Reviews of the Week with Patricia Hruby Powell, Valarie Kaur, Elizabeth Acevedo, 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.

A wide range of life experiences highlighting determined, audacious acts of love and courage are presented in this week’s #ReviewsoftheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, June 22

Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker, by Patricia Hruby Powell and illusrated by R. Gregory Christie

Born in 1903, Ella Baker grew up on her grandparents’ North Carolina farm, where they’d once labored as slaves. There she learned to listen to others, to help people in need, and to “lift as you climb.” From her grandfather’s church pulpit, she heard the resounding question, “What do you hope to accomplish?” After college, Baker worked for the NAACP and SCLC. She gradually became a significant figure in the civil rights movement, challenging its leaders on occasion, speaking up for women within the movement, focusing on issues such as voting rights, and always listening at the grassroots level. She helped plan the Freedom Rides, and she advised and befriended many young activists throughout her career. In the striking gouache paintings, Christie uses strong lines and vibrant colors to recreate scenes from Baker’s life and times, while expressing the leader’s dignity, empathy, and determination.

Tuesday, June 23

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, by John Bolton

If you’ve been paying attention, there aren’t a lot of surprises in former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book, at least as far as headline stories go. Trump’s blackmailing of Ukraine for personal political gain before finally dispensing congressionally approved funding to that country, our president’s affection for dictators, and his bright idea to invite the Taliban to Camp David days before September 11—all these have all been deeply reported, the latter having been tweet-leaked by Trump himself. Still, it’s enlightening to read about these shocking decisions with voice-over commentary from an eyewitness. In addition, though, there are a few depressing surprises: President Trump taking advantage of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi to divert attention from Ivanka’s use of a personal email server (Hello, Hillary!), and his giving support to Chinese leaderXi Jinping to build concentration camps for the minority Muslim Uighurs. When it comes to Trump, Bolton barely needs to point out the inconsistencies and inadequacies; he mostly just reports. 

Wednesday, June 24

See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, by Valarie Kaur

This amalgam of activist handbook, self-help guide, memoir, and philosophical thesis is hard to define but unquestionably pertinent for tackling the pressing questions born of these times of deep political divide and global crises. Activist and civil-rights lawyer Kaur’s straightforward writing style is the perfect match for her strikingly clear thinking, which together keep the reader focused on her call for revolutionary love. Kaur acknowledges that offering love and reconciliation as resolutions to social injustice can sound simplistic, then proves otherwise when she offers a nuanced approach to making them relevant in complicated contexts. Kaur’s experiences growing up in a Sikh farming family in central California and her grounding in religious philosophy inform the way she defines her activism. Her efforts to give voice to the victims of post-9/11 hate crimes, pin down questions of identity in America, and illuminate the ways national policies can be defined by fear are all integrated into three sections about loving people you agree with, loving opponents, and loving ourselves.

Thursday, June 25

Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo and read by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte

Producers/directors, take note: this is how to effectively record an audiobook with more than a single narrator. Here, Marte reads Camino’s chapters, while Acevedo picks up Yahaira’s. For chapters featuring both girls, Marte and Acevedo take turns in dialogue. When their words overlap, both narrators speak together. Simple as that sounds, multi-voiced casts rarely achieve the authentic accuracy listeners are gifted here. Indeed, Acevedo’s latest is remarkable, an affecting back-and-forth between two teens whose lives are irreparably altered when a Dominican Republic-bound flight crashes, leaving no survivors. Waiting for a father who never arrives is Camino, raised by her aunt in the DR while her father works in NYC nine months of the year. Waiting for a father who will never return is New Yorker Yahaira, whose silence toward him over the past year can now never be broken. Born almost 17 years ago, just two months apart to different mothers in separate countries, Camino and Yahaira are suddenly connected by the same dead man, and in need of navigating brave new futures.

Friday, June 26

Girl on a Motorcycle, by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Julie Morstad

The adventurous spirit of Anne-France Dautheville is distilled in this arresting ode to her life, though it’s only in the back matter that her name is revealed. It begins in Paris, 1973, with “a girl” gripped by wanderlust and a wish to write about the world, so she packs her motorcycle’s saddlebags—the detailed spread of their contents, from lipstick to pliers, is a treat—and hits the road. Wonder, awe, and bravery are paramount in her ensuing travels, which include visits to Canada, Afghanistan, India, and Turkey. In fact, she becomes the first woman to travel around the world on a motorcycle—another piece of information reserved for the back matter. Powerfully understated, the story reveals Dautheville as a girl who can. A girl unafraid of hard work or of taking a fall. She defies conventions and gender norms through her choices, namely showing the world what a girl is capable of.

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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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