Reviews of the Week with Stan Sakai, Julie Fujii Sakai, Eugene Yelchin, 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 June 7 below, then dive into the week at hand with today’s Review of the Day, Well, This Is Exhausting, by Sophia Benoit. For the full week-in-review treatment, subscribe to our newsletter, Booklist Reader Update.

Monday, June 7

Chibi-Usagi: Attack of the Heebie-Chibis, by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai

In this new Usagi Yojimbo graphic novel designed for young readers, Usagi, Tomoe, and Gen have been chibi-fied. Chibi-Usagi and his friends rescue a Dogu (a small clay figure) whose forest has been invaded by King Salamander and his minions, the Heebie-Chibis. The Dogus are trapped with no hope of escape and forced to work in a mine. The three heroes follow the Dogu back to his village, where they encounter the fire-breathing King, who mistakes them for Dogus from another tribe. After a successful sneak attack, Chibi-Usagi, Tomoe, and Gen free the Dogus and are making their way toward a celebratory dinner when who should appear but the defeated King Salamander. The Usagi Yojimbo graphic novels, first published in 1984, are beloved for their dynamic art, impeccable storytelling, and respect for the history, language, and folklore of Japan, and Chibi-Usagi maintains the same level of excellence while aiming the story at younger readers.

Tuesday, June 8

The Cape Doctor, by E. J. Levy

Levy’s remarkable debut novel is based on the life of the nineteenth-century physician Dr. James Miranda Barry, who began life as a woman, Margaret Bulkley. Desiring to become a doctor, Margaret is frustrated that women are not admitted to medical school. Spurred on by a family friend, she assumes a male persona, naming herself Jonathan Mirandus Perry (“I would become a boy at age fourteen”), is successfully admitted to medical school in Edinburgh and graduates with notable excellence to become a military surgeon. Following several brief posts, he is sent to Cape Town where he meets Governor Lord Somerton. The two become close friends, and, when Somerton discovers Jonathan’s secret, lovers. When Jonathan (Margaret) becomes pregnant, however, things change dramatically. Ah, but how? 

Wednesday, June 9

Strange Creatures, by Phoebe North

North’s quietly devastating novel about a family coping with trauma, seen through the lenses of two vulnerable siblings and the girl they both love, is beautifully written but emotionally difficult. Annie and Jaime, born a year apart, use fantasy to escape the expectations of parents and peers. In the real world, brash Annie feels invisible next to Jaime, who is popular and their parents’ favorite, while poetic Jaime, to all appearances happy, is being crushed by their father’s enforced masculinity. In Gumlea, accessed through the woods behind their house, they are free and powerful, swimming with mermaids, battling harpies and pirates, and always, always together. Gumlea becomes a wedge between them as they grow older, but it takes on new significance when Jaime disappears at age 13. Sure that he is waiting in Gumlea, Annie dives back into the fantasy, recruiting Jaime’s once-girlfriend Vidya and falling for her, too. 

Thursday, June 10

The Genius under the Table: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain, by Eugene Yelchin

This warm and wonderfully illustrated autobiography comes from the author of Newbery Honor Book Breaking Stalin’s Nose (2011). Yelchin describes his 1960s Leningrad childhood in the former Soviet Union, where his entire family crowds into a one-room apartment right next to the resident KGB informer. Mom is hopelessly in love with Misha Baryshnikov. Dad weeps over his favorite Russian poets. Big brother Victor is a champion figure skater. And little Yevgeny? His talents seem . . . elusive.  Yevgeny is frustrated not only because of his cloudy future but also because of the questions he isn’t allowed to ask, let alone get answered: “How heavy is the Iron Curtain?” “What does it mean when people ‘defecate’ and seek asylum?” “Why is Grandpa cut out of all our family photos?”Yevgeny finds solace in drawing on his secret canvas—the underside of Grandma’s table. Luckily, when his pictures are discovered, he is declared a genius and starts art lessons.

Friday, June 11

In the Heights: Finding Home, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Jeremy McCarter

Multitalented and much-awarded Lin-Manuel Miranda spent 21 years working on various incarnations of the musical In the Heights, his paean to his beloved home, New York City’s Washington Heights. The radical idea for a musical combining rap and salsa came to him when he was a college sophomore, propelling him to work diligently against great odds to bring this vision to fruition. Each stage of development and collaboration is vividly and candidly described and documented in this ebullient scrapbook cowritten with the show’s equally dedicated, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes and Jeremy McCarter, Miranda’s co-author for Hamilton: The Revolution (2016). In never-before-published in-process photographs; illustrations; lyrics pegged with Miranda’s illuminating, funny, and moving annotations about his inspirations; and touching essays by the authors, cast members, and others involved in various productions, this big-hearted volume chronicles the ups-and-downs of staging In the Heights as an off-Broadway production and the long, difficult metamorphosis required to bring it to Broadway.'

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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