Reviews of the Week with Kacen Callender, Maggie O’Farrell, 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.

It’s been a short but eventful week. This week’s #ReviewsOfTheWeek highlight brave self-discovery, COVID-19 facts and best practices for young readers, and a timely, valuable resource on voting. Booklist wishes you all well.

Tuesday, May 26

Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender

Seventeen-year-old Felix is Black, queer, and trans. He’s had a rough start to the new semester, between feeling neglected by his best friend and being targeted by a transphobic bully who has deadnamed him and hung up old photos from his childhood in the lobby of the school for all to see. In the process of pursuing revenge, Felix also questions whether or not he feels comfortable identifying as a boy, searching for a label that better suits him. And to top it all off, he’s still processing feelings of abandonment from when his mother left him and his father. With each passing day, Felix makes new discoveries about himself—finding the descriptor demiboy is a game-changer, for instance—and the people closest to him, including one or two he never thought he’d ever get close to.

Wednesday, May 27

Be a Virus Warrior! A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Safe, by Eloise Macgregor and illustrated by Alix Wood

Being informed is one of the best steps a person can take toward staying safe and healthy, and this guide to COVID-19 helps young children understand the nature of the coronavirus and viruses in general. The book sets a friendly tone with its cartoonlike illustrations and approachable writing. For instance, a drawing of a prickly, purple sphere comes with the note that “Viruses look like this, but a GAZILLION times smaller!” COVID-19 is then placed within the context of other viruses kids will be familiar with—colds, flu, chicken pox—and the text clearly explains common ways viruses are spread. Next comes a section on how COVID-19 can make you feel and how to protect yourself against it. Using tissues, wearing a mask, cleaning surfaces that people frequently touch, and washing your hands (illustrated chart included!) are all tips given and explained in child-friendly language.

Thursday, May 28

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

“How were they to know that Hamnet was the pin holding them together?” One ordinary afternoon in 1596, 11-year-old Hamnet’s twin sister, Judith, is suddenly taken ill as the Black Death stalks Stratford’s lanes. Hamnet’s father is, as always, away in London. His mother, skilled with herbs and possessing a numinous second sight, recognizes she will lose one of her children. Yet even she is shocked when it is not Judith who dies, but Hamnet. Historical sources on Agnes (aka Anne) Hathaway Shakespeare are few, so O’Farrell’s imagination freely ranges in this tale of deepest love and loss. Flashbacks document the Shakespeares’ marriage; O’Farrell offering a gentler rendering than the traditional view. While Hamnet’s death inspires aspects of Hamlet, Shakespeare is not the foremost player here (“He is all head, that one. All head, with not much sense.”); rather, it is Agnes, vibrant, uncannily perceptive, who takes center stage.

Friday, May 29

Voting and Political Representation in America: Issues and Trends, edited by Mark P. Jones

With the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, this is the time to take a hard look at suffrage in the U.S.; this two-volume work documents this fragile history and does it very well. The contributors are a diverse group of academic scholars, and coverage is comprehensive. Articles range from Black Panther Party to Blue Dog Coalition, Electoral College to Emily’s List, Nikki Haley to Heritage Foundation, NAACP to Natural Law Party, Presidents Who Lost The Popular Vote to Public Opinion Polls, and Social Media toSuper PACs. The 19th amendment article reveals that Tennessee, the 36th state needed for ratification, was deadlocked until young legislator Harry T. Burn received a letter from his mother, imploring him to change his vote—which he did, and women in the U.S. finally got the right to vote.

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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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