Reviews of the Week with Karen Blumenthal, Robert Hellenga, and More!

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

An array of storytelling through text, narration, and illustration plus a powerful history of reproductive rights are featured in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheWeek. Add them all to your list now.

Monday, February 24

Jane against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights, by Karen Blumenthal

Though it doesn’t seem like a radical thought, a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body, her pregnancy, and her reproductive organs has been a centuries-long debate in the U.S. In her latest work of nonfiction for young adults, Sibert-nominated Blumenthal (Six Days in October, 2002) plunges headfirst into the murky waters surrounding not just the complex history of the Roe v. Wade landmark case, but of the century in American history that led to the ruling. In measured but powerful chapters, she lays out the facts, diving into the restrictions—and shady medical practices—surrounding not only abortion but birth control, sterilization, and sexual education.

Tuesday, February 25

Love, Death & Rare Books, by Robert Hellenga

“I want to live life, not read about it.” People keep saying that to Gabe Johnson and his father, Charles, bookmen of the old school, who along with Gabe’s grandfather, Charles, Sr., ran a rare book store in Chicago’s Hyde Park until the internet finally forced Gabe to close the doors of the family business. As Gabe tells his story, from 1970, when his mother disappeared (after first stating her preference for living over reading), to 2011, when Gabe, in his fifties, attempts to assess his life in and out of books, Hellenga returns to the theme that has permeated his eight deeply moving and meditative novels: love and loss.

Wednesday, February 26

Butterfly Yellow, by Thanhhà Lại, Read by LuLu Lam

Thanhhà Lại creates a beautifully poetic story of the sometimes funny, often sad, and all too frequently horrific life of 18-year-old Vietnamese refugee Hanh, that is enhanced and enlarged by the fluid, nuanced performance of narrator LuLu Lam. Six years after being separated from her five-year-old brother, Linh, Hanh arrives in Texas, eager to reclaim her relationship with the little boy she remembers. Lam gives a culturally authentic voice to Hanh, not only as the girl speaks Vietnamese (fluently) and English (haltingly), but also as Hanh hears English when others speak it. In a madcap adventure that includes a bus ride and bizarre travel arrangements with an aspiring young cowboy, Hanh makes her way to Linh, only to discover that he has no recollection of her or his old life in Vietnam and has no desire to reacquaint himself with her.

Thursday, February 27

Snapdragon, written and illustrated by Kat Leyh

There’s something creepy about Jacks, the odd, gangly, one-eyed, old, white woman living in Snapdragon’s town, but Snap’s not afraid, especially after Jacks shows her how to take care of a litter of orphaned possums and what she’s up to early in the morning with a wheelbarrow full of roadkill (it involves a very lucrative internet business for skeleton enthusiasts). Beyond their shared obsession with animals, though, Snap and Jacks have a much deeper connection based on family secrets, ghosts, and a touch of magic. The slow reveal of those connections makes up the dense but heartening plot of Leyh’s graphic novel, which is bolstered by some affirming, character-revealing side plots, such as Snap’s growing friendship with transgender, dark-skinned Lulu; her fantastic relationship with her tough yet deeply compassionate Black mother; and her impatience to become more powerful herself.

Friday, February 28

The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo

A young novice, Chih, and their hoopoe companion make their way to the house where the Empress of Salt and Fortune once lived in exile, hoping to recover and note any artifacts for the abbey’s historical records. Instead they find an old woman named Rabbit, who tells them that back when the empress was just a northern royal named In-yo, Rabbit was her shadow, her servant, and her devoted friend, and she can tell stories no one else would know. This novella tells an epic story through small moments and intricate details, and its world-building is done with care, from the codes hidden in fortunes and linguistics to the folktales mentioned in passing in Rabbit’s story.

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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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