsome, by Judy Schachner

Stretchy’s story will amuse readers and listeners with rhymes that scan perfectly and are fun to read aloud. The youngest of nine feline siblings that live together in a box, Stretchy is always at the bottom of the pile (“So was it any wonder that Stretchy hatched a plan to take a small vacation from the wild McHandsome clan?”). Thus begins the butterscotch cat’s adventure. Bright, colorful, humorous illustrations using collage, gouache, acrylics, and mixed-media are highly entertaining and put the personalities of Stretchy and his multicolored family on display. Stretchy has many attributes, including his polka-dot and striped coat and two different-colored eyes. He also has the ability to move his long body into positions that resemble yoga poses and are helpfully labeled with descriptions, such as “the tube sock” and “the mister twister.”

Thursday, October 24

Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk, by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Manuel Monroy

The award-winning Salvadoran writer Argueta offers a brief but powerful novel in verse. Misael and his family have made the difficult decision to leave their beloved home in El Salvador to head north. Like many of their compatriots, who have grown weary of the lack of employment and threats of violence, they choose to travel by joining “the caravan,” a large group of migrants and refugees who travel en masse through Central America toward the U.S. border. Together, they reason, the journey is “not as dangerous,” but it is still full of uncertainty. Argueta’s spare text is given emotional potency through Misael’s observations of the members of the caravan, whose stories mirror his own fears of undertaking the arduous journey, as well as the hopes that drive them.

Friday, October 25

Followers, by Megan Angelo

Orla is a celebrity gossip blogger by day, and at night she fantasizes about a life as a successful author. Her roommate, Floss, meanwhile, has her sights set on becoming an A-list celebrity. Both in a career slump, they scheme up a plan using social media to jump-start their careers. The tool driving their ambition ultimately becomes the catalyst for their downfall. The story also jumps ahead 35 years, to the year 2051 after a catastrophic data spill hacks all technology for three days. Readers meet Marlow, a government-appointed celebrity who lives in a controlled village, Constellation, where her every move is being monitored by followers and every decision made by executives at the network. Angelo masterfully intertwines the lives of Orla, Floss, and Marlow while reflecting a painfully accurate picture of our current fame-driven, tech-obsessed society and its possible destruction.

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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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