Reviews of the Week with Waka T. Brown, Kathleen Dean Moore, Carys Davies, and More!

Close-up of the cover of WHILE I WAS AWAY, by Waka T. Brown

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.

Two moves to distant homes; a new YA take on Greek mythology; a cautionary yet beautiful collection of environmentally aware essays; a creative debut fiction in verse. Broaden your reading horizons with this week’s #ReviewsOfTheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, January 25

While I Was Away, by Waka T. Brown

Twelve-year-old Waka’s parents realize that, despite being raised in a bilingual household, her Japanese needs a boost, so they send her to live with her grandmother and attend school in Japan for five months. Waka is horrified, not wanting to leave Kansas, friends, and family, but she comes to find that her stay in Japan deepens her cultural understanding, family ties, and sense of self. Brown’s debut novel, set from 1983 to 1984, is based on her own experience and perfectly captures the rhythms and cadences of American middle school and Japanese family life. The inclusion of Japanese script, with romanized phonetics and English translations, immerses the reader in Waka’s world. Brown directly addresses culture shock, with Waka going from star pupil in Kansas to “dumb jock” in Japan, where she is unable to read fluently and mocked for her accent. Today’s tweens will see many similarities between her experiences and their own; bullying from boys and the more subtle but equally painful snubs by girl cliques are especially well drawn. 

Tuesday, January 26

Earth’s Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World, by Kathleen Dean Moore

With nature in peril, nature writers, Moore avers, must “bear witness, beat the warning drum . . . blow the whistle, call all-hands-on-deck,” and she does so with authority and conviction in her newest, gracefully structured gathering of 32 essays “drawn from a lifetime of loving the world.” She writes of family and friends, camping and hiking, and celebrates “evolutionary marvels” small and large. Exceedingly knowledgeable, experienced, and expressive, this former philosophy professor shares tales of her adventures in the far north, prairies, woods, and beyond, all while emphasizing Earth’s gloriously varied soundscape: the songs of birds, frogs, and whales; the calls of bats and wolves. A grand symphony that is being overwhelmed by human cacophony, while the planet’s vital orchestra is being decimated by mass extinctions. 

Wednesday, January 27

Lore, by Alexandra Bracken

Nearly 1,500 years ago, nine Greek gods rebelled against Zeus, who, as punishment, created the Agon: every seven years, those gods are stripped of their immortality and hunted by the descendants of ancient heroes. Anyone who kills a god wins their powers and, when that cycle of the Agon is over, their immortality. As a child, Lore Perseous dreamed of achieving everlasting glory in the Agon and restoring honor to her once-great family line. But that ends when her entire family is brutally murdered by rival hunters who have seized the power of the god of war, and Lore, the last of the Perseus line, tries to disappear forever. But when another Agon arrives in New York City, that old world comes for Lore in the form of Athena, one of the last remaining original gods, who demands Lore’s help in exchange for the vengeance she hasn’t let herself crave; it comes in the form of Castor Achilleos, the childhood friend Lore has long believed to be dead.

Thursday, January 28

The Mission House, by Carys Davies

Fiftysomething Hilary Byrd has always felt like a misfit, someone life frequently leaves behind. When even his steady work as a librarian in the small English town of Petts Wood becomes a burden, he has a nervous breakdown and quits. For a while Hilary leans on his sister, Wyn, but decides he needs to leave the stifling despair of home. He travels to India, but the crushing chaos only unsettles him further until he arrives at the Mission House in a small hillside town in the South. The temperate weather; a daily routine in which an old rickshaw driver, Jamshed, drives Hilary around town; and the grace of Padre, the clergyman, all calm Hilary’s nerves. When Padre asks Hilary to teach Priscilla, a young woman in the church’s care, English, the agnostic Englishman finds a satisfying new mission. Unfortunately, dark undercurrents of religious intolerance are gaining momentum and threaten to topple Hilary’s carefully constructed house of cards.

Friday, January 29

Thirty Talks Weird Love, by Alessandra Narváez Varela

Narváez Varela’s poignant debut, a novel in verse, tells of Anamaria Aragón Sosa, a 13-year-old girl living in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in 1999, whose life is forever altered by the appearance of her 30-year-old self during one of the darkest periods of her existence. Young Anamaria’s life is full of worry, fear, and doubt. News of the terrifying femicides in Ciudad Juárez surrounds her, determining her liberties (or lack thereof), and the pressure of performing at the academy she attends threatens to crush her in every waking moment, even as she suffers from bullying classmates and works at her family’s taqueria in any spare moments outside of school. Telling her story through a series of alternately cheeky, macabre, and serious vignettes about her family members, the city, and her classmates, Anamaria experiments with poetry structures and formats as she explores young womanhood and self-love, composing sentimental letters to her current and older selves and salvaging friendships gone sour.'

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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