Reviews of the Week with Sylvia A. Harvey, Daven McQueen, and More!

The Review of the Day has always been a brief, early way to spotlight exceptional upcoming titles. Booklist stands in solidarity with the Black community and is dedicated to amplifying the stories, research, and creativity of BIPOC in this space, now and always.

For this week’s informative and wonderfully creative #ReviewsoftheDay, check out the list below. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, June 1

The Shadow System: Mass Incarceration and the American Family, by Sylvia A. Harvey

This offering explores the impact of long-term incarceration on American families. Author Harvey, a journalist who writes about class, race, and public policy, spent months getting to know the families of three inmates serving time in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Florida. She documents the barriers, uncertainties, and indignities that go along with trying to schedule visits and maintain meaningful relationships with prisoners: capriciously enforced regulations (no underwire bras, no spandex, no open-toed shoes); no homemade care packages (most prisons allow only vendor-supplied items at grossly inflated prices); no conjugal visits. As the stories unfold, readers witness how hard it is to sustain hope or optimism, and how separation negatively affects all family members, especially children. 

Tuesday, June 2

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, by Daven McQueen

Ethan Harper is a biracial teenager forced to spend the summer of 1955 with his white aunt and uncle in Ellison, Alabama, after getting in a fight at school. After he arrives, Ethan learns the hard way that people who look like him are not welcome in town. He resigns himself to boredom in his uncle’s malt shop until he meets Juniper Jones, the town misfit. Described as, “in equal parts, a gift and a natural disaster,” Juniper befriends Ethan, and they set out to have what she calls “an invincible summer.” Their days are spent seeking the good in a town filled with hate, until a tragic event changes their lives forever. In this story set during the early years of the civil rights movement, McQueen weaves a heartfelt narrative that examines friendship, otherness, and forgiveness.

Wednesday, June 3

The Last Story of Mina Lee, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

In Kim’s haunting and heartbreaking debut, troubled threads between a mother and daughter blend together in a delicate and rich weave. In autumn, 2014, 26-year-old Margot Lee has been unable to reach her mother, Mina, who lives in L.A.’s Koreatown. With her best friend Miguel, Margot drives down from Seattle only to find Mina dead on the floor of her tiny apartment. A police investigation finds Mina’s death to be an accident, but Margot is suspicious. As she goes through Mina’s belongings, Margot discovers a mother she barely knew. Mina rarely spoke of her past, but as a child, she fled from North Korea during the Korean War before being permanently separated from her parents and growing up in an orphanage. Now, Margot learns that Mina lost a husband and daughter in an accident in 1986 before fleeing to the U.S. She began her American dream, which, as an undocumented immigrant and single mother, becomes tragic.

Thursday, June 4

The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures, written and illustrated by Noelle Stevenson

In 2011, 19-year-old Noelle Stevenson began her annual tradition of recapping her year through a Tumblr post, illustrating her prose reflections with spot comics. Over the course of a decade, she went on to huge success as a writer and artist, becoming the youngest ever National Book Award finalist, winning Eisner Awards, becoming showrunner for Netflix’s She-Ra—and cataloguing her triumphs along the way. Here, those posts are compiled into a memoir of Stevenson’s twenties, richly supplemented by additional and often haunting comics that add layers to her self-portrayal. The sum of these parts is a deeply affecting, heart-wrenchingly honest exploration of not just the reality behind her success but also the struggle faced by many new adults to discover themselves. Stevenson lays bare her own struggles with Christianity, body image, romance, independence, isolation, and most crucially, mental health, with her own particular demon being unnamed but described as a fire, eating her alive.

Friday, June 5

Crooked Hallelujah, by Kelli Jo Ford

Ford, a Plimpton Prize–winning author and member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, tells a blistering Own Voices tale that spans generations. The novel reads like a set of interlinked short stories, yet there is a narrative thread that runs through each of them, connecting the reader to the heart of a family of Cherokee women. At its start, in 1974, 15-year-old Justine is coping with the pressures of her mother Lula’s strict Christian church. She wants to reconnect with her father and to live like her friends do. But when Justine becomes pregnant through an act of assault, daughter Reney enters the picture, and the reader follows their journey as Reney grows. The sections cover different decades and are told from different perspectives, leading up to an electrifying conclusion.

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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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