November 17, 2017

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Gold & Old: Sports and Historical Fiction | Adult Books 4 Teens

We’ll address two types of readers this week—those who watch the Olympics and those who don’t. In this column, we’ll review three offerings about the Olympics and take a trip through time with historical fiction for those who would rather leave sports books on the shelves.

First is Reinhard Kleist’s graphic biography An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. You may remember the touching story of the Somali runner finishing last in her heat in the 200-meter dash at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She was one of only two delegates representing her country yet was determined to train for four more years to prepare for London. Her militant government had other ideas, though, and her immigration story is heartrending.

On deck is Erica Westly’s The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Played the Game. This softball mom spends hours in the bleachers watching travel softball, and I’m surrounded by teens who can quote from the movie A League of Their Own. Who can forget Tom Hanks’s character shouting, “There’s no crying in baseball!”? The current generation of young athletes don’t remember softball being played in the 2008 Olympics, so last week’s ruling by the International Olympic Committee to reintroduce softball at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be a hit.

Rounding out the Olympic list is Edgar-winning author Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. Just two years ago, her novel The Fever was on the Adult Books 4 Teens Best List, and she’s back with a thrilling mystery involving a promising young competitive gymnast. The reviewer wants us to “think Dance Moms, directed by Alfred Hitchcock,” which screams teen appeal.

Chronologically, our historical fiction tour begins with Yaa Gyasi’s debut Homegoing, spanning 250 years from 18th-century Ghana to modern-day Harlem. Each chapter captures significant moments in the lives of sisters Effia and Esi and their descendants. With vivid descriptions of colonialism, slavery, and Jim Crow, the young Ghanaian American author has created a rich family saga that has readers already looking forward to her next book.

In stark contrast to the literary lushness of Homegoing is the next novel on our list—Julie McElwain’s A Murder in Time. Taking a cue from Outlander, FBI agent Kendra Donovan travels back in time when she visits Aldrich Castle—she recognizes her surroundings but is stuck in 1815 England. Forced to act as a servant, Kendra is impertinent to her betters and eager to return to the modern world, but she must solve a gruesome CSI-worthy murder first. Teens will appreciate Kendra’s ability to solve mysteries without modern crime-scene tools.

Moving forward a century, Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War meets the needs of readers missing Downton Abbey. Things move at a slower pace in Rye before World War I, and when Beatrice Nash arrives to teach Latin, the establishment is shocked. A woman—teaching Latin? And riding a bicycle? What is the world coming to? The hoity-toity also causes problems in Lee Kelly’s A Criminal Magic, set in an alternative 1920s, where the government has banned magic instead of alcohol, leading to a seedy Washington, DC, underworld of sorcerers, illegal magic, and glitzy speakeasies.

Finally, another addition to the polygamist genre this year (see The Sound of Gravel and Saving Alex). Author Shawn Vestral, raised in the Mormon faith, accurately portrays the LDS and fundamentalism Mormon ideology in this literary coming-of-age tale set during the 1970s. Fifteen-year-old Loretta is forced to marry an older man and become a sister wife, but when the family moves to Idaho, she meets young Jason and the two run away together.

With over 6,700 hours of televised coverage in 19 days, the Rio Olympics will keep many teens indoors, but if they are like me, they’ll have a book in their laps. Happy reading.

FICTION

youwillknowmeABBOTT, Megan. You Will Know Me. 345p. ebook available. Little, Brown. Jul. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9780316231077.

Devon Knox, 15, is a brilliant gymnast. Far more talented than the other girls training at BelStars gym, Devon’s path to success could lead to the Olympics. Everyone knows it—all the other gymnasts, all the coaches, all the booster parents, and, most especially, Devon’s parents. Her mother, Katie, dedicates her afternoons to sitting in the stands at BelStars, soaking up the envy of the other mothers as Devon flies over the vault. It’s Katie who shows how secrets, betrayal, and murder can shatter the tight-knit group of girls and parents. At first, Katie seems like a well-balanced narrator, fair-minded in her attitude toward those with less amazing daughters, tenderly caring for Devon’s little brother when he becomes ill. But readers notice that Katie seems to be missing some obvious signs of trouble. Katie discovers Devon, remote and self-contained by nature, in a cat fight with another girl in the locker room. Katie’s husband, Eric, spends way too much time with Gwen, a wealthy booster mom. Even as the narrator increasingly suspects disturbing secrets, readers increasingly wonder how much to trust her. Abbott, who put a menacing spin on the world of cheerleading in Dare Me, amplifies the sense of danger implicit in high-stakes gymnastics, as well as the competition among the highly invested parents. Think Dance Moms, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. VERDICT Just in time for the Olympics, teens will get a hard-hitting look at competitive gymnastics, framed in a tale of gripping psychological suspense.–Diane Colson, Gainesville City College, FL

homegiongGYASI, Yaa. Homegoing. 320p. ebook available. Knopf. Jun. 2016. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781101947135.

This sweeping family saga encompasses seven generations of descendants of a Fante and his captured Asante house slave. After giving birth to a daughter, Maame manages to escape, making her way alone back to her own village. She is taken in by an Asante warrior, becomes his third wife, and has a second daughter by him. The two sisters, Effia and Esi, will never meet, their lives will follow very different paths, but their descendants will share a legacy of warfare and slavery. Effia will marry an Englishman who oversees the British interest in the Gold Coast slave trade. Esi will be captured by Fante warriors, traded to the Englishmen, and shipped to America to be sold into slavery. Progressing through 300 years of Ghanaian and American history, the narrative unfolds in a series of concise portraits of each sister’s progeny that capture pivotal moments in each individual’s life. Every portrait reads like a short story unto itself, making this volume a good choice for harried teens, yet Gyasi imbues the work with a remarkably seamless feel. Through the combined historical perspectives of each descendant, the author reveals that racism is often rooted in tribalism, greed, and the lust for power. Many students will be surprised to discover that the enslavement of Africans was not just a white man’s crime. VERDICT Well researched, beautifully told, and easy to read, this title is destined to become required, as well as enlightening, reading for teens.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

criminalKELLY, Lee. A Criminal Magic. 432p. ebook available. Saga. Feb. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781481410335.

In this alternate 1926, the Feds aren’t fighting the demon alcohol; instead, the great danger made illegal via the Eighteenth Amendment is magic. The illusions gifted sorcerers can conjure are but a window into this forbidden magic. Patrons of illegal magic joints consume “Shine,” water transmuted into a potion by magical power, for an altered state—a trip that many want to take again and again. Inside the Red Den, one establishment where patrons use Shine, Joan Kendrick, a country girl using her astonishing magical gifts to save her family, and Alex Danfrey, undercover agent and son of an indicted trafficker in magic, fall under a different sort of spell. If Joan can help the Washington, DC, gangster running the Den find a way to keep Shine from turning back into water after 24 hours, the consumption of magic and the criminal power structure will be forever altered. Few of the trappings of the 1920s get much play, but the allure and grimy glamour of the speakeasy provide the perfect vehicle for a magically made drug and criminal commodity. VERDICT As both Joan and Alex are only a bit older than high school students, their powers and dilemmas will interest the sort of strong teen readers who might enjoy a fantastical version of the era.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier HS, Gwinnett County, GA

murderinMCELWAIN, Julie. A Murder in Time. 320p. (Kendra Donovan Mysteries: Bk. 1). ebook available. Pegasus Crime. Apr. 2016. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781605989747.

After a murderous and creepy prologue that takes place in 1815, FBI special agent Kendra Donovan is introduced as the perpetual underdog on her task force team. She’s brilliant, a product of scientists who practiced eugenics, but only 26, and she isn’t accepted easily into the organization. When a sting operation goes bad, Kendra wants to exact her own revenge. However, during a rogue operation that involves a Regency costume party, she travels back in time to a countryside ravaged by a murderer. Kendra has a difficult time adjusting to the life of a servant in 1815, but she does manage to help the magistrate and London police solve the crime. This historical crime novel could have easily been published as a young adult title—the action is fast, and the ending hints that the next installment will come out soon. Several questions are left unanswered: Why does Kendra travel back in time? And how can she return home? Teens will appreciate that Kendra challenges the status quo of 1815 society, as well as her ability to track the serial killer. VERDICT Give to readers who grew up on Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers and Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

summerSIMONSON, Helen. The Summer Before the War. 496p. ebook available. Random. Mar. 2016. Tr $28. ISBN 9780812993103.

Among the throngs of Americans who devoted themselves to the British historical drama Downton Abbey are a respectable number of young adult enthusiasts. Those teens may have cut their teeth on print historical fiction and count themselves among the acolytes of Jane Austen or the Brontës. This novel’s setting is not the grand estate, nor are its characters of the upstairs and downstairs dichotomy. Instead, it features progressive Beatrice Nash, newly arrived to Rye to take on a Latin teaching position. After the death of her scholarly father, she has found employment to gain independence from his family who control what money she has inherited. In Rye, she finds herself championed by Agatha Kent, a woman who would never count herself among the blue stockings but who is nonetheless a force in the town. Beatrice is welcomed by Agatha’s two nephews, one a poet and one just finishing his training as a surgeon. Hugh, the doctor, is particularly kind to Beatrice as she faces challenges such as an unpleasant landlady, unscrupulous solicitors, and reluctant pupils. The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 heralds England’s going to war and brings refugees, like the lovely blonde Celeste, whom Beatrice takes in. Like no summer before it, this last one before the Great War is revealed in the day-to-day lives of Miss Nash and her newly adopted neighbors. VERDICT A perfect choice for teens who enjoy detailed historical fiction and BBC television serials.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA

daredevilsVESTAL, Shawn. Daredevils. 320p. ebook available. Penguin Pr. Apr. 2016. Tr $27. ISBN 9781101979891.

When 15-year-old Loretta’s parents catch her sneaking out at night in 1974 Arizona, they accept Dean Harder’s offer to make her his second wife. In their reclusive fundamentalist Mormon community, sister wives help men fulfill the sacred principle of plural marriage. Meanwhile in Idaho, Dean’s teenage nephew, Jason, works his more mainstream Mormon family’s dairy farm and sneaks off with his grandpa to see Evel Knievel fail to jump the Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket. Both Loretta and Jason yearn for different lives, but it isn’t until the whole family gathers after Grandpa’s death that the two teens dare to escape together. Richly descriptive writing and third-person storytelling at first seem to create distance between the characters and readers, and chapters told from Evel Knievel’s egotistical first-person point of view are jarring at first. Also, the “ick” factor in the plot includes more than just underage polygamy. There is a violent jackrabbit drive, for example, that Dean organizes with other men to rid Grandpa’s farm of the pests that are ruining his crops (they use fire to drive the rabbits into a chute and then bash them to death as they exit). Ultimately, however, the writing is beautiful and the many narrative layers form a subtle and satisfying exploration of courage, lunacy, righteousness, lust, and more. VERDICT Teens will appreciate this fascinating historical novel for the suspense and complexity of Loretta’s and Jason’s responses to situations created by the adults in their lives.–Hope Baugh, Carmel Clay Public Library, Carmel, IN

GRAPHIC NOVELS

AB4T-Kleist-Olympic-DreamKLEIST, Reinhard. An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. tr. from German by Ivanka Hahnenberger. 152p. SelfMadeHero. Apr. 2016. pap. $22.95. ISBN 9781910593097.

In stark black-and-white illustrations, young Somalian Samia Yusuf Omar finishes last in her 200-meter heat in the Beijing Olympics, but she is determined to improve for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Training is difficult in Somalia because the strict militant Muslim government disapproves of women exercising outside of the home, even with a head covering. Omar is determined to flee to Europe for better facilities and food, but she must rely on unscrupulous human traffickers to take her across deserts and the Mediterranean Sea. Her journey is rough and dangerous, and there is no happy ending. German author Kleist used family interviews to re-create Omar’s life in Mogadishu and interspersed panels with fictionalized Facebook posts to advance the story line. VERDICT While this tale of perseverance and needless death wasn’t told by an actual refugee, it emphasizes the need for immigration reform and personalizes the plight of refugees. A welcome addition to current events discussions.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL 

NONFICTION

fastpitchWESTLY, Erica. Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Played the Game. 304p. ebook available. notes. photos. Touchstone. Jun. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781501118593.

Taking readers to a time when women had few choices to competitively play team sports, this title provides great insight into the history of this fast-paced game that evolved from a sport with two basic constants (large ball and underhand pitch) to a game with all the complexity of its parent sport, baseball. We meet a cast of players spanning decades in the pastime. Women such as Nina Korgan and Bertha Ragan Tickey—and the nation as a whole—found the game to be a much-needed distraction during World War II. Westly also details a shutout at a charity event when a legendary Boston Red Sox player could not get a hit off pitcher Joan Joyce. The evolution of the sport has been influenced by the important legislation of the Title IX amendment, which made schools provide the same opportunities to women as men, and as a result, softball programs began to grow owing to more funding. The author explores interesting details such as how the uniforms changed from the shiny satin short shorts to more modern and useful designs. Women athletes have always had to make difficult decisions regarding their sport and personal life, and decisions regarding marriage, children, and work outside of softball are all discussed with honesty and clarity. VERDICT A fascinating exploration of a sport that has helped women work through issues of sexism while playing the game they love. Nonfiction shelves of libraries in middle and high schools will benefit from including this book.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

Sarah Hill About Sarah Hill

Sarah Hill is SLJ's Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and an information services librarian at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL.

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