Reviews of the Week with Craig Santos Perez, Hilary Mantel, E. Lockhart, 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.

Poetry—along with some much-anticipated releases—is featured in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheWeek.

Monday, March 9

Habitat Threshold, by Craig Santos Perez

Celebrated as “a phenomenal ambassador for our island” by the Guam legislature, Chamorro professor, editor, and writer Perez explores environmental themes endemic to his island home and also to the inhabitants of other Pacific communities and the planet as a whole, such as carbon emissions, sea level rise, and the scourge of omnipresent plastics. Perez applies sharp wit and surprising humor through an expansive variety of forms, from a sonnet that recycles Neruda to a “geo-engineering lullaby” (“Hush little planet, don’t say a word, / Daddy’s gonna buy you an air filter”). He offers a concrete poem in the shape of an hourglass and haiku that zig-zag down the page (and one that simply asserts itself: “the world / briefly sees us / only after / the eye / of a storm / sees us”). But it’s perhaps the poems that speak tenderly about his wife and child that will, perhaps, move readers to action.

Tuesday, March 10

The Mirror & the Light, by Hilary Mantel

At 50, Thomas Cromwell is “the second man in England,” serving dangerously tempestuous Henry VIII, and his “chief duty (it seems just now) is to get the king new wives and dispose of the old.” A responsibility that will catalyze his violent undoing. Mantel has imagined Cromwell’s life in ways never before conceived in her resoundingly popular Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012), each a Man Booker winner. The longed-for final volume in Mantel’s magnificent trilogy is also a stupendously knowledgeable, empathic, witty, harrowing, and provocative novel of power and its distortions. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, has just been beheaded, yet, desperate for a male heir, he insists on immediately marrying Jane Seymour, who subsequently dies after giving birth to Edward VI. Cromwell has many fires to stamp out, especially since Henry’s annulment of his first marriage ignited a fierce battle between Catholics and Protestants.

Wednesday, March 11

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Compiled by the late Hopkins, this stirring poetry collection celebrates the breadth and diversity of the American experience, including contributions from two Young People’s Poet Laureates (Margarita Engle and Naomi Shihab Nye), a Newbery winner (Kwame Alexander), and winners of Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré Awards (Carole Boston Weatherford and Guadalupe Garcia McCall). Their poems touch on racism, biculturalism, and class, with a running theme of family heritage, fond childhood memories, and connection to identity. Many selections are laced with the pain of never quite fitting in and the danger of feeling like “the other.” In “Route 66,” Marilyn Nelson writes about childhood road trips: “I sit behind Daddy’s beautiful close-shorn head / and his broad, strong uniform-blue shoulders, / loving him, and feeling fear for his life. / What if somebody who hates black people / drives past our car and shoots him in the head?”

Thursday, March 12

Little Family, by Ishmael Beah

Beah, who recounted his brutal experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone in his best-selling memoir, A Long Way Gone (2007), understands all too well the horrors that can befall children. Here his fictional “little family” numbers five, the two oldest still teens. Among them, they understand 15 languages and three dialects, but they never speak about their lives before they became family. Even Beah treads lightly, with minium reveals. Bookish Elimane lost everything and everyone to fire; Khoudiemata escaped repeated sexual abuse; young Namsa remains plagued by screaming night terrors. Little is known about the two in-between boys, Nedevui and Kpindi, except a seeming contentment with their rambunctious togetherness. Together, the fivesome lives in an abandoned airplane at the edge of the chaos of a small town, Foloiya, where well-planned hustling and impeccably timed thieving keep the children alive.

Friday, March 13

Again Again, by E. Lockhart

“This story takes place in a number of worlds. But mostly in two.” Lockhart’s moving, high-concept novel follows Adelaide Buchwald through numerous different variations of the summer after her junior year as she misses her ex-boyfriend, falls for someone new, and processes the trauma of her brother’s drug addiction. Starting with Adelaide’s meet-cute with Jack at the dog park, the story branches into multiple possible worlds. In some, their relationship ends there after a disastrous conversation. In others, they start seeing each other around campus and grow closer, with each new encounter spawning new variations. In all of these different worlds, Adelaide starts talking again to her brother Toby, now out of rehab, and struggles to forgive him despite her grief and anger. If this sounds confusing, it isn’t; it’s surprisingly easy to follow the main story, the variation to which Lockhart devotes the most time.

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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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