Reviews of the Week with Katie Cotugno, Porochista Khakpour, Abdi Nor Iftin and More!

The Review of the Day has always been a brief, early way to spotlight exceptional upcoming titles 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.

Personal histories steeped in adversity, hope, and narrative magic are spotlighted in this week’s #ReviewsoftheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, June 8

You Say it First, by Katie Cotugno

The acceptance letter from Cornell is supposed to be a sign that every part of Meg’s life plan is falling into place, but instead it feels like the last nail in the coffin. She’s supposed to go to school with her best friend, but as her long-term relationship ends and her mom’s drinking intensifies in response to Meg’s dad’s new romance, Meg becomes unsure of everything except for her work at WeCount, where she helps people register to vote. Meanwhile, in Ohio, a state away from where Meg lives in Pennsylvania, 18-year-old Colby, too, is adrift. His father’s suicide has left him with crippling nightmares, and he spends his days working in a Home Depot instead of chasing the construction opportunities he’s genuinely interested in. When he ends up on Meg’s call list, their first interaction is volatile, but it sparks a connection that, despite the distance, could become more.

Tuesday, June 9

Brown Album: Essays on Exile and Identity, by Porochista Khakpour

Much praised novelist Khakpour (The Last Illusion, 2014) shared her health and depression struggles in her memoir, Sick (2018). Here she gathers essays written over a decade in which she explores nuances of personal and communal identity as an Iranian immigrant. With a focus on race and ethnicity, Khakpour chronicles her gradual coming to terms with her Iranian familial history and delves into the anxiety of being brown skinned in America. Alternately conflicted and confident, excited and anxious, indulgent and exasperated, Khakpour engages with her complex Iranian American heritage with vibrancy and candor.


Wednesday, June 10

The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story, by Tina Cho and illustrated by Jess X. Snow

This beautifully illustrated picture book is set on Jeju Island in South Korea, home of the haenyeo, legendary women divers who hunt for deep-sea delicacies. Young Dayeon wants to dive, just like Grandma, but is afraid of getting water up her nose or being eaten by some scary underwater creature. Grandma is patient, and just like her mother taught her, teaches Dayeon breath control and how to stay safe in the ocean as they gradually venture out farther and deeper. A sudden swarm of dolphins is a warning that hungry sharks are headed their way. Grandma and Dayeon swim as fast as they can, and are pulled up to safety by other haenyeo. Dayeon feels protected and at home, just like a mermaid surrounded by ocean treasures. Swirling blues and purples are juxtaposed against brilliant oranges and yellows, depicting rich vistas, and back matter explains the origins of the haenyeo and what their lives are like today.

Thursday, June 11

The Dragons, the Giant, the Women, by Wayétu Moore

Moore follows her stunning first novel, She Would Be King (2018), with a debut memoir anchored in her family’s experiences in the Liberian civil war. Abruptly forced out of their settled lives in Monrovia, the Moore family—three young girls with their father, grandmother, and caregiver—endured a three-week trek to the family village of Lai. Moore is masterful in re-creating her five-year-old self’s perception of this chaotic and scary journey, while the aching desire to be with their mother, Mam, a visiting Fulbright scholar in the U.S., is a continuous dream for all the girls. Mam does return for her family, and helps them leave via Sierra Leone, and reach Texas, and Moore’s subsequent life as an African immigrant. Identity, family ties, heroism, and gender roles are beautifully woven into Moore’s fable-like narrative, in which she uses dragons to express the nature of power and the inevitability of political corruption.

Friday, June 12

Call Me American: The Extraordinary True Story of a Young Somali Immigrant, by Abdi Nor Iftin

The author of this remarkable memoir was born under a neem tree in Mogadishu, Somalia, circa 1985 (births aren’t recorded there). His parents were nomadic herdspeople who had come to the city, fleeing a punishing drought. By the time Abdi is born, his family is famous, thanks to his father’s presence on the national basketball team. But then civil war comes, and they lose everything when they abandon the city and the murderous, omnipresent militia. The war is everywhere, and Abdi quickly learns that nowhere in the world is safe. The family returns to Mogadishu, now a city of graves, and leads a life of desperate poverty and danger. The only redeeming feature for Abdi is seeing American movies and learning English from his viewings. He dreams of going to America and is, accordingly, dubbed Abdi American. It will be years of struggling to survive before his dream comes true when he wins a spot in the American green card lottery. After many heartbreaking reversals, he finally gets a visa and is on his way to America. But is that the end of his 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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