In New Boy, author Tracy Chevalier, best-known for her work Girl with a Pearl Earring, demonstrates her skill with language and storytelling in this powerful retelling of Othello.
Set in 1970s D.C., Osei is the new kid, facing his fifth new school in five years, and immediately hits it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But Ian can’t stand to see the budding relationship between the popular girl and the black kid, and sets out to destroy their new friendship. By the end of the day, no one will be left unscathed.
Chevalier possesses a great talent for invoking a sense of time and place in her novels, and this one is no exception. From the flowered legs of bell-bottom jeans to the smack of double-dutch ropes on the playground, New Boy captures the spirit of not only the era, with it’s casual racism, but the essence of a ‘70s childhood as well. A masterful and powerful retelling of this classic story that takes the original to new places.
Travis Mulhauser’s brief debut novel Sweetgirl is a harrowing thriller that packs an emotional punch. In a small town in northwest Michigan, 16-year-old Percy James is unsurprised to find her good-for-nothing mother Carletta missing once again. Percy begins her search for Carletta where she was reportedly last seen: the home of Shelton Potter, a drug dealer recently released from prison for nearly killing a man. Upon entering the house, Percy discovers Shelton and his girlfriend passed out on drugs in the living room and a crying baby suffering in a freezing cold bedroom. Percy flees the home with neglected baby Jenna, hoping to get her to a hospital before it is too late. Percy relies on her mother’s rough-but-friendly ex-boyfriend Charles Portis for help. After realizing Jenna has been abducted, Shelton begins his desperate search in the harsh snow-laden landscape, unafraid of the consequences of his unpredictable rage.
Mulhauser’s suspenseful narrative unfolds very quickly in a pleasing concoction of comedy and tragedy. He examines each character fully, noting both the unpleasantness and the hidden beauty, delicately shedding an almost sympathetic light on the novel’s vile characters. Mulhauser makes careful use of each word as he deals with difficult subjects including fractured relationships, drug addiction, child neglect, and violence. Sweetgirl is a riveting debut from a promising author.
Rated 5.00 out of 5Simple Simon
William Poe takes a new perspective on his alter ego, Simon Powell, in this new novel about identity and belonging. Earlier, in Simon Says, Poe introduced the earnest and conflicted Simon and many of his struggles. With Simple Simon, Poe offers a companion piece, with a similar backstory but a different, more uplifting tone. This time, Simon’s route takes him past the road to ruin and sets him on the path to redemption.
Poe lets Simon tell his own story, through journal entries, as suggested by the rehab counselor guiding Simon’s recovery. Clearly, the adult Simon is at a breaking point, and it’s through his writing that he hopes to reclaim his past and prepare for serious changes in the future. The framing device is a useful anchor, although a little awkward at times, as present-day Simon surfaces fairly frequently, breaking the flow of the overall narrative.
Simon’s story does have flow worth preserving. This is a fairly long book, based on the author’s real-life experiences, but it doesn’t read like a confessional memoir. It reads like a story. Poe is adept with dialogue, and balances action scenes and plot twists with an insightful look at what’s going on inside Simon’s head. As he struggles with faith, addiction, and his greatest fear—coming out as a gay man—we get a unique perspective not only on Simon’s psychology, but also on a fascinating period in American history. Simon’s coming-of-age story carries him through the rising hippie drug culture, shifting societal views about homosexuality, and the proliferation of alternative religious movements like the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Behind-the-scenes looks at things like Rev. Moon’s mass wedding ceremonies and the gay pickup culture of Hollywood are honest without being salacious.
Simon’s successful life journey hinges on him shedding his initial naiveté, and coming to accept his own identity without external validation. While, at first, he hopes that drugs will make him forget about being gay, or that joining Rev. Moon’s church can cure his homosexuality, he gradually comes to an authentic acceptance of his own identity. Simple Simon is a story that will ring bells of hope not only for gay people, but for anyone who has ever suffered from crippling self-doubt.
Watering My Little Apple Trees
Watering My Little Apple Trees by James Bynum is a rare and highly unique read. Readers will instantly find themselves buried deep into this wonderful collection of stories. James Bynum has brought his love for teaching and literature to readers everywhere. I was intrigued from the beginning with the way James Bynum shows readers how to understand or learn what a story’s true purpose was. The way he teaches to see hidden meanings is something I greatly enjoyed. Never had someone teach me to recognize literature in the way James Bynum has. I never really put that much thought into what the deep meaning of a story was, until I read this brilliant book. Watering My Little Apple Trees truly makes a reader appreciate the work an author puts into their writing. After reading this, readers will be reading every book to make sure they didn’t miss the sole meaning or purpose of the piece of literature in their hands.
Watering My Little Apple Trees contains a collection of stories that came from James Bynum’s many years of teaching and writing. Readers can only imagine what it would have been like to have been taught by such a teacher and writer. James Bynum makes it easier for readers to understand a writer’s underlying purpose when reading. Writers leave key phrases or words that will signify what they wanted their readers to take with them. It is this that James Bynum carefully instructs his readers to see and understand. Also, a story’s true purpose is the one a reader takes from it. Many writers won’t tell their readers what they wanted them to understand from their work. They leave the readers to finding their own thoughts on what the manuscript really said and meant. Watering My Little Apple Trees is a way for James Bynum to share his passion and knowledge of literature with readers everywhere. The book is deep, thought-provoking, and educational. Readers will be looking at literature differently after reading this book. Overall, I loved reading this, and I highly recommend this spectacular read to readers worldwide.
The Stories That Make Us
The Stories That Make Us is made up of nine compelling short stories. The settings range across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. The tales cover a range of emotions and topics, such as life, death, fear and coming of age. The author does a wonderful job of creating likeable and memorable characters, often by using just a few descriptive gestures, which brings everything in the story to life. While all of these stories were good, I did have some personal favorites.
“Transactions for Love” really pulled at my heartstrings. As a reader, I felt a sense of loss when Hermes, the cat, left Jess. I also like the transformation, which took place regarding Milan. He starts out as a sinister character but, in the end, he is really something altogether different. He is a tragic figure who has left his war torn country to try and find a better life, only to find that his daughter hasn’t been able to cope with life in her new country. It was heartfelt and tender.
“Wally’s Case of Fear” made me laugh out loud. I can still see Wally hanging off the back of Dale’s van as it speeds down the road. “Spectacular Leo”, which dealt with love, death and loss brought me to tears. It makes one think about finding peace and acceptance. “Left or Right” had a great dark atmospheric feel to it, with an ending I hadn’t seen coming at the outset. It’s the same for “The Longest Serenade”, which was a little melancholy, as Benny, the main character was set to play his end of the year gig. It didn’t, however, turn out as I had imagined. This for me was a good thing, as I like the unexpected developments that often take place at the ends of the stories.
Some of these stories had themes that almost everyone can relate to. For instance, “The Promise,” which follows a boy staying with his grandparent’s at the lake while his father is away, had a nostalgic feel to it. I’m sure I will not be the only reader to think back about times spent at a summer camp or by the lake with other kids we have to leave behind, no doubt hoping we will return one day.
Overall, it is easy to get lost in these stories; sometimes I didn’t want them to end. Each story is an escape to somewhere different and unknown, where there is some kind of discovery at the end. The stories have a depth and feeling to them that make them highly enjoyable. What I like most about many of the stories is that days after having read them the characters and the scenes are still with me.
If I Never Went Home
Wow, this novel by first-time author Persaud is phenomenal. It has three different narratives woven together to tell the story of a family and of a place. The first plotline follows Bea, a successful psychologist in Boston, as she receives a letter from her mom and deals with visiting home for the first time in a long time. The second follows Bea ten years earlier when, suffering from crippling depression, she is checked into a hospital against her will and gradually faces her demons. These chapters include a lot of flashbacks, through which we get the entire story of Bea’s life. The third story follows Tina, a ten-year-old living in Trinidad (where Bea was born and raised) as she deals with her mother’s death and growing up feeling like she doesn’t belong. All three of these stories are fascinating on their own, and Persaud slowly brings them together in a way that is subtle and brilliant, creating a beautifully cohesive tale.
One of my favorite things about this book is how wonderfully real Persaud makes everything. Having suffered from depression myself, she perfectly captures the horrible thoughts and feelings that it evokes. Bea’s memories are presented through the lens of her younger self, just as memories are in real life. The narrative voice telling Tina’s story matures with the character, so we always see things from her perspective. This makes the reader feel totally connected to these characters and their stories. Adding another layer of authenticity is the Trinidadian dialect. Bea, having attended college and graduate school in America, has lost the dialect, but the characters still living in Trinidad, obviously, have not. This adds to the sense of place and helps the reader distinguish between Bea and Tina’s chapters right away.
Despite the varying storylines that all take place in different times, you never feel lost. It is always very clear what is happening. Switching between plots creates intrigue, not confusion. Persaud does an excellent job of giving you bits and pieces of information, enough to both guide you through the story and pull you through the pages, but never more than you need. There is mystery and surprise until the very last page.
All together, If I Never Went Home is fantastic. The story is fascinating, the characters are real, the emotions are strong, and the writing is beautiful. I simply cannot recommend this enough.