Thomas Pierce's debut short story collection, Hall of Small Mammals, is sometimes strange, sometimes fantastical and manages to perfectly balance between tragic and hilarious. Within this collection, a mother is saddled with a cloned baby mammoth by her selfish son; two siblings are trapped in a pantry and very confused; and a father and son blunder through a cliqueish, vaguely cult-like community of campers. Ultimately this collection shines a light on the pain and beauty that can be found within all close relationships. If you enjoy George Saunders, Karen Russell or J. Robert Lennon, you might want to pick up this book.
Here's an excerpt from the title short story, "Hall of Small Mammals":
“I think the pace is picking up,” the woman behind me said, and when I looked up, I saw that she was right. We were really moving now. I could see the entrance ot the Hall of Small Mammals, its brown double doors open wide to receive us. But where was Val? I scanned the crowds. Had I been wrong to let a twelve-year-old go off on his own at a public zoo? I was beginning to suspect that I’d made a poor decision. My experience with children was and is fairly limited. I have two grown nieces that I rarely see in person, though my fridge is plastered with their childhood photos and printed emails. My older brother, the girls’ father, once said that being a parent is the most important thing he’s ever done with his life. I’ve never had the nerve to ask him what that says about my life.
What are you reading today?
Once upon a time, BookPage sent me a copy of The Kingdom of Little Wounds (originally marketed for ages 14 and up) to read and review for the October 2013 issue. After I read it, I got out my drum and cried, "But it's not YA!" Associate Editor Cat Acree and I emailed back and forth about this issue for a whole day, and we ended up with enough talking points to write a (very, very short) dissertation. Or, as she suggested, to stick it on the blog (here).
And with that, Locker Combinations was born.
If you haven't been reading this series from its beginning, you probably aren't familiar with why we named it Locker Combinations. Here's why:
Locker Combinations is a way to "see inside" YA (young adult) literature. By opening a locker, sometimes you find meaningful objects, like photos and mementos. Sometimes you find useful objects, like pens and pencils; informative objects, like your history textbook; or secret objects, like that note your friend slipped between the grates. Sometimes you find gruesome objects, like those gym clothes you've been meaning to take home and wash. And sometimes you find a mirror, where you can see an image of yourself.
With only a few more days before the launch of BookPage's new teen e-newsletter, Yay! YA (you can sign up for it here), I was asked to share with readers what exactly is so great about YA lit—and why it resonates with me!
The new year is a time to think about transformations. But year-round, YA lit focuses on the space between being one thing and being another, with characters sometimes choosing one option unequivocally and other times finding a way to embrace both. Teens think about these issues . . . but adults do, too.
Normally when I talk with students about transformations in YA lit, we talk about teenage shapeshifters: werewolves, selkies, dragons, etc. But to me this year's best example of transformation in YA lit is less metaphorical: Girls Like Us by Gail Giles. Over the course of this short, accessible book, developmentally disabled high school graduates Biddy and Quincy and their recently widowed landlady Elizabeth gradually transform from characters weighed down by their pasts—and by the labels society has assigned them—into people who can build friendships and careers and find happiness despite obstacles.
Veteran YA author Andrew Smith is no stranger to metaphor: The dark horrorscapes that mirror real world terrors in The Marbury Lens (and its companion novel Passenger) established him as a master of the form. Last year, though, Smith took metaphor to yet another level with Grasshopper Jungle, telling two stories, one about teenage boys and the other about giant hungry mutant praying mantises with only one thing on their minds. But are they really two stories, or is one a running metaphor for the other?
You don't have to be a teenager to appreciate the power of metaphor. Adult fiction deals with metaphor too, of course—especially in genres like fantasy, science fiction and horror—but YA's metaphors tend to be more immediate and closer to the surface. Like Smith's oversized insects, this makes them impossible to ignore.
YA lit is often dismissed as more simplistic than adult fiction, but books like E. Lockhart's We Were Liars refute that notion.
Some stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, in that order. Sometimes only one story is being told at a time, and sometimes readers can trust a story's narrator to tell the truth. None of these are the case in Lockhart's postmodern, boundary-pushing YA novel. Narrator Cady's tale of summer friendship and romance on a privileged family's private island is constantly interrupted by flashbacks, bits and pieces of fairy tales and hints that a mysterious accident may be linked to sinister secrets that Cady's bouts of amnesia won't let her access. Lockhart's highly literary, experimental style challenges teen readers to create their own understandings out of disjointed, sometimes complimentary and sometimes contradictory narrative threads.
Lockhart's novel is only one of innumerable YA books that demonstrate that YA can be just as complex, nuanced and multilayered as literature written for adults.
How much power do teens—especially teenage girls—have over their lives and the lives of others around them? Conversion by Katherine Howe explores this question through two parallel stories, one taking place at the time of the Salem witchcraft trials and the other set in a modern Massachusettes high school. In 1692 Salem, teen Ann Putnam Jr. finds herself at the heart of the town's witchcraft hysteria, while in the present day an unexplained neurological illness is creating panic at all-female St. Joan's Academy. Are the sick girls—and the supposed witches' victims—being controlled by outside forces, or have they been the ones in control all along?
Determining, negotiating and reworking questions of social power are definitely not the exclusive purview of teens. Adult power dynamics can be so complicated, and can have such high stakes, that reading about teens who change the world is a good way to put things in perspective.
In some ways, the issue of identity is central to all of YA lit. Consider Noggin by John Corey Whaley: Sixteen-year-old Travis, dying of leukemia, has agreed to an experimental, last-chance treatment. His head has been attached to another teenager's formerly-dead body. In part because the body he inhabits isn't his original one—and in part because five years have elapsed since his head was frozen and then thawed—Travis quickly finds that a lot of rethinking is in store. Although the premise sounds silly, Travis' identity struggle (and his highly punnish sense of humor) will resonate with any teen who's ever wondered who they really are.
And who doesn't sometimes feel like they're walking around in a body that's completely different than what's in their head?
Reading YA lit, especially recent books that accent some of the most interesting ideas that YA tackles, is a great way to get through the winter doldrums. And if your 2015 New Year's resolution is to read more YA (and why shouldn't it be?), don't forget to subscribe to Yay! YA to learn about the latest reviews, author interviews and web exclusives on BookPage.com. Happy reading!
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. Read more BookPage reviews, interviews and posts by Jill here.
Most Saturdays end up being readathon days, but this Saturday, you can read for a good cause. By hosting National Readathon Day on January 24, Penguin Random House, GoodReads, Mashable and the National Book Foundation hope to raise funds to support the National Book Foundation's literacy programs. In America, 40% of adults are at or below basic reading proficiency, and 14% are illiterate.
How can you help promote literacy this Saturday? Host a reading party, or encourage your local library to host one, and invite your friends to donate to the cause! The Readathon will go from 12:00-4:00 P.M., which is the perfect amount of time to really dig into a book you've been meaning to start for a while. So get out there and read for a good cause!
Get excited: 2015 is going to be a terrific year for readers. For those of you who love to count down the days to the release of that book you can't wait to get your hands on, we've compiled a list of 15 books that we think will be among the most beloved—and most talked-about—releases of the year.
It's been way too long since Link released a story collection, but the wait is almost over—Get in Trouble will be published in just a couple of weeks. This collection of stories finds ordinary people getting mixed up with superheroes, fairies and far-future playboys. (Our reviewer compares her writing to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer.") In other words, get ready for deliciously creepy, completely magical fun. read more>>
The Japanese-born and English-bred author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day—who never writes the same book twice—returns in March with his first novel in 10 long years. It's a fable-like story set in a vaguely medieval world that is actually the near future—sounds complicated, but we have faith that this much-lauded writer will pull off something magical.
Among current writers of narrative nonfiction, none can top Larson’s skill for weaving parallel story lines into a gripping account of a historical event. The sinking of the luxury liner the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by a German U-boat seems tailor-made for the Larson treatment, with a cast of characters ranging from Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson to the ship’s many notable passengers.
Condé Nast Travel editor and novelist Yanagihara returns with a second novel, following her breakthrough 2013 debut, The People in the Trees. A powerful story of friendship, loyalty and the difficulty of overcoming your past, A Little Life may be the best book you read this year—and it will almost certainly be the most heartbreaking. Fans of Lionel Shriver or Ian McEwan, meet your new favorite writer. read more>>
The Water for Elephants author returns to historical fiction in her fifth novel, which is set in 1942. In the height of World War II, a spoiled Philadelphia socialite sets out with her husband and their best friend to find the Loch Ness Monster. Once there, she discovers some hard truths about life and the people she loves. read more>>
The author of the mega-bestseller Born to Run returns with another fascinating story sure to make runners want to lace up their shoes and hit the road—and sure to give armchair travelers another setting to dream about. This time, McDougall's story begins on the island of Crete, where a daring band of WWII Resistance fighters pulled off the astonishing feat of kidnapping a heavily guarded Nazi general.
Could a book about forgoing marriage possibly deliver the same kind of jolt as Bolick’s 2011 Atlantic cover story on the subject? Why, yes — yes it could. Based on what we’ve seen, her unapologetic (and wonderfully readable) look at living life on her own terms as a single woman will spur a whole new round of debate about the personal and social consequences of plummeting marriage rates.
No one writes about the complicated history of the black experience in America with more clarity and authority than Morrison, and she has the prizes to show for it: She's won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, not to mention the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her 11th novel centers on the relationship between a light-skinned black woman and her dark-skinned daughter, whose different skin tones create a divide between them. read more>>
The latest work of popular history from reader favorite and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner McCullough sounds irresistible: Two bicycle mechanics who grew up in a house without plumbing or electricity (but plenty of books) manage to create one of the greatest inventions in human history—the first flying machine. Assisting the brave and ingenious Wright brothers was their sister Katharine, whose contributions have been heretofore mostly overlooked.
Kate Atkinson's stellar Life After Life was one of the best books of 2013. So the news that the Scottish author is returning with a companion story is most welcome. She's exploring the life of Teddy, Ursula's flyboy younger brother—both his adventures in the RAF and the life he returns to after those wartime experiences, which contains even greater challenges. read more>>
Accomplished storyteller Kent Haruf died last December, but readers can look forward to one more trip to Holt, Colorado, this summer. Haruf continues to chronicle the lives of extraordinary, ordinary people in his new work, which finds a widow and widower forging an unlikely friendship. read more>>
The author of Summer Sisters and YA classics like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret will release a new novel for adults in June. It's based on the true story of three unexplained airplane crashes that took place in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the early 1950s. It's a storyline that reads as all too timely after the Malaysian Air disaster last spring. read more>>
Paula McLain's second novel, The Paris Wife, chronicled the life of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson—and was one of the standouts amid the wave of stories about the wives of famous men that followed on the heels of Nancy Horan's 2007 bestseller, Loving Frank. McLain returns this year with the story of a woman who had no trouble standing on her own two feet: 1920s aviator Beryl Markham. read more>>
The author who inspires more schauedenfreud than perhaps any other returns in September with a family drama that spans decades and continents as it follows Purity Tyler's quest to find her father. read more>>
Judging from the response to her Ted talks on creativity, there’s a huge audience awaiting Gilbert’s in-depth look at how inspiration and imagination can combine to unleash the “strange jewels” within us all. The author of Eat, Pray, Love will offer advice on how we can conquer our fears and lead a creative life—whether we’re authors, artists or accountants. read more>>
Nashvillians got a literary treat on Saturday night, thanks to local nonprofit and writer's collective The Porch. In their first annual fundraiser, founders Susannah Felts and Katie McDougall put together an "only in Nashville" lineup of musicians and storytellers for a very memorable evening.
The headliners of "A Tale of Two Tims" were Tim O'Brien and Tim O'Brien—one a National Book Award-winning author of books like The Things They Carried and Tomcat in Love; the other, a Grammy-winning Americana and bluegrass performer. Despite occasionally receiving each other's mail, the two had never met until this weekend.
In an introduction that laid out the mission for The Porch, Felts (left) said that they wanted the city to be known as much for its writing as it is for its culinary, culture and music scenes. McDougall (right) went on to honor storytelling as a very human need, something as natural as breathing. "And like breathing, it's easy to take for granted," she said.
It certainly felt that storytelling was as natural as breathing for the artists featured in A Tale of Two Tims. First up was Korby Lenker, who charmed the crowd with the song "Book Nerd" (which is apparently a favorite with the staff of Parnassus Books, for obvious reasons!).
Lenker's second song, "My Little Life," was performed with flair on a ukulele.
Next up was spoken-word artist Minton Sparks (pictured with guitarist John Jackson). Watching someone tell you a story might sound like a dull, Victorian sort of entertainment, but Sparks makes her tales of country life and the strange characters in her own family tree completely mesmerizing, incorporating music, expressive body language and onomatopoeia into her electric performances. In between stories, she treated the audience to some off-the-cuff anecdotes from her early (and quickly abandoned) career as a songwriter, saying "some of my material's not what radio is looking for, to be honest."
Next, musician Tim O'Brien took the stage to perform a couple of songs, including one inspired by the work of Annie Proulx, "Brother Wind."
Then it was on to Tim O'Brien, author, who broke the ice with a magic show complete with lovely assistant, disappearing cards and a dancing table.
Then, it was the long awaited moment when the two Tims (hereafter referred to as Author Tim and Musician Tim) came together. "He's gonna do magic and I'm gonna sing," joked Author Tim...but actually, the two participated in a Q&A session moderated by Andrew Maraniss (whose first book, Strong Inside, just made the NYT Sports bestseller list).
Maraniss' first question for Author Tim was, "Why magic?" To which Author Tim responded, "I asked myself that 10 minutes ago! I almost had a heart attack." He went on to discuss the way that stories "are also an illusion," saying that both stories and magic "require a suspension of disbelief."
Musician Tim agreed that musical performances also require sleight of hand and illusion, saying that most performers he knew were pretty different from their onstage selves.
Most moving moment: Author Tim illustrated the way that readers contribute to a work by bringing their own experience to it by recalling a memory of his platoon singing "Hey Jude." "I remember 100 soldiers going across a rice paddy in Vietnam near dusk, almost twilight. One guy—this makes me wanna cry—one guy started singing that song, and then another guy. And then as we crossed that paddy it was like a boys choir. And we were boys. Nineteen, 20, 21 years old. Don't carry the world upon your shoulders." (Listen to this clip.)
Funniest anecdote: Musician Tim once cashed an unclaimed check from Playboy that was most likely meant for Author Tim. "I owe you $500," he joked.
On the process: Author Tim admitted that "I'm an underwear guy. I rarely get dressed."
Simile alert: Musician Tim imagined that writing a novel is "like writing 100 albums."
The program ended with a reading from The Things They Carried by Author Tim, while Musician Tim played "Time to Learn" to a spellbound crowd—who responded with a standing ovation.
We can't wait to see what else The Porch has in store for us in 2015! For more on the two Tims, check out the interview they did with Parnassus Books.
Wes Moore's The Work, his latest book after the haunting and fascinating The Other Wes Moore, focuses on finding purpose in life and work. Our reviewer writes, "These stories underscore Moore’s point that the meaning of life is clearer when we are willing to serve others, whether as an inner-city principal or a social entrepreneur. The Work will resonate with people seeking their own purpose in life." (Read the review here.)
We were curious about the books Moore has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
This is a wonderfully compelling book about the subtle, yet life-altering changes our choices and circumstances make.
I love the constant battle between proving a model while always challenging it. The work we do with BridgeEdU and reinventing the freshman year of college takes a lot of lessons from this book.
This book had me from the beginning with the Confucius quote: “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake.” Enough said.
Thank you, Wes! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Amun Ankhra)
Paula McLain's The Paris Wife was one of the standouts among the crop of books starring the wives of famous men, a trend that launched with Nancy Horan's 2007 bestseller Loving Frank. On July 7, McLain's third novel will be published by Ballantine—but this time, she's taking on the life of a woman who can stand on her own: aviator Beryl Markham.
Markham was the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic, a feat she chronicled in her 1942 memoir West with the Night. According to early reports, McLain will also delve into Markham's rivalry with Out of Africa author Karen Blixen.
Any Paris Wife fans looking forward to this one?
Photo by Stephen Cutri.
Cathy Barrow encourages healthy, local eating for all seasons with her easy recipes for DIY preserving in her newest cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving. This quick and no-fuss recipe for Fennel, Orange, and Olive Refrigerator Pickles is a great place for the uninitiated to dive into the world of canning.
Fennel, Orange, and Olive Refrigerator Pickles
makes: one 24-ounce jar
active time: 20 minutes
standing time: 2 days
This piquant pickle was inspired by a plate of olives, caper berries and bitter oranges served with sherry at an outdoor cafe in Seville. A wide-mouth jar will make this job a little easier. So will long tweezers or a chopstick, if you want to get fancy.
Serve with salty Marcona almonds.
1. Trim the stalks from the fennel and peel away the tough outer sections of the bulb. (Put these parts in a bag in the freezer to make vegetable broth or add to a batch of chicken stock.) Remove about ½ inch of the root end of each fennel bulb, then slice vertically down the center. Set the fennel cut side down on the cutting board and slice wedges from the bulbs.
2. Wash the orange well. Slice into slim 1⁄4-inch rounds, rind and all. Remove any seeds. Cut the slices into half-moons. Press the oranges against the inside of the jar, then fit the fennel wedges into the center of the jar, adding a few olives here and there as you go.
3. In a small saucepan, warm the vinegar, salt, sugar and tarragon, stirring just until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the ice cubes and stir until cool.
4. Pour the cooled brine into the jar. Cover and place in a cool, dark spot for 2 days.
5. Chill the pickles before serving. They will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator.
If you need any proof that books aren't dead, just look to the children's and young adult industry, which continues to grow and dominate bestseller charts for adults and young readers alike.
To celebrate this "golden age" of children's and YA books, Time Magazine has compiled a list of all-time classics, both old and new. The children's list includes favorites such as The Giving Tree and Make Way for Ducklings, and my own personal favorite, Miss Rumphius. Check out the full list of 100 here, and vote for your favorite.
The young adult list is a little . . . let's say confusing, and we're not the only ones who feel this way. Books like Wonder—which is middle grade, not young adult—share space with A Monster Calls, and it's almost unfathomable to see Twilight and To Kill a Mockingbird on the same list. See the full 100 here.
Readers, what do you think?