Reviews of the Week with Raven Leilani, Daniel Nayeri, Alice Randall, 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 27

Luster, by Raven Leilani

The first time she meets him IRL, artist/publishing professional Edie and her new paramour, Eric, spend a sweaty day at an amusement park. “After the first two rides, I am enjoying myself, and not just because dying means I won’t have to pay my student loans.” Their intense online connection, both sexual and emotional, was no ruse. They abide by the rules of Eric’s open marriage, until Eric’s silence impels Edie from Brooklyn to his cushy New Jersey home and the lukewarm reception of his wife, Rebecca. Somewhat uncomfortably attending the couple’s anniversary party that night, Edie meets their adopted daughter, Akila, who’s surprised to see another Black person there. As the summer wears on, Edie loses her job and her apartment, and moves in with the family, finding something approaching camaraderie with Rebecca, and becoming a companion for Akila.

Tuesday, July 28

Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a true story), by Daniel Nayeri

“A patchwork story is the shame of a refugee.” It’s with this refrain that 12-year-old Khosrou, known as Daniel to his skeptical Oklahoman classmates, tells “a version” of his life story. In the tradition of 1,001 Nights’ Scheherazade, he gathers up the loose strands of his memory, weaving short personal vignettes into the Persian histories, myths, and legends that are his ancestry. The result is a winding series of digressions that takes the reader on a journey as intimate as it is epic, knitting together a tale of Daniel’s youth in Iran, the perilous flight from home with his sister and mother, and their oppressive new beginning as refugees in Oklahoma. It’s a story heavy with loss (of home, of his left-behind father, of innocence), light with humor and love (for his mother, the “unstoppable force”), rich in culture and language (and, somehow, never sentimental). Walking the line between fiction and non-, this is a kind of meta-memoir, a story about the stories that define us.

Wednesday, July 29

Moms, written and illustrated by Yeong-shin Ma, translated by Janet Hong

Experiencing the tedious difficulty of household chores, Ma writes in his must-not-skip author’s note, is what made him “think more deeply about [his mother] and her life.” That empathic appreciation inspired him to present her with an expensive notebook, requesting, “If you want your son to find success, write honestly about you and your friends, about your love life and theirs.” Ma transformed that notebook, filled in less than a month by his mother, into Moms, his first title to appear in English, adroitly translated by award-winning Korean Canadian Hong. Long divorced from her gambling husband, Soyeon lives in a small apartment with her musician son. Her on-and-off-again boyfriend visits in the wee hours when he’s drunk—he’s a financial and emotional sinkhole, but she can’t let him go. Her corporate cleaning job is tedious, but she has good (enough) friends with whom she regularly gossips, complains, drinks, laughs, and cries. 

Thursday, July 30

Before the Ever After, by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson delivers a poignant new novel in verse that highlights an important topic within the sports world, especially football. Zacharias Johnson, Jr. (aka ZJ) is the son of a football star. The world adores him, and to that outside world ZJ, his dad, and the rest of his family enjoy a charmed life. However, outside of the spotlight, things aren’t as perfect as they appear. ZJ’s father is having health issues from repeated hard hits and head injuries while playing pro. He struggles with headaches, anger, and heartbreaking memory loss. Between the myriad doctor visits, medications, and medical tests, ZJ’s life quickly turns from charmed to tragic as he has to face that his father and family are forever changed. ZJ initially fights his new reality and must learn to lean on family, friends, and the support of his community in his grief in order to move forward.

Friday, July 31

Black Bottom Saints, by Alice Randall

The heyday of twentieth-century Black culture is usually associated with New York’s Harlem and Chicago’s Bronzeville. But Detroit’s Black Bottom surpassed the larger cities. So declares Ziggy Johnson, renowned dance teacher, club emcee, and entertainment columnist. On his deathbed, Ziggy recalls the splendor of a career spent in the company of entertainment luminaries and the striving Black middle and working classes. Ziggy drops and weaves names, including Dinah Washington, Bobby Short, Count Basie, Joe Louis, Josephine Baker, and Bricktop, with a nod towards a famed bartender, Thomas Bullock. Ziggy closes each entry with the recipe for a Bullock libation. Interwoven with Ziggy’s accounts is the story of Colored Girl, one of Ziggy’s most promising students. Colored Girl is tending to a dying and embittered mother who holds many secrets to her daughter’s cherished memories of Detroit.



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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