Reviews of the Week with Francis Spufford, Karleen Pendleton Jiménez, Stacey Lee, and More!

The Booklist Review of the Day, posted to the top of the Booklist Online home page each day of the week, spotlights exceptional upcoming titles that are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

The Reviews of the Week, posted each Monday, offers a comprehensive look at the previous week’s awardees—while also piquing interest for the week ahead. Catch up on the week of May 24 below, then dive into the week at hand with today’s Review of the Day, Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, by Alda P. Dobbs. For the full week-in-review treatment, subscribe to our newsletter, Booklist Reader Update.

Monday, May 24

Light Perpetual, by Francis Spufford

Five children die in 1944, but imagined glimpses of their unlived lives generate powerful moments of reflection and redemption. A German V-2 rocket obliterates a London department store, instantly killing young Alec and Ben, sisters Jo and Val, and pudgy little Vern with his finger up his nose. “Come, other future,” pleads our narrator. And so we witness Alec attain and lose his job as a newspaper typesetter. Jo’s musical aspirations fizzle into teaching and self-doubt, while Val becomes an accessory to violence. Ben struggles with mental illness, and Vern ventures unscrupulously into real-estate development. Meanwhile, the fictitious South London borough of Bexford gentrifies around them.

Tuesday, May 25

The Street Belongs to Us, by Karleen Pendleton Jiménez and illustrated by Gabriela Godoy

In the summer of 1984 Los Angeles, construction work on their street is a cause for celebration for Alex and her best friend, Wolf. Alex is a girl terrified of becoming a woman. She would rather wear her hair short and her brother’s old clothes than anything smacking of girlishness. Wolf is dealing with his mom’s death as if he’s a warrior, which colors his rage as the fort he and Alex built is invaded by other neighborhood kids. Mud slinging, trench digging, and learning about secrets infuse this snapshot of innocence and emotional growth as Alex figures out how to contact her dad, who abandoned their family a few years before. It is her abuela’s tales of the Mexican Revolution and of hiding and finding treasures that inspires Alex to run away with Wolf—who might be in trouble with the law for his anger issues—on a quest to bring her father home. 

Wednesday, May 26

Mary Jane, by Jessica Anya Blau and read by Caitlin Kinnunen

An Eric Claptonesque guitar riff begins this homage to the early 1970s. Straightlaced, Gerald Ford-era suburban patriotism and the freewheeling “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” scene collide when 14-year-old Mary Jane becomes the summer nanny for the daughter of a local psychiatrist and his wife. Mary Jane soon learns that, in addition to caring for sweet Izzy, she must also keep secret the fact that a famous rock star and his movie-star wife will be living with the family over the summerwhile Dr. Cone focuses on treating the musician’s drug addiction. Kinnunen’s youthful tones capture the worry, wonderment, and independence of Mary Jane’s coming of age.

Thursday, May 27

Luck of the Titanic, by Stacey Lee

Lee follows the success of The Downstairs Girl (2019) with a dauntless character’s experience on an infamous ship. Valora Luck is determined to board the Titanic. After the recent death of her Chinese father and still grieving the loss of her British mother, she longs to reunite with her twin brother, Jamie, who’s already on board along with his steamship crew. Val becomes hard-set on convincing Jamie to revive their acrobatic act, hoping it will impress a circus magnate on the ship, who could secure them entry into the U.S. and bypass the Chinese Exclusion Act. As a stowaway, Val experiences the opulence of first class and the contrasting xenophobia in third class, and all the while her movements throughout the ship offer a strong sense of setting and will ground readers both familiar and unfamiliar with the interior of the Titanic

Friday, May 28

The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid, by Lawrence Wright

In 2020, America was waging war against a lethal virus and against itself, battling both nature and human nature. In his exemplary chronicle of the cataclysmic effects of COVID-19 on society, Pulitzer Prize–winner Wright (The Terror Years, 2016; God Save Texas, 2018) analyzes missteps and misinformation, failed leadership, lack of transparency, and repeated rejections of science. “Ordinary” was basically expunged from our lives. Wright reflects on how “the air itself might carry our destruction.” Grief and guilt, anger and blame, fear and death permeate these pages. But there are also countless examples of hope, sacrifice, and heroic feats. Wright’s interviews with experts in virology, economics, public health, history, politics, and medicine are enlightening. He acknowledges, “There has never been such an enormous, worldwide scientific effort so intensely focused on a single disease.”'

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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