Willowdean Dickson is fat and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about it. But she’s growing up in Clover City, Texas, where the church, high school football and the annual beauty pageant are all equally revered. Will’s mom is a former pageant queen who begins to tune her out as the event draws near. But with two potential boyfriends, a shaky relationship with her BFF and the usual crap from bullies, Will has nowhere to turn for advice.
The Marvels opens with 400 pages of drawings telling the story of the fictional Royal Theatre in London and five generations of a family of actors. In 1766, young Billy Marvel runs off to sea, stowing away on the Kraken, the ship on which his older brother Marcus is a sailor. The ship sinks, and Billy is the sole survivor, along with his dog, Tar. Making his way eventually to London, Billy gets involved with the Royal Theater and becomes the progenitor of several generations of Marvels, great stage actors all.
Half-Japanese, half-black, Mimi Yoshiko Oliver loves looking at the moon and wants to be an astronaut. In January 1969, she moves from California to the frosty Vermont town of Hillsborough, an unwelcoming place. The farmer next door is always rude, and Mimi is teased at school. Even after she forms a tentative friendship with a girl named Stacey, she’s not invited to Stacey’s home. Then there’s the matter of shop class. Mimi would rather take shop than home ec so she can use power tools to work on her science project, but girls are supposed to “learn how to cook and sew so they can be good homemakers.”
“There were five of them. And they were waiting.” Thus opens Kevin Henkes’ latest picture book, featuring an unseen’s child five patient toys, all of whom sit in a windowsill and watch the world go by. There’s an owl, waiting for the moon; a pig with an umbrella, waiting for some rain; a bear with a kite, waiting for wind; a puppy on a sled, who longs for some snow; and a content rabbit who “wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. He just liked to look out the window and wait.”
Italian-born author Elsa Hart lived in China for a time, absorbing knowledge of its history, customs and manners, and in her exceptional debut mystery, Jade Dragon Mountain, she evokes its essence for readers in often dreamlike, mesmerizing prose.
Ron Rash may not have invented the “Appalachian Noir” genre, but he’s certainly perfected it over the past 15 years with modern classics like Serena and The World Made Straight. His new novel, Above the Waterfall, is another contemporary take on the Southern Gothic tradition, featuring a slow-burn mystery that’s light on plot but thick with atmosphere, lyrical prose and a visceral sense of place.
Patrick deWitt’s novels don’t sneak up on you; they’re the kind you love instantly. His latest, Undermajordomo Minor (a follow-up to his Booker-shortlisted The Sisters Brothers), is no exception. From the moment you tumble into its strange world, there is no other world. In that sense, and in its slightly mannered language, it’s like a fairy tale, although one with plenty of room inside for thoroughly modern, adult complications.
Ten-year-old Christa Adams has a problem. Her parents are making the disastrous mistake of selling the family cabin in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, where Christa has spent every summer of her life. In the past, she might have had help reasoning with her parents from her sister, Amelia—but she’s been replaced by Amelia-the-Princess, who only seems to care about texting and tanning. Luckily for Christa, her new friend Alex might have a solution buried in his family’s past.
Memoirist and literary agent Bill Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man) has now conquered the world of literary fiction with his searing debut, Did You Ever Have a Family. As a boy “wakes to the sound of sirens,” we learn that an explosion has taken the life of a bride and groom just before their wedding day. Clegg then slowly, intricately reveals the wider ramifications of this unthinkable tragedy through the eyes of more than a dozen characters.
Board the Alaska-bound Zuiderdam, a luxury cruise ship, alongside Harriet Chance. The 78-year-old widow has set sail using a pair of tickets purchased by her late husband, Bernard. Although he never mentioned the trip, Harriet is touched by his thoughtfulness and determined to take advantage of his last romantic gesture. Despite her children’s worry that Harriet is infirm, she sets sail alone, accompanied only by a letter from her best friend, Mildred.