Bookish Brains Issue 18

Letter from the editor:

I finished my second semester of grad school! The beginning of May marked the end of the spring semester for me, and I gladly turned in my final projects in exchange for a blissful month of break. My summer classes will begin in June, and I am unfortunately dreading them.

May has carried a lot of emotional turmoil and depression for me, as I have grappled with various upsetting events that have transpired in the world. Always there for company, books have embraced me.

This newsletter features reviews of books I read this month such as The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed, The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh, Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani, Moonwalking by Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, and more! Plus, a list of new upcoming June book releases. Check it out!

Cheers!
-B.C.

Currently Reading

My current read is Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin, a series of stories about the queer and trans experience. Last week, Catapult generously sent me a review copy of this upcoming release, and so far I have completed the first story, which was decent. I’m hoping to dive into this more during the long weekend! Rainbow Rainbow releases May 31, 2022.

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
  • Adult science fiction
  • Published 2021
  • 168 pages

Set in a post-apocalyptic landscape after the fall of a dystopian society, The Annual Migration of Clouds follows Reid, a teenage girl who is given a chance—-but at what cost?

Born with Cad, an inherited fungi that inhabits the body, Reid has always known what life consists of: working hard to survive as an individual and a community attempting to reestablish, and the imminent promise of Cad’s painful death. So when she receives a letter from a faraway university informing her that she’s been accepted to their exclusive program, it feels like an automatic decision. However, as she realizes the gap her absence would leave in her mother’s life, Reid must reconsider her decision.

In lush and creative writing, Mohamed forges a vivid and imaginable society. The word building, even weeks after having read it, has stuck with me. Moreover, the internal and external stakes both felt high, which maintained my interest in the story’s development.

Where this novel fell short is the rushed ending. Brief novels like this must find the balance of reeling in a reader enough for them to feel invested in the story, yet still wrapping it up in a satisfying way so as not to make the reader feel like a steel door has been suddenly dropped before them. In this case, I felt that a few important events happened immediately near the end, they were never fully dealt with, and then the characters rushed to the end, which truthfully felt more like a beginning. It’s also worth noting that I dislike the title.

The gist of this story is its fractured post-apocalyptic setting and a girl weighing her options. Although for most of my reading experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it, the ending left me feeling disappointed.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
  • Adult short stories
  • Published 2020
  • 269 pages

Ever since I finished reading The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans earlier this month, I have continued to think about it. Comprised of a series of short stories and a novella by the same name as the collection, this literary work is astounding and expertly crafted.

Two quotes give preface to this collection: one, by James Baldwin, and the other, by Lucille Clifton. Both these brilliant excerpts touch on the magnitude of history, and how historical events create the context into which we are born. Not only are they astute and poetic sentiments on their own, but they perfectly encapsulate the spirit of this work.

In the six stories that make up the bulk of this collection, Evans expertly fleshes out characters with vivid lives, detailed and nuanced dilemmas, and who occasionally make peculiar choices. A ruined wedding, distant family members attempting to reconnect over a trip to Alcatraz, a male celebrity on an apologizing tour, and a college student turned infamous by a viral photo of her donning a Confederate flag bikini are just some of the stories Evans has crafted.

But the real stand-out of this piece is the grand finale, the novella entitled “The Office of Historical Corrections.” …Continue reading my full book review here.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
  • Young adult fantasy
  • Published 2022
  • 336 pages

Every year, Mina’s village sacrifices one worthy girl to be the Sea God’s Bride. Destructive storms have raged for years, and their sacrifices will hopefully one day satisfy the Sea God so that balance may be restored.

This year, in order to protect the emotions of her brother, Mina sacrifices herself in place of the chosen bride, who is her brother’s significant other. After throwing herself into the sea, Mina finds herself in the spirit realm, confronting the Sea God and his guards. Here, she learns more about the spirit realm than she expected, both her grandmother’s stories and sheer determination to help her village empowering her in her journey.

The world building in this novel is stellar. I have heard this book likened to the vibes of “Spirited Away,” and this certainly evokes that aesthetic. The relationships strengthen naturally, and I was quite rooting for Mina in her various endeavors, charmed by her friendships and romantic interests. Moreover, the fantastical whimsy yet spiritual gravity balanced well. Though, the ending did drag out a bit much; it concludes thoroughly, yet the pacing of the last 30 pages slowed greatly for me.

A memorable and magical journey!

The Sprite and the Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitt

The Sprite and the Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitt
  • Young adult fantasy graphic novel
  • Published 2021
  • 88 pages

Portrayed from the perspective of sprites, this graphic novel depicts a friendship that forms between a sprite named Wisteria and a human girl.

In the world of The Sprite and the Gardener, sprites once long ago tended gardens, but once humans learned this skill, sprites effectively became obsolete and they resigned themselves to lounging about and leisurely enjoying their time. That is, until Wisteria, new to the neighborhood and feels like an outlier from the sprite group, stumbles upon a determined yet novice gardener attempting to bring life back to her decaying yard. Wisteria feels a connection to the human and wishes to help her succeed in her gardening, so when no one is watching, Wisteria secretly nurses the plants to blossom. Colored in a distinct palette dominated by pinks, reds, and yellows, this graphic novel renders this organic little tale in an artistic style reminiscent of manga.

This is a sweet and quick read, and its subject matter in addition to its tall size makes it feel akin to K. O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon Society. It is enjoyable and not too involved, with the world-building perhaps a bit lacking and the characters not necessarily fleshed out very vividly. However, for an easy and feel-good read, it delivers a positive reading experience.

The Flower Garden by Renee Kurilla

The Flower Garden by Renee Kurilla
  • Middle grade fantasy graphic novel
  • Published 2022
  • 80 pages

One day, Anna implores her friend Tess to plant flowers with her in order to save the bees. Although hesitant, Tess goes along with Anna’s enthusiastic endeavor. However, flowers take patience to grow, and while waiting for them to bud that afternoon, the girls are suddenly enchanted by a magical gnome who shrinks them down to insect-size. Mystified by their world from an ant’s perspective, the girls admire and explore the yard—-but Tess is feeling uncomfortable and urges Anna to head back home with her. Stubbornly, Anna pushes on, while Tess grows frustrated that Anna is not listening. How will their adventure pan out?

The stand-out quality of this graphic novel is its delightful illustrations. The vivid colors and lush organic details make this a real treat to read; moreover, the comic panels are formed by negative white space, and so while the structure functions as a traditional comic, this choice also allows the story to feel very open and bright. When Anna goes underground with the gnome, I loved the two-page spread in which you can see the side view of critters who burrow in the soil. However, the storytelling aspect did not conclude very strongly. Although there is somewhat of a resolution, the discomfort Tess feels is never elaborated upon, nor is it ever explained why the girls were enchanted by the gnome, other than a presumed inclination for mischief. If the ending were more solid than it is, I would have given this a perfect rating.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  • Middle grade fantasy graphic novel
  • Published 2017
  • 176 pages

Born in America by a single Indian mother, Priyanka “Pri” grows up wondering who her father is and about their heritage. She bonds with her “uncle,” who fulfills a very fatherly role in her life. When Uncle and his wife get pregnant with a much-wanted baby, Pri begins to feel shades of jealousy. Moody and solitary, Pri spends time at home drawing. Then, she encounters a magical pashmina in an old suitcase in a closet, which transports her to India upon touching. Intrigued by this pashmina and awed by her fantastical voyages to India, Pri begs her mother to tell her about her father and journey to India, but her mother insists it is not safe. Stubborn, Pri does not relent; she is determined to connect with her roots.

Enjoyably drawn, this graphic novel distinguishes between “real life” by shades of brown and gray and pashmina pursuits by vivid color. Conceptually, the novel is quite fun, and Chanani manages to introduce a variety of emotional aspects to Pri’s life. The weak point of this graphic novel, for me, is the end—-the “explanation” of the pashmina felt muddled and incomplete. Ultimately, the topic and themes of the book are well-executed with a minor drawback, all packaged in a great visual medium.

Moonwalking by Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Moonwalking by Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann
  • Middle grade novel, dual perspectives told in verse
  • Published 2021
  • 224 pages

Set in 1982, this novel features JJ, an autistic Polish kid who loves punk music, and Pierre (“Pie”), a biracial Black and Puerto Rican kid who is very artistic. Written in verse, the narrative flips between their perspectives: JJ’s father has been blacklisted for protesting to unionize his job, and his family has to move in with JJ’s grandmother in Brooklyn. Pie lives with his younger sister and his mother, who often experiences mental illness in serious bouts, so Pie has a lot of pressure on him to be “the man of the house.” As the new kid in school, JJ struggles to make friends with the other kids and finds himself drawn to Pie. As JJ gets to know Pie, he begins to realize that even though Pie is the one helping JJ with his schoolwork, Pie often gets lower grades and different treatment.

Moonwalking‘s writing is engaging and raw. The book doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, like how Pie’s best friend was shot and killed (off page). When appropriate, doodles and background images are included, and the dynamic and experimental format of the poetry certainly enhanced the reading experience, and I imagine young readers would likewise enjoy this.

The growth of these characters is interesting for such a short novel. By the story’s end, JJ becomes emboldened to stand up for himself and others, and he is more inclined to put himself out there to make friends. Pie is in a rough spot though, and almost all of his issues exist externally. Of course, JJ has external dilemmas as well, but he has a clear internal development. Pie’s growth is smaller because at the story’s start, he is already doing as much as he can. His arc mostly involves believing in himself; at the conclusion, he feels encouraged to follow his dreams and begins trying to love himself despite what society tries to tell him about himself and his worth.

All in all, a very grounded and honest middle grade novel.

Read Picture Books

Fiction

  • Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
  • This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad
  • What to Do With a Box by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Chris Sheban
  • What If… by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato
  • Idea Jar by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Deb Pilutti
  • The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
  • I’m Not Missing by Kashelle Gourley, illustrated by Skylar Hogan
  • Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julia Kuo
  • Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin

Watch me discuss these books on my YouTube channel!

Books on my Radar in June

Well, here are a few books I have checked out from the library that I’m looking forward to reading:

  • Loveless by Alice Oseman
  • She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick
  • My Alcoholic Escape from Reality by Kabi Nagata

By purchasing any of these books through my Bookshop.org links, you are not only supporting a local bookstore but me, too!

The Curiosities by Zana Fraillon, illustrated by Phil Lesnie

The Curiosities by Zana Fraillon, illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Summary from Bookshop.org:

With the Curiosities, a whole world of wonder awaits…

One morning, at dawn, the Curiosities choose Miro to nest on. At first, he doesn’t notice. They blend in, perching on his shoulder and nuzzling into his hair. Over time, Miro discovers that he sees and feels things differently than everyone else around him.

The Curiosities show Miro an extraordinary world. He weaves clouds to make stories for the wind, and marvels at the wonders waiting in the shadows where no one else looks. Sometimes, though, the Curiosities make Miro feel lost and alone: they shriek and roar, and are so bright and overwhelming that he feels invisible.

But perhaps Miro isn’t as alone as he thinks… and maybe the Curiosities have chosen other people as well.

This gentle, heart-touching story from award-winning children’s book author Zana Fraillon is a nuanced portrait of emotions, self-expression, and empathy. Complete with Phil Lesnie’s gorgeous art that draws on legends from his Filipino heritage, The Curiosities celebrates the varied perspectives that come with being neurodivergent and contains the triumphant reminder that those who see and experience the world differently have always been here.

  • Genre: Picture book
  • Release date: June 2, 2022

Sleeping Alone by Ru Freeman

Sleeping Alone by Ru Freeman

Summary from Bookshop.org:

In this collection of rich and textured stories about crossing borders, both real and imagined, Sleeping Alone asks one of the fundamental questions of our times: What is the toll of feeling foreign in one’s land, to others, or even to oneself? A cast of misfits, young and old, single and coupled, even entire family units, confront startling changes wrought by difficult circumstances or harrowing choices.These stories span the world, moving from Maine to Sri Lanka, from Dublin to Philadelphia, paying exquisite attention to the dance between the intimate details of our lives and our public selves.Whether Ru Freeman, author of the novel On Sal Mal Lane, is capturing secrets kept by siblings in Sri Lanka, or the life of itinerants in New York City, she renders the nuances of her characters’ lives with real sensitivity, and imbues them with surprising dignity and grace.

  • Genre: Literary fiction, short stories
  • Release date: June 7, 2022

This Place is Still Beautiful by Xixi Tian

This Place is Still Beautiful by Xixi Tian

Summary from Bookshop.org:

The Flanagan sisters are as different as they come. Seventeen-year-old Annalie is bubbly, sweet, and self-conscious, whereas nineteen-year-old Margaret is sharp and assertive. Margaret looks just like their mother, while Annalie passes for white and looks like the father who abandoned them years ago, leaving their Chinese immigrant mama to raise the girls alone in their small, predominantly white Midwestern town.

When their house is vandalized with a shocking racial slur, Margaret rushes home from her summer internship in New York City. She expects outrage. Instead, her sister and mother would rather move on. Especially once Margaret’s own investigation begins to make members of their community uncomfortable.

For Annalie, this was meant to be a summer of new possibilities, and she resents her sister’s sudden presence and insistence on drawing negative attention to their family. Meanwhile Margaret is infuriated with Annalie’s passive acceptance of what happened. For Margaret, the summer couldn’t possibly get worse, until she crosses paths with someone she swore she’d never see again: her first love, Rajiv Agarwal.

As the sisters navigate this unexpected summer, an explosive secret threatens to break apart their relationship, once and for all.

This Place Is Still Beautiful is a luminous, captivating story about identity, sisterhood, and how our hometowns are inextricably a part of who we are, even when we outgrow them.

  • Genre: Young adult contemporary
  • Release date: June 7, 2022

One’s Company by Ashley Hutson

One's Company by Ashley Hutson

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Bonnie Lincoln just wants to be left alone. To come home from work, shut out the voice that reminds her of some devastating losses, and unwind in front of the nostalgic, golden glow of her favorite TV show, Three’s Company.

When Bonnie wins the lottery, a more grandiose vision–to completely shuck off her own troublesome identity–takes shape. She plans a drastic move to an isolated mountain retreat where she can re-create the iconic apartment set of Three’s Company and slip into the lives of its main characters: no-nonsense Janet Wood, pleasantly air-headed Chrissy Snow, and confident Jack Tripper. While her best friend, Krystal, tries to drag her back to her old life, Bonnie is determined to transcend pain, trauma, and the baggage of her past by immersing herself in the ultimate binge-watch.

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: June 14, 2022

Last Summer on State Street by Tonya Wolfe

Last Summer on State Street by Tonya Wolfe

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Even when we lose it all, we find the strength to rebuild.

Felicia “Fe Fe” Stevens is living with her vigilantly loving mother and older teenaged brother, whom she adores, in building 4950 of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes. It’s the summer of 1999, and her high-rise is next in line to be torn down by the Chicago Housing Authority. She, with the devout Precious Brown and Stacia Buchanan, daughter of a Gangster Disciple Queen-Pin, form a tentative trio and, for a brief moment, carve out for themselves a simple life of Double Dutch and innocence. But when Fe Fe welcomes a mysterious new friend, Tonya, into their fold, the dynamics shift, upending the lives of all four girls.

As their beloved neighborhood falls down around them, so too do their friendships and the structures of the four girls’ families. Fe Fe must make the painful decision of whom she can trust and whom she must let go. Decades later, as she remembers that fateful summer–just before her home was demolished, her life uprooted, and community forever changed–Fe Fe tries to make sense of the grief and fraught bonds that still haunt her and attempts to reclaim the love that never left.

Profound, reverent, and uplifting, Last Summer on State Street explores the risk of connection against the backdrop of racist institutions, the restorative power of knowing and claiming one’s own past, and those defining relationships which form the heartbeat of our lives. Interweaving moments of reckoning and sustaining grace, debut author Toya Wolfe has crafted an era-defining story of finding a home — both in one’s history and in one’s self.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: June 14, 2022

We Weren’t Looking to be Found by Stephanie Kuehn

We Weren't Looking to be Found by Stephanie Kuehn

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Dani comes from the richest, most famous Black family in Texas and seems to have everything a girl could want. So why does she keep using and engaging in other self-destructive behavior?Camila’s Colombian-American family doesn’t have much, but she knows exactly what she wants out of life and works her ass off to get it. So why does she keep failing, and why does she self-harm every time she does?When Dani and Camila find themselves rooming together at Peach Tree Hills, a treatment facility in beautiful rural Georgia, they initially think they’ll never get along–and they’ll never get better. But then they find a mysterious music box filled with letters from a former resident of PTH, and together they set out to solve the mystery of who this girl was . . . and who she’s become. The investigation will bring them together, and what they find at the end might just bring them hope.

From award-winning author Stephanie Kuehn comes a breathtaking tale of friendship and healing. Both poignant and timely, We Weren’t Looking to Be Found is complex, hopeful, and heartbreaking all at once.

  • Genre: Young adult contemporary
  • Release date: June 21, 2022

The Kaya Girl by Mamle Wolo

The Kaya Girl by Mamle Wolo

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Writing with effortlessly engaging prose, Wolo showcases the interweaving layers of Ghanaian culture to create a prismatic, multifaceted world in which two young girls, against all odds, are able to find each other.When Faiza, a Muslim migrant girl from northern Ghana, and Abena, a wealthy doctor’s daughter from the south, meet by chance in Accra’s largest market, where Faiza works as a porter or kaya girl, they strike up an unlikely and powerful friendship that transcends their social inequities and opens up new worlds to them both.Set against a backdrop of class disparity in Ghana, The Kaya Girl has shades of The Kite Runner in its unlikely friendship, and of Slumdog Millionaire as Faiza’s life takes unlikely turns that propel her thrillingly forward. As, over the course of the novel, Abena awakens to the world outside her sheltered, privileged life, the novel explores a multitude of awakenings and the opportunities that lie beyond the breaking down of barriers. This is a gorgeously transporting work, offering vivid insight into two strikingly diverse young lives in Ghana.

  • Genre: Middle grade fiction
  • Release date: June 28, 2022

Thanks for reading! To browse previous editions of Bookish Brains, click here.

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