BookPage Children's Top Pick, May 2014
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Shaun Tan’s books are breathtaking—just consider his wordless graphic novel, The Arrival. But the effect is even more astounding when he puts words and images together, as he’s done in Rules of Summer. There is an underlying beauty to his work that transcends our everyday lives. His design sense is striking, and he pushes the boundaries of picture books in delightful ways.
A beehive is a place of order, control, maybe even oppression. In Laline Paull’s debut novel, The Bees, Flora 717 is a sterile worker bee from the lowest caste of an orchard hive. Like her sisters, she is bound by the motto to accept, obey and serve. But during a period of famine and environmental crisis, Flora is asked to take on new tasks: first, feeding the newborns in the hive’s nursery and then becoming a forager, flying freely in search of pollen and nectar. Her size and strength make her a formidable worker, and she proves to be a quick learner.
With books meant for younger readers, it can be far too easy to tell where a story is going. There are certain tropes that telegraph the ending, like evil being vanquished, the protagonist struggling with a quest and so on. One of the best things about Rebecca Hahn’s A Creature of Moonlight is that the story doesn’t go where you think it might, and yet it still flows naturally.
Every now and then, a reader stumbles across a debut novelist and thinks to herself: What took you so long? Bret Anthony Johnston—current Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University and named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 following the publication of his 2004 short story collection—is such an author. His first novel is so spellbinding, so moving, that one’s only complaint is that we had to wait 10 years to read it.
Writer Kaui Hart Hemmings had a lot to live up to with her second novel: Her best-selling, polished debut, The Descendants, was made into an Oscar-winning film starring George Clooney. With The Possibilities, she delivers on her early promise while making a striking departure setting-wise, moving from the tropical islands of her native Hawaii to the snowy mountains of Colorado.
In 1951, adopted teenager Lily’s Chinese features attract the wrong kind of attention from classmates at her Kansas City high school. The United States is at war, defending South Korea from the invasion of Chinese Communists via North Korea. Propaganda designed to gain American support for the war features evil, slanted-eyed Commies eager to destroy any nation that blocks its path to supremacy, including the U.S. Lily wonders why her Chinese birth mother, whom she now thinks of as “Gone Mom,” could have abandoned her daughter to this fate of ethnic isolation.
Philippe Petit’s famous tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 was just one of many such performances by the artist. He made the crossing without a permit or permission to be in the building, so it’s little wonder he thinks of his actions as “coups” and has titled his book Creativity: The Perfect Crime. This is not a how-to book—it’s more of a this-is-how-I primer—but close readers will come away with both inspiration and useful instruction.
Joshua Ferris, who previously examined the culture of the contemporary workplace (Then We Came to the End) and family life (The Unnamed) turns his attention to social media in To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. At first, the novel seems to be a satiric look at the way Facebook and Twitter could be used to hijack a person’s identity. But as the main character heads toward an existential crisis, it is clear that Ferris is also exploring how technology both connects us and reinforces our isolation.
Mermaid princess Serafina is nervous. Today’s the day she’ll prove herself a true descendant of her famous ancestor Merrow in the royal family’s traditional Dokimí ceremony. She’ll demonstrate her worthiness to rule through “songcasting” a complex musical spell, and the day will end with her formal betrothal to the handsome but rebellious crown prince Mahdi.
Our author can’t seem to make up her mind on a fairly important issue: Is she “Mary Rickert” or just plain “M. Rickert”? Under the abbreviated M., she has published a set of haunting short stories considered to be among the very best of fantasy. With The Memory Garden, her first novel, she makes her bid to enter the literary mainstream, enlarging her name and her imaginative landscape in one grand stroke.