Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
The author of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is back and you will not want to miss his latest endeavor. Once again based in Seattle, Ford travels between the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition in 1909 and the World's Fair of 1962, as three delightful characters take us on the journey of their lives. Yung, soon to become Ernest, escapes starvation and death in China, only to be shuffled between foster homes and state schools, leading to the ultimate humiliation - being a raffle prize at the fair. As the madame of the hottest house of 'ill repute' wins Ernest, he finds his first true home in the red-light district. Here he meets Maisie, the daughter of the madam, an inveterate tomboy and free spirit, and Fahn, a young Japanese housemaid with a sass and vulnerability that will break your heart. Jamie Ford is the master of literary children who are wise without being false, who see the world in deep and meaningful ways, and who show adults the true definition of loyalty and love . Life in the Tenderloin is not for the faint of heart, and the consequences of their choices last for a lifetime. Read this book - your heart will be glad you did:)
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Irish writer John Boyne (author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, as well as other adult books) has written his masterpiece. He tells the story of Cyril Avery from birth to the end of his life, as we see the world change from 1945 through 2015; and my oh my, how the world changes when one is an Irish-Catholic gay man. Boyne shows us his native land with all its faults and favors: schools and villages run by cruel priests, the sexual repression of an entire nation, and the family ties that are torn apart by religious law. Yet, within these very difficult themes and historical perspective, Boyne also creates some farcical happenings; at times, I felt as if I was reading an Irish-Catholic version of Catch 22, and found myself laughing aloud at the most outrageous conversations. Cyril is not a perfect hero in the least; he can be cowardly, selfish, and all-around mediocre at times. However, he has moments of clarity as well as bravery that show the authentic maturing of a boy into a fully developed human being. We travel with Cyril to Amsterdam and the idea of an open life as a gay man, as well as to NYC as we see the AIDS epidemic explode and the subsequent bigotry towards gay men as thousands die and fear instills itself in the population. This is a long book - think Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch (yep, the one that won the Pulitzer - this book is equally as good) and A Little Life (more laughter in Heart, but also a few tears). Brilliant writing, clever use of farce and humor, and a story that tugs deeply at the very essence of what makes us human. This is a seriously brilliant book.
Mr. 60% by Clete Barrett Smith
Let me preface this review with the fact that I taught English in our small PNW town with the author. To this day, he remains one of the funniest men I know, my daughter's favorite literature teacher, and a man with a great heart for kids. I could not wait to get my hands on his first YA book - he writes the middle reader series Aliens on Vacation, etc., which for the record are pee-your-pants funny. His first venture into the world of teens is a winner for a few reasons. One, as a former classroom teacher, I recognize his main protagonist, Matt, the kid who comes to school reluctantly, is perpetually absent or late, who is always yawning in class, and who does just enough to get by. Every teacher ever has had many "Matts" in their room. You see, Matt is caring for his dying Uncle Jack, with no financial help from the state or his family; this kid is just trying to survive but teachers and administrators expect him to care about completing worksheets. Second, this makes Mr. 60% a book that both teachers AND students should read. It is a powerful reminder that none of us knows how life is impacting another human until we ask, until we take the time to sit down, until we care. In Matt's life, that is a young woman named Amanda, an overweight, lonely girl who insinuates herself into Matt's life, whether he wants her there or not. And last, this book speaks directly to kids just like Matt. Clete Smith doesn't muck up the story with flowery description or $100 words; he writes a story that kids like Matt can read and understand, and can recognize themselves in the pages. So, to all my former teaching pals - put this book in a kid's hands and take a copy home for yourself - you'll be glad you did.
Reviews reposted with permission from Laurie's Lit Picks.