In this moving coming-of-age story, introspective June Elbus is only understood by one person in the entire world, her Uncle Finn, a free-spirited artist. But when he dies of AIDS, a new and misunderstood illness in 1987, June plummets into an emotional darkness, unreachable even by her older sister Greta, desperate to recreate the friendship they had before Finn.
June has been told to stay away from the lanky, sad-looking man who she saw waiting outside her Uncle's funeral. His name is Toby and June is told he is the one responsible for Finn's death. But June is drawn towards him and after his secretive attempts to contact her, June finally agrees to meet with him. What she discovers is both exhilerating and heart-breaking: a side of Finn she never knew about. While their unlikely friendship begins to grow, June struggles to hide Toby from the rest of her family but knows at some point her secret will be revealed. However, she is unable to forsee the powerful events that will lead to this revelation and the effect it will have.
This debut novel from Brunt is beautifully written and a sure-bet for literary fiction fans. The sense of suspicion and fear of AIDS in the eighties is skillfully recreated by the author, an important part of our recent history that is oftentimes overlooked.
In 2009, Philipp Meyer was named one of the 20 best writers under 40 by the New Yorker after publishing his book, American Rust. I think it is safe to say that his most recent book, The Son, will secure his place on that list. The story focuses on the McCullough dynasty, who have held power in Texas since the 1800s, actively shaping the social, economic and physical landscape of the state since the wild frontier days.
The narrative jumps back and forth through the imagined personal diaries and memories of three generations of the McCulloughs. First is Eli, one of the earliest white males born in the newly found Texas who becomes the sole survivor of his family after a brutal Comanche raid. Eventually, he goes from captive to full-fledged tribe member, taking the Comanche culture as his own until he is suddenly thrust back into white society, forever wrestling with his identity as he builds the foundations for his successful family.
Second is Peter, Eli’s son, who morally opposes the violent anti-Mexican racism in the community but cannot find the courage to turn those feelings into action. He desperately wants to shed the brutal legacy of his well-loved father but Peter’s only act of true rebellion is falling in love with a Mexican neighbor, gaining him the title and legacy of “The Great Disappointment.”
Third is Jeanne Anne, Peter’s granddaughter, who takes over the family business at a young age and vaults it to a new level of prosperity during the 1950’s. Although successful as a woman in a male dominated oil industry, she cannot find validation, leaving her alone and without an heir. She is perhaps the last in the great line of the McCulloughs.
Although epic in scope, the story is grounded by the ambitions and roots of one family, experiencing their endless desire to conquer along with the consequences those desires bring. Even though the reader is witness to the innermost thoughts of Eli, Peter and Jeanne Anne, they remain complex, frail and flawed. In that way, this is not a romantic story of the American West, but rather an extremely compelling and authentic portrait of a family who was part of the fierce creation of the West as we know it today.
Printer's Row Lit Fest, Midwest's largest literary festival, is around the corner. Lit Fest is June 8-9 on Dearborn Street, between Congress and Polk streets. There were be great books there, as well as many many wonderful authors, such as: Judy Blume, Jonathan Eig, Nathan Englander, Alexander Hemon, Anchee Min, and Art Spiegelman. Hope to see you there! For more information about Printer's Row, click here.
Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari – as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named – is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her.
But Saboor, a laborer, has an entire family to think of, and that means hard choices. And so they leave their poor village of Shadbagh for Kabul, where his brother-in-law, Nabi, a chauffeur, introduces them to his wealthy employer, Suleiman, and Suleiman’s wife Nila…a woman who cannot have children of her own. The deal she brokers will Saboor will mean that his family will have money enough to live a while longer…and Pari, now being raised as the child of rich parents, will have a better life than Saboor could ever give her.
This one act causes ripples which resonate through the lives of all of those affected. The novel opens up from its initial tight focus on Abdullah and Pari to examine in turn the interlinked, branching lives of their families, their descendents, their friends, and those affected by them as the story crosses generations and continents.
The beauty of the writing is only matched by the humanity of the characters. Hosseini takes us inside their minds and their hearts and we see them laid bare, essentially good people but with their flaws and weaknesses exposed, to us and to themselves. Although much of the book takes place in Europe and America, Afghanistan remains at the heart of the story because Afganistan remains in the hearts of the characters, despite all the disparate paths their lives eventually take. A masterful and compassionate storyteller, Hosseini traces the traumas and scarring of tyranny, war, crime, lies, and illness in the intricately interconnected, heartbreaking, and extraordinary lives of his vibrantly realized characters. Perhaps his best yet!
Pollan, best-known for “The Omnivore’s Dilemma, starts off this new work of non-fiction with a simple question: Why, in an era in which most people go out of their way to avoid cooking, has the chef become a celebrity and the cooking show a guilty pleasure?
To answer that question, Pollan turns his journalist’s sensibility and straightforward, thoughtful powers of analysis to examining just why cooking should matter, speaking to those who still perform traditional cooking tasks and attempting to learn them himself.
The book is organized around the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth, which correspond to four basic ways to transform raw materials into nutritious, tasty things to eat. Fire is linked to grilling and barbecuing, water to cooking with liquid and braising, air to baking bread, and earth to fermenting, cheese making, and brewing. Among other culinary adventures, Pollan joins barbecue pit masters at the spit in North Carolina and New York, kneads with bread makers at Tartine in San Francisco, learns to put up sauerkraut with fermenter extraordinaire Sandor Katz, and observes the “Cheese Nun” (and micro-biologist) Mother Noëlla Marcellino as she creates a raw-milk cheese using techniques practiced since the 17th century.
The results of his researches into the secrets of cooking are fascinating, but the magic of “Cooked” lies not in its ability to unlock the secrets of slow-roasting a whole hog or brewing beer. Instead, he manages to illuminate the wealth of connections that stem from our time spent in the kitchen. As he writes, “Cooking — of whatever kind, everyday or extreme — situates us in the world in a very special place, facing the natural world on one side and the social world on the other.”
Benjamin Percy’s extraordinary new thriller is a blend of alternate history and supernatural fiction that holds a mirror up to contemporary America to reflect its fears and biases. The antagonists here are not jihadists, though, but lycans: humans infected with a prion-based illness which has turned them into a creature something like a werewolf. These lycans have lived among regular humans since prehistoric times, and in 21st-century America are now a stigmatized subclass, forced to suppress their true nature pharmacologically.
In alternating chapters, Percy introduces the characters who are the major players in his novel’s story: teenager Patrick Gamble, the sole survivor of the airplane attacks; Claire Forrester, a teenage lycan on the run from government agents who killed her parents; Chase Williams, the opportunistic conservative governor of Oregon who hopes to exploit fears engendered by the terrorist attack in his bid for the presidency; and Miriam, Claire’s aunt, who has defected from the lycan resistance movement--headed by her husband--which takes credit for the terrorist attacks.
Percy lends his novel credibility by working out a convincing pathology for the lobos prion, and by situating the lycan struggle at the center of historical moments that echo 20th-century eugenics experiments, the civil rights movement, the 1960s Days of Rage, and the current “war on terror.” By tapping into the contemporary sociopolitical climate, he has redefined the werewolf novel in a way which will appeal not only to fans of traditional horror, but fans of intelligent espionage thrillers.
Here are 10 debut novels that the publishing world is buzzing about for spring 2013. You can read more about each novel on Publishers Weekly's site.
Above All Things by Tanis Rideout
The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg
Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss
The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
You Are One of Them by Elliot Hold
The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to teens. They were first given annually beginning in 1998 and became an official American Library Association award in 2002. For more information about current and previous winners, click here. The 2013 Alex Award winning books are:
Caring is Creepy by David Zimmerman
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
One Shot Forever by Chris Ballard
Pure by Juliana Baggott
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Beautiful Boy is a memoir about meth addition told from the point of view of the addict's father. As any parent could imagine, watching one's talented, athletic, and smart child fall into a horrible addiction is heart-wrenching. David Sheff is a parent who many of us strive to be—loving, engaging, and well-educated--but this does not prevent his son from becoming an addict.
This book is painful to read, but it is also hopeful. While this is an addiction story of one family, it is more than that. Sharing the knowledge of many medical experts with whom Sheff consulted, he is able to shed light on all drug addictions, looking at the brain chemistry of addicts as well as societal influences. I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows an addict or who has a child.
David Sheff’s new 2013 book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy is also recommended.