Monthly Archives: September 2017

Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Long Way DownWill’s brother, Shawn, was shot in front of him. Dead, lying in the street. While Will’s mother tried to drown her sorrow, Will went to the jammed drawer in Shawn’s dresser and got out his pistol. He knew the Rules, the Rules that Shawn lived by, and that their father had lived by before him. Because he loved Shawn, Will had to find his murderer and shoot him dead. He was pretty sure it was Carlson Riggs.

Will had never even touched a gun before, but he tucked the pistol in the back of his pants and got on the elevator. He hit the “L” button for the lobby, but it stopped on the very next floor, the 7th floor, where his Uncle Buck got on. His Uncle Buck, who was… dead.

The ride down to the lobby took one minute and seven seconds, but not a second was wasted. Each floor brought years of wisdom and memories, and the Will that lands in the lobby is seven stories older than the one who stepped into the elevator.

Written in crackling verse, this 304-page novel flies by. Jason Reynolds’ first YA novel packs a whirl of emotions—anger and sorrow, hatred and regret— into a tight economy of words. Here’s the problem for his readers to ponder: There are places where murder is so common that there are established rules for generations of boys to follow when it happens. How can they break out of that cycle of violence?

Highly recommended for teens and adults.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which will be available on October 24th. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.


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Landscape with Invisible Hand, by M.T. Anderson

Landscape AndersonAfter the Vuvv landed, they took over the Earth, running all of its government and business, employing the inhabitants as actors for the Vuvv’s entertainment. The Vuvvs found traditional Earth tastes charming, and they would pay by the minute to observe 1950s-style romances. They were mad for doo-wop music and still life paintings. Wealthy people worked in Vuvv enterprises, living in artificial cities hovering over the earth. In the meantime, the vast majority of earthlings were unemployed, and adults with master’s degrees were standing in line for the opportunity to work a food cart, even intimidating and beating other applicants into going away.

Adam’s father couldn’t take the strain, so he left his family in desperate straits, which forced his mother to take in boarders. Adam and Chloe quickly fell in love, selling broadcasts of their faux-fifties dates to Vuvv viewers, romantic scenes of necking in convertibles and whispering, “Gee whiz!” to one another. It didn’t take long for the shine to wear off, and now that the lovers can’t stand the sight of one another, their families may starve for lack of income.

Anderson gave an interview about his book at the School Library Journal’s Virtual Teen Conference last month, saying that the idea for this new work came from his realization that we are all busy curating our lives online for the viewing pleasure of our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. We reveal things that would have been incredibly private just a few years ago, receiving validation of our lives by the number of “likes” we garner. By doing so, we relinquish control of our souls to virtual strangers who insist that we behave in socially-approved ways. There are other political messages here, to be sure, but Anderson is posing a question that others have also been asking, and he is aiming it at a generation who has never known another way of living: How do we get off this racetrack, and who are we when we leave?

The deep philosophical questions raised in this title are conveyed in a fast-moving and thoroughly entertaining story for teens and adults. Some strong language.


Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this title. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahIfemelu sits in a shop in Trenton, having her hair braided before she returns to her native Nigeria. She half-listens to the African hair dressers around her as she thinks back over her life—her childhood in Nigeria and her thirteen-year sojourn in the United States—wondering whether she is making the right decision.

The dream of so many of her friends and relatives was to get a visa to live in America and to make it big, sharing the wealth with all of the family they left back home. Reality was jarringly different. No one wanted to hire an African woman. There were financial struggles and struggles of the soul. After a time, she started a blog, explaining black American culture to non-American blacks. Later, she said that she had never felt black until she came to the U.S. “I discovered race in America and it fascinated me.” (p. 499)

The story of Ifemelu’s awakening is a journey of awareness for the reader, as well. Her hopeful and frustrating romances: the experiment, the one who seemed so perfect, the one who got away. Ifemelu desires happiness with another, but the only man who understands her is the Nigerian she grew up with, whom she repeatedly and thoroughly rejected years ago.

Just as a traveler never returns to exactly the same place, so also does a reader never remain the same person after a novel this immersive and wise. We read in order to see the world through the eyes of someone unlike ourselves, and in this absorbing story, we journey with a woman who seeks her fortune in another nation, where there are people who look like her, but do not think like her, and others who look very different. This is a fascinating gaze at our own country through an intimate observer.

Do not miss this bestselling novel by an important author. Adichie’s brilliant and moving Ted Talk on feminism will also allow you to hear her beautiful voice. That accent will follow you all the way through Americanah. In this tumultuous time in our nation, let’s hear from all the reasoned voices, and let’s listen.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own, and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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