Reviews of the Week with Ayad Akhtar, M. Evan Wolkenstein, Isabel Wilkerson and More!

Reviews-of-the-Week-with-Ayad-Akhtar,-M.-Evan-Wolkenstein,-Isabel-Wilkerson-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.

Gather aroundeither virtually or in a small group, keeping your social distanceto discuss the thought-provoking titles in this week’s #ReviewsoftheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, July 13

Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar

Akhtar (American Dervish, 2012), whose many honors include a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, confronts issues of race, money, family, politics, and sexuality in a bold, memoiristic tale about a young Pakistani American before and after 9/11. This is not truly a “novel” in the usual sense, but rather a series of linked short stories reflecting on Akhtar’s experiences as the child of Muslim immigrants, a writer, and an intellectual questioning his place in American society. A common thread is his relationship with his father, Sikander, initially a superfan of Donald Trump and all things American, and his growing disillusionment with his adopted country. Akhtar’s mother, homesick for Pakistan and critical of American materialism, presents a quiet rebuke to his father’s hyperpatriotism, as do various Pakistani relatives and family friends.

Tuesday, July 14

Turtle Boy, by M. Evan Wolkenstein and read by the author

Will Levine acts a bit like the turtles he loves and takes after his bully-given nickname, Turtle Boy, in this humorous and deceptively deep journey of friendship and growing up narrated by the author. Will, who has grown up with a gradually increasing (though reparable) facial deformity, is tasked as his Bar Mitzvah community service with spending time with RJ, a teen who is struggling through a terminal illness. As the boys get to know each other, Will accepts another assignment: to experience the items on RJ’s bucket list and report back before his friend runs out of time. Though Will doesn’t think he’s cut out for this mission, one by one he ticks off items with the help of friends, growing himself just a bit more through the process. Wolkenstein captures an amazing range of sounds and experiences. For example, RJ teaches Will drumming, leading eventually to a talent-show solo, and listeners are treated to the beat and intensity, as well as Will’s stage fright and relief!

Wednesday, July 15

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

“Just as DNA is the code of instructions for cell development, caste is the operating system for economic, political, and social interaction in the United States from the time of its gestation,” asserts Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns (2010), which garnered many honors, including the Anisfiled-Wolf Award. She explores slavery and the decimation of Native Americans, the “authoritarian regime” of Jim Crow, and the transformation of European immigrants into whites with caste status. She draws parallels between the U.S. and India, both colonized by Britain, both having achieved independence and developed democracy, yet both saddled with the legacy of severe social stratification. She also explores the history of the Third Reich for lessons on racial separation. Wilkerson details the eight pillars of caste, including divine will, heritability, enforcement by terror, and inherent superiority versus inferiority. Drawing on genetics, anthropology, religion, and economics, Wilkerson examines the history and structure of caste. But she also draws on her exceptional journalistic skills to relate stories of individuals who have suffered disadvantages and humiliation but have triumphed nonetheless.

Thursday, July 16

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong

Five teenage girls, isolated by their personal struggles, find the strength to cope through a newly formed high school basketball team. Ren’s parents are divorced, and her delinquent sister attracts trouble. Luna’s mom just died. Nell has low confidence and a negative body image. Jetta’s abusive household drives her to smoking, cutting, and a romance with a misogynistic teacher. Introverted So feels ignored and unseen. When an optimistic coach pulls them together, they clash even as they gel and ultimately find solace in their friendships. While basketball plays a prominent role, this book is far less concerned with the sport than the relationships and mental health of its characters. Extraordinary tension is created just through Leong’s use of color, which shifts between unexpected and often intense color schemes that infuse skin color, backgrounds, and even the gutters with raw emotion. 

Friday, July 17

Menopause: A Comic Treatment, edited by MK Czerwiec

As editor Czerwiec, a nurse, artist, and coeditor of GraphicMedicine.org, explains in her introduction to this valuable, 26-piece anthology, comics “make literal the metaphors we use to describe our bodies, and they can be playful and enjoyable, even if the topic they tackle is not.” (Czerwiec’s own contribution includes the terrific line, “Here’s my theory: Hot flashes are actually give-a-shits burning off.”) Spanning a range of ages, gender and sexual identities, and artistic styles, the stellar roster of contributors (Lynda Barry, Leslie Ewing, and A.K. Summers among them) makes for a provocative collection that spikes, echoes, and ventures off topic. Attention is paid as much to the emotional side of menopause as to physical symptoms like hot flashes, six-month-long periods, and vaginal dryness. Some pieces don’t even mention the m-word, focusing entirely on the concurrent experiences of their contributors.

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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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