AMSTERDAM, Steven. What the Family Needed. 272p. Riverhead. Mar. 2013. Tr $26.95. ISBN 978-1-59448-639-5. LC 2012029651.
Adult/High School–During a crisis, 15-year-old Giordana’s young cousin Alek asks whether she’d rather fly or be invisible. Giordana chooses invisibility, and Amsterdam’s novel follows her family through a lifetime of magic whenever they need it most–during times of sadness, confusion, or strife. At the center of this family epic is Alek. As the family members tell their stories about experiencing a superpower, their meditations inevitably come back to Alek as he progresses from being a precocious boy to a troubled teen and, later, into an inscrutable man. Once it is their turn to be gifted with something extraordinary when they need it most, they must ask themselves if everything they knew about Alek, madness, and magic is correct. Like Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Knopf, 2010), Giordana and her family revolve around someone who is both extraordinary and frightening, someone obviously struggling with living in the regular world. The characters’ individual experiences with a special gift strip away their attempts at being “normal” and offer a glimpse into what it’s like to be Alek–burdened with the ability to help, saddled with the others’ secret thoughts, and tasked with balancing magic and madness. Readers who like to delve into magical realism will be fascinated as this family’s saga unfolds and the price of superpowers is paid.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Queens Borough Public Library, Jamaica, NY
BOGDAN, D. L. The Forgotten Queen. 384p. bibliog. Kensington. Jan. 2013. pap. $15.00. ISBN 978-0-7582-7138-9.
Adult/High School–Born to King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York, Margaret is the sister of Arthur and Henry. With the Tudors now firmly established on the throne of England, much depends on the alliances they can make. When Margaret learns that she is to marry King James IV of Scotland, her sense of duty is put to the test because she must leave England to live among the “wild Scots.” But Margaret falls in love with her new husband, and with the birth of her son Jamie, she claims Scotland as her home. When King James dies, leaving Margaret as the Regent for her son (now King James V), she must keep Jamie safe from warring clans as well as intervention from France and England. As he lay dying, James warned Margaret to think only of her child and his ascent to the throne, but Margaret is unable to resist the charms of handsome Archibald Douglas, leader of the influential Douglas clan. With her brother Henry now on the throne of England, Margaret faces the conflicts of warring nations and family ties. Teens will learn much about the culture of Tudor England and Stewart Scotland while also observing this entitled young woman make mistake after mistake because of her inability to see past her family ties or her own needs. Offer this to fans of historical fiction who love reading about the many Tudors of the 15th and 16th centuries. Margaret’s story is an important one because her marriages, first to James, then to Douglas, begat children who, in succeeding generations, ultimately completed the Tudor goal of uniting England and Scotland.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
HILL, Joe. NOS4A2. 704p. Morrow. Apr. 2013. Tr $28.99. ISBN 9780062200570.
Adult/High School–Vic McQueen is nine-years-old in 1986, the first time she rides through the Shorter Way Bridge behind her family’s house in rural Massachusetts on her Raleigh Tough Burner bike to find something that has been lost. By 1991, and many trips later, Vic is desperate to find someone to tell her she’s not crazy. A ride through the Bridge takes her to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Maggie, a librarian whose scrabble tiles tell her things. This time they tell Maggie that Vic could use her bike to find The Wraith. Vic has never heard of it, but Maggie knows about the man who drives the 1938 black Rolls-Royce Wraith, license plate NOS4A2, kidnapping children and using them up. She knows all about Charlie Manx, that he takes the children to Christmasland, from which they never return. Maggie begs Vic not to pursue Manx, but years later, after a terrible fight with her mother, Vic runs away from home looking for trouble. The Shorter Way delivers her straight to Manx’s house. After a horrible confrontation during which she tries to rescue Manx’s latest young victim, she escapes. Years later, it is only to save her son that Vic confronts Charlie Manx one more time in Christmasland itself. This is Hill’s best novel yet, perfectly paced and tailor-made for teens. Its courageous, rebellious heroine devotes herself to ridding the world of a terrifying monster, using a power that slowly erodes her sanity. NOS4A2 is as much dark fantasy and thriller as horror, and the genre blend will appeal to fans of all.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
HOPKINSON, Nalo. Sister Mine. 320p. Grand Central. Mar. 2013. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9780446576925.
Adult/High School–Born conjoined, Abby and Makeda are twin children of a celestial demigod and a human woman. Their separation left Abby with mojo like her celestial relatives, and Makeda without, just like the regular “claypicken” humans with whom she goes to live. Their parents were harshly punished for daring to bring them into the world: their mother was turned into a creature and banished; their father had his mojo torn from his soul, then the two pieces were hidden. When Abby and Makeda’s celestial cousins accidentally release their father’s soul, it inhabits a kudzu plant and goes in search of his mojo. The twins reunite–squabbling all the way–to find and save their father. In the process of hunting him, Makeda learns the truth about her birth, her father’s punishment, and the price she may have to pay to help him reconnect with his mojo. The comingling of the fantastical and the real world in this urban fantasy is seamless and surprisingly credible. One element that ties the mystical so tightly with the real is family drama: intriguing even with regular humans, but this family drama is ratcheted up by curses, shape-shifting spies, and relatives who can use the elements of life itself to bring comfort or misery. The complex relationships and knotty family ties, all with a tasty supernatural flavor, will appeal to a wide range of teen readers.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA
KLINE, Christina Baker. Orphan Train. 288p. Morrow. Apr. 2013. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780061950728.
Adult/High School–Ninety-year-old Vivian has an attic full of memories. Seventeen-year-old Molly has nothing but a potential stint in juvie for stealing Jane Eyre from the library, a bad attitude, and foster parents who don’t want her. The two meet when Molly chooses the community-service assignment of helping Vivian clean her attic. Molly assumes that working for this “rich old lady” will be just a quick in-and-out job to clean up her record. Instead, Molly and Vivian open trunks full of history. Vivian, born into grueling poverty in Ireland, arrived in America only to have her family perish in a fire. In 1929 the Orphan Train sent orphaned children from New York to Minnesota to find jobs and a home. What Vivian found was further poverty and humiliating living conditions. Through the kindness of her teacher, she finally found a safe home. As Vivian’s story unfolds, Molly discovers that she wants to help Vivian meet her past, all the while unknowingly helping herself in the process. Both women must come to terms with the choices they’ve made, and can still make, in their lives. Vivian still has opportunities to open her heart. Molly, on the brink of rolling out of a “system” that, like Vivian’s orphan-train experience, gave her few opportunities, discovers that she, too, can determine her own future. Many teens will like this story for its juxtaposition of eras: Molly’s story is contemporary and realistic, Vivian’s reflects a past time and culture. This novel will leave readers wanting to know more, yet satisfied that it ends in just the right way.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
KRICORIAN, Nancy. All the Light There Was. 288p. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2013. Tr $24. ISBN 9780547939940.
Adult/High School–For Maral and her older brother, Missak, Paris is home; they know little of the terrors their parents endured when they were forced to leave their homeland of Armenia. Fourteen year-old Maral is nearly top in her class. Her secret love is Missak’s best friend, Zaven, and she is thrilled to discover that Zaven also has feelings for her, but this happy first love is tarnished when the German army marches into Paris. At first, a resistance activity such as distributing pamphlets seems a lark, a secret outing to hide from the parents. But as Jewish friends disappear, and young activists are arrested and sent to work camps, the sense of foreboding increases. Zaven and Maral pledge themselves to each other even as they fear their romance may have no future. Indeed, the war lasts much longer and is far more ruthless than their young minds could have anticipated. Maral, who narrates the story, never sees a battlefield, but her life is completely fractured by the war: some of her friends die, while others return broken. Readers should be intrigued by the many teen characters, striving to be as brave and dutiful as circumstances demand. Like the teen characters in Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion, 2012) or Chris Bohjalian’s Skeletons at the Feast (Shaye Areheart, 2008), dreams of high school proms are pushed aside by the will to survive.–Diane Colson, Formerly at Palm Harbor Library, FL
LEGANSKI, Rita. The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow. 400p. HarperCollins/Harper. Feb. 2013. pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-06-211376-4.
Adult/High School–While young Bonaventure Arrow has never uttered a sound, he hears everything, from the colors of the balloons on his first birthday to the ocean waves that emanate from a jar of sand to the voice of his dead father, whom he never met. Clearly, Bonaventure is a special child, and he has a destiny to fulfill. William Arrow was murdered in a New Orleans supermarket just before Christmas by a mentally disturbed war veteran, a mysterious man known as The Wanderer. William’s spirit is restless, and he stays close to his family, communicating only with his gifted son and agonizing over the grief felt by both his widow and mother. Told in the omniscient third person, the rich narration has a lyrical storytelling quality, capable of transporting readers to a faraway place a long time ago–in this case, New Orleans in the 1950s. The boy’s fate is entwined with that of the hoodoo practitioner Trinidad Prefontaine, a woman who sells baked goods with a side of gris-gris–magical charms. Secrets abound in this multigenerational tale that combines the mystical and the spiritual with strong themes of love and letting go, and of acceptance and forgiveness. Teens will be drawn in by the magical realism that suffuses Leganski’s novel, which also manages to touch on issues of race and social class. Teens who enjoyed the movie version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will find much to like here in a novel also reminiscent of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.–Paula Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD
LITTLEFIELD, Sophie. Garden of Stones. 320p. Harlequin. Mar. 2013. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9780778313526.
Adult/High School–In June, 1978, sitting at his desk in the dank San Francisco basement of Reg’s Gym, Reg is murdered. Hours later, Patty Takeda listens as police question her mother, Lucy, about her whereabouts at the time of the crime. Puzzled that her mother knows this man, Patty investigates. Seeking information about Reg at his apartment, she discovers a box labeled “Manzanar.” Once the box is opened, Lucy’s story is revealed through pictures and artifacts and later from Lucy herself. Growing up in Los Angeles as the beautiful daughter of wealthy Renjiro Takeda and stunning Miyako, 14-year-old Lucy’s life suddenly changed when her father died. Soon after, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and within weeks the Japanese American community was herded into camps where they experienced the starkest privation and disorder. Lucy discovered that the corruption of the camp overseers surrounded her beautiful mother in a way that caused her to take the most drastic steps to keep Lucy safe. Counterpointing stories between Patty’s 1970’s investigation of her mother’s past and Lucy’s own story, Garden of Stones takes readers into the internment camps and the horrendous decisions one must make when there are few options. Teens will gain insight into the tragic decision that created these camps and will find much to think about.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
MCVEIGH, Jennifer. The Fever Tree. 432p. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. Apr. 2013. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780399158247.
Adult/High School–The Fever Tree starts with a troupe of historical romance: a respectable young woman of considerable wealth and a bright future is plunged into destitution with a father’s bad investments and unexpected death. Frances Irvine is faced with two equally undesirable prospects: be nursemaid to her aunt’s young children or marry an awkward doctor and move to South Africa. With her choice made, she leaves England behind, and her adventure begins. Soon, a love triangle emerges as Frances must choose between the dashing rebel of questionable morals and the obsessed, goody-two-shoes doctor: the age-old Darcy versus Willoughby played out in the dusty plains of Africa. The novel moves beyond its genre trappings with its palpable setting and sure characters. McVeigh has penned a story where the place, in this case South Africa, is a central character. At the same time the characters evolve from their clichéd introductions. Teens will experience both exasperation and empathy toward Frances. The novel underscores, as historical novels often do, the limited choices available to women, and elements about African colonization, the ethics surrounding diamond mining and trading, as well as a small-pox outbreak provide further depth to this coming-of-age tale. The romance propels the story, but it is an old-fashioned saga at heart. Readers watch Frances grow up, hoping she will make decisions that lead to her own happiness.–Karen Keys, Queens Library, Jamaica, NY
WEBB, Wendy. The Fate of Mercy Alban. 344p. Hyperion. 2013. pap. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4013-4193-0. LC 2012027376.
Adult/High School–Even for a rich family, the Albans of Minnesota are a bit different–their mansion is made from imported Irish stone; there are altogether too many deaths for there not to be a family curse; and the women are all named after some attribute (Grace, Amity, Charity, Fate). Twenty years ago, Grace left town, escaping not only her family, but the repercussions of surviving a storm that led to her brothers’ drownings and father’s suicide. When her mother dies, Grace returns for the funeral, bringing her daughter Amity with her. While looking through her mother’s room she finds letters from David Colville, a reporter who committed suicide on the grounds of Alban House in the summer of 1956, just before Aunt Fate disappeared–one of which discusses a novel based on the history of the Albans. Then at the funeral reception who should appear but Aunt Fate. Where has she been? In Switzerland, in a private “institution” named Mercy House, which is actually a home for the criminally insane. Indeed, Aunt Fate is really Aunt Mercy, Fate’s supposedly dead twin, and she’s not just insane, she’s psychotic, locking Grace (and hunky Reverend Matthew Parker) in the church vault when they find the missing Colville manuscript. Gothic novels rarely have happy endings, but they do have satisfying ones and The Fate of Mercy Alban definitely satisfies. This novel is for fans of Victoria Holt, Daphne Du Maurier (think Jamaica Inn not Rebecca), and a good introduction to adult gothic for fans of Joan Aiken and Billingsley’s Chime (Dial, 2011).–Laura Pearle, Center for Fiction, New York City
WECKER, Helene. The Golem and the Jinni. 496p. HarperCollins. May. 2013. Tr $$27.99. ISBN 9780062110831.
Adult/High School–As a new century looms in the autumn of 1899, a most mysterious pair of immigrants appears in New York. Chava is a golem conjured as a wife for an immigrant who died en route to America and Ahmad is a jinni freed from centuries-long captivity by a tinsmith repairing an heirloom lamp. These treacherous creatures of Jewish and Arab myth possess supernatural powers that they can’t always control. The golem, an obedient servant made from earth, has prodigious physical strength and can hear the thoughts of those around her. The jinni, made from fire, appears human, yet is indifferent to human restraint. Within their respective immigrant neighborhoods, each is considered an outsider–secretive and strange, unlike any other. They meet to form an unusual and touching friendship as they navigate the challenges of a new world and battle the dabbler in the dark arts who knows their origins and yearns to use them in order to gain his own immortality. Filled with memorable characters and a backstory that spans a millennium, The Golem and the Jinni is a historical novel imbued with the kind of folk-tale sensibilities that make the fantastical seem not only plausible, but commonplace. That is to say, it is difficult to categorize. Teens will discover a book unlike any they’ve read and will readily empathize with its central characters struggling to create an identity, fit in, and belong. Fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2010) and those undaunted by epic tales will be thrilled with this ingeniously conceived novel.–John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY
BALL, Edward. The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures. 464p. bibliog. index. photogs. Doubleday. Jan. 2013. Tr $29.95. ISBN 9780385525756.
Adult/High School–Ball takes a look at two very different men whose paths crossed in the late 19th century. The tycoon of the title is Leland Stanford: grocer, railroad magnate, Governor of California, U.S. Senator, founder of Stanford University. The inventor is Edward Muybridge, an inventor, a bookseller, photographer, adventurer, self-promoter, and murderer. The author weaves their stories together, moving back and forth through time and around the world. Muybridge (born Muggeridge, but fond of changing his name as he changed jobs or locations) is best known as a photographer–he took some of the earliest and most daring photographs of Yosemite–and when he met up with Stanford, he photographed Stanford’s horses in an attempt to prove that “during a gallop, horses at some point in their stride lift all four hooves off the ground.” As he refined his approach, he used multiple cameras to catch ever-smaller increments of movement and invented a device to project the results onto a screen for viewers to watch. Ball brings to life the two men, each eccentric in his own way. The murder is a fascinating sidelight–Muybridge killed his wife’s lover but was acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide–that gives some insight into the rough-and-tumble California life of the 1870s. Teens with an interest in history, photography, or film will be fascinated by this exploration into the relationship of money, patronage, and publicity to the creation of art.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library, CA
BERGER, Jonah. Contagious : Why Things Catch On. 224p. photos. S & S. Mar. 2013. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476711683.
Adult/High School–Livestrong yellow wristbands, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video, and Vietnamese manicurists all have something in common. They went viral, rapidly escalating in popularity until virtually everyone has experienced or at least become aware of their existence. Taking a style cue from other popularly accessible authors such as Daniel Pink and Malcolm Gladwell, Berger presents his hypothesis for why certain things catch on. His STEPPS theory asserts that the six principles–social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and storie–must work in some combination to ensure that an idea or product goes viral. Deconstructing numerous examples to illustrate his points, the author walks readers through each element in a conversational style, distilling his main ideas in pithy statements. (To illustrate the importance of emotion, remember “When we care, we share.”) Berger’s audience is marketing professionals or those with a product to promote, and he presents his points through that lens. Still, anyone interested in social theories will find his studies intriguing and be tempted to apply their conclusions to more recent viral occurrences. While teens might not be familiar with all the examples, somewhat undermining how successful the technique is, they will easily understand the thought behind them. Marketing students are a perfect fit for this exploration, and marketing teachers would do well to include Berger’s theory and writing in their curriculum. Just as Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics (Morrow, 2005) found a broader teen audience, so may Contagious.–Priscille Dando, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
DOUGLAS, Mitchell L.h. \blak\ \al-fe bet\: Poems. 1. 80p. Persea. Feb. 2013. pap. $15.00. ISBN 9780892554218.
Adult/High School–Given the title and Douglas’s claim to have invented a new verse form called a “fret”, readers may be forgiven for expecting a more formally adventurous collection. Instead, the fret turns out to be a fairly simple acrostic–using the notes of the six guitar strings as each line’s first letter, with a simple vertical caesura to denote the guitar’s frets–and in the end Douglas only supplies three examples. Nevertheless, the poet has no need to resort to formal tricks when he has such a rich topic and strong command of his free verse. He sets out to tell the stories of his sharecropping grandparents, in four sections. The first and last sections act as brackets, telling the story more-or-less straight. The third section, meanwhile, directly confronts the collection’s place within Black literature, citing contemporaries such as Debra Kang Dean and Marilyn Nelson. But it is in the crucial second section that Douglas truly shines, as he builds on the story’s musical references (in the author’s note he mentions sharecropping blues guitarists like Son House), creating “alternate takes” and variations, larding his vocabulary with musical terms and introducing the fret. He prepares for these musical musings in the title and opening lines (and, indeed, the collections best lines) to the first section’s penultimate poem: “Al Green Was a Preacher/before he was a pastor–/let me explain. If you can’t find/a sermon in ‘Love & Happiness,’/something’s wrong.” And if you can’t find the music in Douglas’s sermons, something’s equally wrong.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
KIRSCH, Jonathan. The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan. 352p. bibliog. chron. index. notes. Liveright Publishing Corporation. May. 2013. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780871404527.
Adult/High School–On November 7, 1938, a 17-year-old Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan entered the German Embassy in Paris and shot and killed a low-level diplomat named Ernst vom Rath. Within days, in an incredibly convoluted knot of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy theories, Grynszpan’s act was variously portrayed as the heroic action of a lone Jew outraged at Nazi atrocities; a crime of passion wrought of a failed homosexual affair; a set-up by the Nazis who supposedly wished to do away with a less-than-enthusiastic party member; and, most ominously of all, proof of the Nazi’s belief in the “International Jewish Conspiracy” and an excuse for the notorious events of Kristallnacht two days later. Kirsch deftly cuts through these layers of interpretation to provide readers with an account of Grynszpan’s brief life–first in Hanover, then in Paris–his incarcerations in Paris and Berlin, and the vast array of meanings with which his life has been invested. In the process, the author offers a unique perspective on the crucial period between the Nazi Party’s rise to power in 1933 and its decision to introduce the Final Solution sometime in 1941. Ultimately, Kirsch argues that Grynszpan should be seen as a tragically unsung hero of the Jewish resistance. Whether readers agree with Kirsch or not, the questions raised make this book essential reading for lovers of history, and the figure of the misunderstood adolescent hero should resonate with teens.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA –IBRW ADMINISTRATOR
ROACH, Mary. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. 336p. bibliog. Norton. Apr. 2013. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780393081572.
Young Adult/High School–Roach is back with her fifth funny, irreverent, and wonderfully informative book of scientific investigative journalism. Here she explores the digestive tract from top to bottom. Readers learn about human taste testers who help create new pet foods, whether a man can survive in a whale’s stomach, the phenomenon of extreme chewing, the science of eating contests, and the reason crispy foods are so appealing. With her trademark glee, Roach addresses several taboo subjects, such as drug mules, just how imprisoned convicts smuggle contraband, and the flammability of flatulence. She relishes the opportunity to go to the most gross-out extremes in her research. Just as fascinating as the scientific facts she uncovers are the people she meets. Many of the scientists Roach introduces, either still alive or from the past, are incredible characters. As she says, “I think it’s fair to say that some degree of obsession is a requisite for good science, and certainly for scientific breakthrough.” Roach’s conversational writing style, especially the incorporation of clever, punning one-liners, particularly within the footnotes, is tailor-made for teens. They might not even notice how much they are learning about research, as the author mentions reading historic documents, interviewing the experts, and witnessing and even taking part in the occasional experiment. While they might not want to read Gulp during lunch, readers will happily follow Roach down the digestive path.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
STERN, Gerald. In Beauty Bright. 128p. W.W. Norton. 2012. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780393086447.
Adult/High School–The 18th collection of Stern’s work is entertaining, easily read, and puzzling. One can sense a rascal with a good sense of humor behind the artful words on the page. Some of the poems are set in New York City, where he lived in his 20s, and some in Pittsburgh, where he grew up the son of Eastern European immigrants. In “Kafeteria,” Stern remembers the New York of his youth, “I touched everything touchable and stopped/in front of a dummy I had fallen in love with/and kried myself silly over her helplessness/an hour or so before my maiden speech/just north of Fourth where through the books I wandered/.” The narratives of his poems are not complete, but most readers will follow the stories and enjoy being confused and wonder why he selected the topic he did. Some are surrealistic but somehow one understands. In “Lowness,” he writes about a car: “It was me who took a small white Fiat/out of my briefcase to let it breathe and after/a second started it by gathering speed/with my left foot and hopping into the seat and/ giving it gas, as I remember.”–Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City
ZUCKOFF, Mitchell. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II. 400p. bibliog. illus. index. notes. Harper . May. 2013. Tr $28.99. ISBN 9780062133434.
Adult/High School–This gripping page-turner tells two stories, one historical and one modern. In the historical part, three military planes went down on the Greenland icecap in late 1942. The first was a cargo plane, the second a B-17 bomber that was searching for the first, and the third a Coast Guard amphibious plane that was attempting to rescue the B-17’s crew. Greenland can be harsh and unforgiving, especially during the winter months and Zuckoff details how the B-17’s crew survived for nearly five months, and how seven of the nine airmen eventually made it home. Their survival was due in part to their own determination and ingenuity, but also to the perseverance of the Coast Guard, who never gave up on them. The modern story is about a group, including Zuckoff, who made an expedition to Greenland in the summer of 2012 in an attempt to find the Coast Guard plane and its long-dead crew. This is a fine example of narrative nonfiction, as Zuckoff moves the events of both stories forward while focusing on the people involved. Teens who like survival and adventure stories, such as Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (1997) and Into the Wild (1996, both Villard) will be quickly drawn into the tale of these young airmen–mostly in their early 20s–who went through unimaginable physical and emotional trials. At the same time, they will be fascinated by what is essentially a modern-day treasure hunt, conducted not only with elaborate imaging technology but also with good old-fashioned research, guesswork, and luck.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Librar, CA
JOHNSON, Scott. The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA. 320p. Norton. May. 2013. Tr $26.95. ISBN 978-0-393-23980-5.
Adult/High School–Johnson was a preteen before he saw that his father had two driver’s licenses with different names and different pictures, but things had always been a little strange in his upbringing as they circled the globe after his depressed mother left. Johnson adored and idolized his father, but by the time he was an adult and knew at least an outline of the truth, that his father was a spy, he had begun to question what all the lies and secrets really hid, and what the lasting effect had been on him and his relationships generally, and with his father, specifically. This book is not the expected thriller about the clandestine operations of the CIA, about murder and intrigue, war and death. That’s all there, and that will be the hook that attracts teen boys to this book, but once inside they will be inspired and moved by a truly honest and introspective memoir. This book covers the less-explored nature of the relationship between sons and fathers. It starts a little slowly but becomes addictive, and the action and tense life-and-death moments and unflinching look at espionage and war are expertly interspersed with more thoughtful passages; the moral lessons of both are powerful. Pair this book with the television series Band of Brothers and anything by Sebastian Junger.–Jake Pettit, American School Foundation, Mexico City
TOOMEY, David. Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own. 288p. index. Norton. Feb. 2013. Tr $$25.95. ISBN 9780393071580.
Adult/High School–How is life defined? Is it by creatures that breathe oxygen and drink water, as we define life on Earth? Or is it possible that life can survive on ammonia, or silicon, or some other element? And when does a robot or some other artificial intelligence become life? Might we someday be dominated by our machines? And given the vastness of the universe, how likely is it that life elsewhere is looking for us in the same way we are looking for it? These are but a few of the questions brought up in Toomey’s mind-expanding book. In nine independent but interrelated chapters, the author first shares the “weirdest” life we’ve found, extremophiles, which live on Earth in either hotter or colder temperatures than life was originally believed to be sustainable. However, just because we haven’t discovered life on other planets yet doesn’t mean it’s not there–as one scientist puts it, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The book ends with a mindblowing chapter about life in the multiverse. Who is to say that our universe is the only one? Maybe there’s another universe on the other side of us, and another one and another one, to infinity and beyond. These kinds of scientific and philosophical conundrums are what give this book appeal beyond the standard science book.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD