Book of the Week: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

It’s the second time in a month that a YA author comes up with the most compelling writing of the week!

If you follow what’s going on in YA fiction, you probably already know about this one. The Hate U Give is one of the most eagerly anticipated novels of the new year and has already been previewed in Elle, NYT and several times in Entertainment Weekly.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement this is the story of how a girl and her community come to terms with the police killing of a young Black man. You might feel you “know” this storyline because, sadly, we see the barebones of it over and over in news headlines. The miracle of this book is the way Thomas brings readers into real human lives as they are lived—how we come to understand the richness, the depth, the complexity, the hope and heartache behind the headlines.

For me, it was an experience in the kind of radical empathy and understanding I need so much right now. I can’t recommend it enough. If you have a moment, you can get a sneak peek at the first three chapters on Epic Reads.

It arrives with a sweep of five starred reviews from all the advance review publications, as well as raves from authors and booksellers. And I expect it to find a prominent place on the Spring Kids Indie Next list.

 

“[Starr Carter attends private school and is] already wrestling with what Du Bois called ‘double consciousness’ when she accepts a ride home from Khalil, a childhood friend, who is then pulled over and shot dead by a white cop. Starr’s voice commands attention from page one, a conflicted but clear-eyed lens through which debut author Thomas examines Khalil’s killing, casual racism at Williamson, and Starr’s strained relationship with her white boyfriend. Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted—and completely undervalued—by society at large.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family. This story is necessary. This story is important.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Beautifully written in Starr’s authentic first-person voice, this is a marvel of verisimilitude as it insightfully examines two worlds in collision. An inarguably important book that demands the widest possible readership.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Pair this powerful debut with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s ALL AMERICAN BOYS to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.”
School Library Journal (starred review)

The Hate U Give is an important and timely novel that reflects the world today’s teens inhabit. Starr’s struggles create a complex character, and Thomas boldly tackles topics like racism, gangs, police violence, and interracial dating. This topical, necessary story is highly recommended for all libraries.”
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) (Starred Review)

“As we continue to fight the battle against police brutality and systemic racism in America, The Hate U Give serves as a much needed literary ramrod. Absolutely riveting!”
—Jason Reynolds

Angie Thomas has written a stunning, brilliant, gut-wrenching novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.”
—John Green

“Angie Thomas’ novel gives readers a complex narrative of life in a Black community dealing with the intersectional traumas of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, police violence and death. We follow Starr a sixteen year old trying to navigate Black existence in the white world, through the lens of a predominantly white affluent high school where she spends most of her time, and her community of Garden Heights. It is a powerfully written tale of coming to terms with the things outside of our control and all that which we can change.”
— Sarah Zarantonello, Carmichaels Bookstore, Louisville, KY

“Yes, like Tupac’s Thug Life, understand the impact of the seeds you sow.  Starr has neighborhood ties, and school friends; her slang and their pop culture words–and then one of the most current debates on American minds bubbles up around her.  She witnesses the murder of one of her friends when a young, black boy is killed at a routine traffic stop by a white cop. Suddenly Starr’s status is tabloid and taboo.  A real and critical voice gets to shine in the bildungsroman of our time.”
— Charity McMaster, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

The Hate U Give (9780062498533) by Angie Thomas. $17.99 hardcover. 2/28/17 on sale.

Fiction Short Take: The Wrong Dead Guy – Richard Kadrey

This is volume two in Kadrey’s new series and takes this acclaimed urban fantasist into Christopher Moore territory. In fact, Moore himself called the first volume, The Everything Box, “A rolling bouncy-house of a caper tale…quick-witted characters, snarky dialogue, and surreal analogies. If you haven’t sampled Richard Kadrey’s take on fantasy yet, this is a great place to start.”

“[I]nveterate thief Coop is a fast-talking criminal making his way through a supernatural substratum of society. Last time around, he saved the world and has now reluctantly been seconded to the Department of Peculiar Science….Coop’s boss, Woolrich, orders his team on a new mission: ‘A simple theft. A local museum has a mummy on display. We’d like to have it instead of them.’ What sounds like a simple heist quickly becomes mortal danger when they accidentally awaken Harkhuf, an evil mummy imbued with dark magic, which is totally the worst kind of magic, apparently….A goofy, flamboyant, and breathless horror adventure by one of the genre’s sharpest creators.”
Kirkus

“Cross Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder with Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr, add a layer of supernatural shenanigans, and if you are as talented a writer as Richard Kadrey, you end up with Coop, thief protagonist of The Everything Box….Richard Kadrey is a master of paranormal suspense and relatable antiheroes with a strong dose of dark humor, and The Wrong Dead Guy is a delight from beginning to end. Highly recommended.”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

The Wrong Dead Guy (9780062389572) by Richard Kadrey. $24.99 hardcover. 2/28/17 on sale.

Fiction Short Take: The Orphan’s Tale – Pam Jenoff

Jenoff is the author of a number of commercial historical novels, including the bestselling WWII novel, The Kommandant’s Girl. Jenoff returns to that territory in this story published under Harlequin’s MIRA imprint. Readers who enjoy the drama of stories like Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants will likely be drawn to this tale of everyday lives lived in Germany under the Nazis.

“Bestselling author Jenoff depicts two disparate women thrown together by destiny, each hiding a secret from the Nazi regime….Despite their different backgrounds, they find comfort and trust in each other’s friendship. Against the backdrop of circus life during the war, the author captures the very real terrors faced by both women as they navigate their working and personal relationships and their complicated love lives while striving for normalcy and keeping their secrets safe.”
Publishers Weekly

“I read this novel in a headlong rush, transported by the relationship between two vastly different women during World War II: a Jewish circus aerialist and a teenage runaway with a baby. Deftly juggling secrets, lies, treachery, and passion, Pam Jenoff vividly brings to life the agonizing choices and life-or-death consequences for a hardy band of travelers under Nazi occupation.”
— Christina Baker Kline

The Orphan’s Tale (9780778319818) By Pam Jenoff.  $15.99 trade paper original. 2/21/17 on sale.

 

Book of the Week: Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari

Two of the most intellectually thrilling books I’ve read in the last few years are the bestselling Sapiens and this eye-opening follow up. Sapiens married biology and history to present a sweeping exploration of the rise of our species from the dawn modern cognition about 70,000 years ago until now.

In this new book Harari uses the same technique of narrative inquiry to explore where our species might be headed. Reading it, I was reminded of Stewart Brand’s comment at the dawn of the computer age: “We are as gods and we better get good at it.”

Harari argues that man has increasingly mastered technology and we are today at a tipping point. Once the product of biological evolution, man now has some of the tools to control that evolution. Moreover, our runaway advances in high level computing are starting to match the ability of the human brain—and that while machines will not soon “feel”, machine learning will soon outstrip what the human brain can do.

In a book that is chock-a-block with insight, the really startling one to me was how far we already are down the path to routinely handing off “thinking” to computational systems that do it better than humans.

Doubt that? Here’s a simple way to test the assertion: leave your phone home for a day. If you’re like me you’ll quickly realize that you’ve turned over routing your travel to a machine that can analyze the variables more quickly and efficiently than you can–and has more information about road conditions than you do. That machine can also tell you the best time to go for your run if you want to avoid rain, remind you about your appointments, help you research the people you are meeting… oh, and supply you with the name of the actress who starred with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront when your own tired biological computer can’t remember it.

The machine in your pocket is networked to an unthinkably vast collection of data—the result of combined human and machine thinking—and it’s this network and our increasing faith in “datism” that seems poised to transform the world and perhaps threaten the primacy of species Sapiens in unimaginable ways.

What Jared Diamond said of Sapiens is true also of this book: “[It] tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in unforgettably vivid language.” Homo Deus is a pesky, unnerving, frightening and revelatory book. It will wake you up to the water you are already swimming in.

There’s a terrific review in The Guardian if you’d like a much more detailed assessment. I encourage you to take a look and include the conclusion here:

“This is a very intelligent book, full of sharp insights and mordant wit. But as Harari would probably be the first to admit, it’s only intelligent by human standards, which are nothing special. By the standards of the smartest machines it’s woolly and speculative. The datasets are pretty limited. Its real power comes from the sense of a distinctive consciousness behind it. It is a quirky and cool book, with a sliver of ice at its heart….But it is hard to imagine anyone could read this book without getting an occasional, vertiginous thrill….Homo Deus makes it feel as if we are standing at the edge of a cliff after a long and arduous journey. The journey doesn’t seem so important any more. We are about to step into thin air.”

Already released in the UK to great reviews, anticipation is high here—expect Homo Deus to be discussed everywhere starting with NYTBR, NPR’s All Things Considered, Wired, The LA Times Review of Books, WSJ, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, The Atlantic, Time, Washington Post Book World, The New Republic and American Scholar.

 “Throughout history, humans prayed for deliverance from famine, disease, and war with spotty success. For centuries, prophets agreed that all of the suffering was “an integral part of God’s cosmic plan.” Today, obesity kills more humans than starvation, old age more than disease, and suicide more than murder. Having reduced three horsemen of the apocalypse to technical problems, what will humans do next? Harari’s answer: we will become gods—not perfect but like Greek or Hindu gods: immortal and possessing superpowers but with some foibles….A relentlessly fascinating book that is sure to become—and deserves to be—a bestseller.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Thrilling to watch such a talented author trample so freely across so many disciplines… Harari’s skill lies in the way he tilts the prism in all these fields and looks at the world in different ways, providing fresh angles on what we thought we knew… scintillating.”
The Financial Times

Harari is an intellectual magpie who has plucked theories and data from many disciplines – including philosophy, theology, computer science and biology – to produce a brilliantly original, thought-provoking and important study of where mankind is heading.”
Evening Standard (London)

“Harari is an exceptional writer, who seems to have been specially chosen by the muses as a conduit for the zeitgeist… Fascinating reading.”
Times Literary Supplement (London)

 “Where have we been, where are we now and where are we going as a species? Pitched for the general reader with clarity, humor and many ‘aha’ examples, we are taken on an amazing journey from the dawn of humanity to the current Anthropocene Era dominated by man and the religion of Humanism. While pointing out possible pitfalls in our continuing evolution (including self-extinction), Harari remains cautiously hopeful. What separates human consciousness from other species is imagination and the drive to tell stories and Science, Politics and Religion are the tools. Is consciousness simply a sophisticated series of algorithms? Will the continued development of artificial intelligence eventually put an end to the species? We are currently in the Age of Dataism where information IS religion. This book should be required reading for all. Magnificent, profound and delightfully readable.”
— Karen Frank, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, NH

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (9780062464316) by Yuval Noah Harari. $35.00 hardcover. 2/21/17 one day laydown.

New Fiction: A Piece of the World – Christine Baker Kline

The author of the blockbuster novel Orphan Train delivers another insightful look into American life, in this case reimagining the life of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World.

That painting has been called “an American Mona Lisa.” In it Christina Olson’s enigmatic pose hints at the inner life which Kline’s novel illuminates. Born to a farm family in Maine, Olson hopes to become a teacher but is kept home by her family to work on the farm. And the pose she strikes in the painting takes on a special poignancy when the reader learns that the Christina in the picture has been crippled by polio. That disability became part of her bond with the younger Wyeth who had difficulty walking.

The advance reviews are very strong. That the book is both an Indie Next Pick and a LibraryReads pick prefigures much wider consumer support at on sale. Parade.com has already done a cover reveal and offered a sneak-peak excerpt.

“[T]old from Christina’s point of view, from the moment she reflects on the painting; it then goes back and forth through her history, from her childhood through the time that Wyeth painted at her family farm, using its environs and Christina and her brother as subjects. First encountering Christina as a middle-aged woman, Wyeth saw something in her that others did not. Their shared bond of physical infirmity (she had undiagnosed polio; he had a damaged right foot and bad hip) enables her to open up about her family and her difficult life, primarily as a shut-in, caring for her family, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and doing laundry….Through it all, the author’s insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life.”
Publishers Weekly

The figure at the center of Andrew Wyeth’s celebrated painting Christina’s World has her back to the viewer, but Kline turns her to face the reader, simultaneously equipping her with a back story and a lyrical voice….Born in 1893, Christina is a clever schoolgirl whose opportunity to train as a teacher will be obstructed by her parents, who need her to work at home. The progressive bone disease which makes mobility difficult and brings constant pain scarcely reduces her ceaseless domestic workload….Kline lovingly evokes the restricted life of a sensitive woman forced to renounce the norms of intimacy and self-advancement while using her as a lens to capture the simple beauty of the American farming landscape…Kline’s reading group–friendly novel delivers a character portrait that is painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic.”
Kirkus

 A piece of the World is a graceful, moving and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a fearless literary imagination combines with an inexhaustible curiosity about the past and the human heart: a feat of time travel, a bravura improvisation on the theme of art history, a wonderful story that seems to have been waiting, all this time, for Christina Baker Kline to come along and tell it.”
— Michael Chabon

“This is a novel that does what Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting does: it renders a whole universe of love and longing inside a seemingly simple scene. By focusing on this one particular piece of the world, Christina Baker Kline has accomplished something grand. This is a gorgeous novel, both heartbreaking and life-affirming.”
— Nathan Hill

A Piece of the World (9780062356260) by Christina Baker Kline. $27.99 hardcover. 2/21/17 one day laydown.

New Fiction: The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Here’s a story that is charming, whimsical, poignant and ultimately life affirming…. Aimee Bender territory. It is the story of a writer who carelessly loses a keepsake of his beloved fiancée’s on the day she dies. And it’s the story of a young editor who finds the keepsake on the street and keeps it. Over the course of the next forty years the writer seeks consolation by rescuing the things that other people lose and writing about them. Where life takes the writer, the editor, the lost things and the people they belonged to makes for a lovely journey.

Praise starts with Helen Simonson, whose plucky, good-hearted characters in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand still warm my heart:

From the attention-grabbing opening paragraph, to the joyful conclusion, Ruth Hogan has stirred together a charming fairytale in which the people may be more lost than the things; and generosity and compassion may be the key to finding a way home. Also there are dogs. Delightful.”

“Hogan’s writing has the soothing warmth of the cups of cocoa and tea her characters regularly dispense…old-fashioned storytelling with a sprinkling of magic.”
— Kirkus

“Hogan’s first novel reveals how even discarded items have significance and seemingly random objects, people, and places are all interconnected.”
— Booklist

“You already know Laura. She’s the friend who wears her heart on her sleeve, who is true to her word, and who could really use a lucky break. But Laura’s lucky break comes with strings attached. She inherits a house, but also the things in it. Anthony is a kind-hearted man who collects ‘lost things’ everywhere he goes. A cup and saucer, a red gemstone, a lone puzzle piece. Anthony can’t help but imagine the lives of the people who’ve lost these things. After all, he lost the most important thing he could ever imagine: Therese and her medallion. Through the years, Anthony has become The Keeper of Lost Things, he made a habit of collecting things he found in gutters, on streets, or blown into driveways. The only thing he didn’t get to do before he died was to get around to finding the people the lost things belonged to. Can Laura live up to the task that Anthony himself could never complete? And how in the world will she do it? This is a novel full of grace, kindness, and forgiveness. It’s perfectly lovely gem from start to finish.”
— Jessilynn Norcross from McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

The Keeper of Lost Things (9780062473530) by Ruth Hogan. $26.99 hardcover. 2/12/17 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: Shining City – Tom Rosenstiel

Rosenstiel—a veteran political journalist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute—makes his fiction debut with a twisty page turner about the vetting of a Supreme Court nominee. Add in all the inside baseball of left- and right-wing politics and a possible serial killer and you’ve got a page turner for those who can’t get enough of the nail-biter that is real-world America right now. 😉

“[A] polished, entertaining political thriller. President James Nash hires Washington, D.C., spin doctors Peter Rina and Randi Brooks to “scrub” potential Supreme Court nominee Roland Madison….The conservative Rina and the liberal Brooks are an engaging team, and Rosenstiel does a brilliant job dramatizing how Washington’s political sausage is made.”
Publishers Weekly

Veteran journalist Rosenstiel’s debut novel ‘shines’ with page-turning intensity that will make readers hope that this book is the beginning of a new series. Highly recommended for legal and political thriller junkies and fans of David Baldacci and John Grisham.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“[A]n amazing novel full of insider knowledge and insights that could have only come from a writer who has been there. I don’t mean just inside the beltway; I mean inside the places of power and justice. Combine that with a plot that pulses with the momentum of an edge of your seat thriller and Tom Rosenstiel delivers a debut that will be remembered for years.”
— Michael Connelly

Shining City (9780062475367) by Tom Rosenstiel. $26.99 hardcover. 2/21/17 on sale.