All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. It rests, historically, during the occupation of France during WWII, but brief chapters told in alternating voices give the overall—and long—narrative a swift movement through time and events. We have two main characters, each one on opposite sides in the conflagration that is destroying Europe. Marie-Louise is a sightless girl who lived with her father in Paris before the occupation; he was a master locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. When German forces necessitate abandonment of the city, Marie-Louise’s father, taking with him the museum’s greatest treasure, removes himself and his daughter and eventually arrives at his uncle’s house in the coastal city of Saint-Malo. Young German soldier Werner is sent to Saint-Malo to track Resistance activity there, and eventually, and inevitably, Marie-Louise’s and Werner’s paths cross. It is through their individual and intertwined tales that Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably re-creates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers.High-Demand Backstory: A multipronged marketing campaign will make the author’s many fans aware of his newest book, and extensive review coverage is bound to enlist many new fans. – Brad Hooper, Booklist *Starred Review* – Recommended by librarian Lindsay Hansen. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b3312820
Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
The adage says it takes a village to raise a child, but what if the village is a dangerous place? Such is the case at St. Michael the Archangel High School, where even the best-intentioned adults wreak havoc in the lives of their students. It’s the fall of 1991, and bullying is a deeply ingrained tradition at the school. In-crowd students haze newcomers with fevered zeal, the parish priest delights in belittling the principal, and the teachers turn on one another and their students. Into this mix tumble Peter Davidek, Lorelei Paskal, and Noah Stein, each carrying wounds and seeking a place to belong. What they find instead is a maze of traps and betrayals. Like mythic heroes, they must journey through their own fears and leave in their wake broken bodies and exposed truths.
Verdict Debut author (and senior staff writer at Entertainment Weekly) Breznican captures a perfect balance of horror, heartbreak, and resilience and takes the high school novel into deeper places. Great for the beach but not just a summer read. Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC – Library Journal. – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b3256740
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
“The Crisis” nearly wiped out humanity. Brooks (son of Mel Brooks and author of The Zombie Survival Guide, 2003) has taken it upon himself to document the “first hand” experiences and testimonies of those lucky to survive 10 years after the fictitious zombie war. Like a horror fan’s version of Studs Terkel’s The Good War (1984), the “historical account” format gives Brooks room to explore the zombie plague from numerous different views and characters. In a deadpan voice, Brooks exhaustively details zombie incidents from isolated attacks to full-scale military combat: “what if the enemy can’t be shocked and awed? Not just won’t, but biologically can’t!” With the exception of a weak BAT-21 story in the second act, the “interviews” and personal accounts capture the universal fear of the collapse of society–a living nightmare in which anyone can become a mindless, insatiable predator at a moment’s notice. Alas, Brad Pitt’s production company has purchased the film rights to the book–while it does have a chronological element, it’s more similar to a collection of short stories: it would make for an excellent 24-style TV series or an animated serial. Regardless, horror fans won’t be disappointed: like George Romero’s Dead trilogy, World War Z is another milestone in the zombie mythos. – Carlos Orellana, Booklist – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b2648763
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Donoghue flawlessly combines literary eloquence and vigorous plotting in her first full-fledged mystery, a work as original and multifaceted as its young murder victim. During the scorching summer of 1876, Jenny Bonnet, an enigmatic cross-dressing bicyclist who traps frogs for San Francisco’s restaurants, meets her death in a railroad saloon on the city’s outskirts. Exotic dancer Blanche Beunon, a French immigrant living in Chinatown, thinks she knows who shot her friend and why, but has no leverage to prove it and doesn’t know if she herself was the intended target. A compulsive pleasure-seeker estranged from her “fancy man,” Blanche searches desperately for her missing son while pursuing justice for Jenny, but finds her two goals sit in conflict. In language spiced with musical interludes and raunchy French slang, Donoghue brings to teeming life the nasty, naughty side of this ethnically diverse metropolis, with its brothels, gaming halls, smallpox-infested boardinghouses, and rampant child abuse. Most of her seedy, damaged characters really lived, and she not only posits a clever solution to a historical crime that was never adequately solved but also crafts around Blanche and Jenny an engrossing and suspenseful tale about moral growth, unlikely friendship, and breaking free from the past. – Sarah Johnson, Booklist, *Starred Review* – Recommended by librarian Laurie Borchard. Location information: http://tinyurl.com/phbc8f6
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
You don’t have to have a sister or be a fan of the Bard to love Brown’s bright, literate debut, but it wouldn’t hurt. Sisters Rose (Rosalind; As You Like It), Bean (Bianca; The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia; King Lear)–the book-loving, Shakespeare-quoting, and wonderfully screwed-up spawn of Bard scholar Dr. James Andreas–end up under one roof again in Barnwell, Ohio, the college town where they were raised, to help their breast cancer–stricken mom. The real reasons they’ve trudged home, however, are far less straightforward: vagabond and youngest sib Cordy is pregnant with nowhere to go; man-eater Bean ran into big trouble in New York for embezzlement, and eldest sister Rose can’t venture beyond the “mental circle with Barnwell at the center of it.” For these pains-in-the-soul, the sisters have to learn to trust love–of themselves, of each other–to find their way home again. The supporting cast–removed, erudite dad; ailing mom; a crew of locals; Rose’s long-suffering fiancé–is a punchy delight, but the stage clearly belongs to the sisters; Macbeth’s witches would be proud of the toil and trouble they stir up. – Publishers Weekly, *Starred Review* – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b2777032
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Gr 2–6—Cece loses her hearing from spinal meningitis, and takes readers through the arduous journey of learning to lip read and decipher the noise of her hearing aid, with the goal of finding a true friend. This warmly and humorously illustrated full-color graphic novel set in the suburban ’70s has all the gripping characters and inflated melodrama of late childhood: a crush on a neighborhood boy, the bossy friend, the too-sensitive-to-her-Deafness friend, and the perfect friend, scared away. The characters are all rabbits. The antics of her hearing aid connected to a FM unit (an amplifier the teacher wears) are spectacularly funny. When Cece’s teacher leaves the FM unit on, Cece hears everything: bathroom visits, even teacher lounge improprieties It is her superpower. She deems herself El Deafo! inspired in part by a bullied Deaf child featured in an Afterschool Special. Cece fearlessly fantasizes retaliations. Nevertheless, she rejects ASL because it makes visible what she is trying to hide. She ventures, “Who cares what everyone thinks!” But she does care. She loathes the designation “special,” and wants to pass for hearing. Bell tells it all: the joy of removing her hearing aid in summer, the troubles watching the TV when the actor turns his back, and the agony of slumber party chats in the dark. Included is an honest and revealing afterword, which addresses the author’s early decision not to learn ASL, her more mature appreciation for the language, and her adage that, “Our differences are our superpowers.”—Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City – Recommended by librarian Mara Houdyshell. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b3299159
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Most of us imagine totalitarianism as something imposed upon us—but what if we’re complicit in our own oppression? That’s the scenario in Eggers’ ambitious, terrifying, and eerily plausible new novel. When Mae gets a job at the Circle, a Bay Area tech company that’s cornered the world market on social media and e-commerce, she’s elated, and not just because of the platinum health-care package. The gleaming campus is a wonder, and it seems as though there isn’t anything the company can’t do (and won’t try). But she soon learns that participation in social media is mandatory, not voluntary, and that could soon apply to the general population as well. For a monopoly, it’s a short step from sharing to surveillance, to a world without privacy. This isn’t a perfect book—the good guys lecture true-believer Mae, and a key metaphor is laboriously explained—but it’s brave and important and will draw comparisons to Brave New World and 1984. Eggers brilliantly depicts the Internet binges, torrents of information, and endless loops of feedback that increasingly characterize modern life. But perhaps most chilling of all is his notion that our ultimate undoing could be something so petty as our desperate desire for affirmation. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Eggers’ reputation as a novelist continues to grow. Expect this title to be talked about, as it has an announced first printing of 200,000 and the New York Times Magazine has first serial rights. – Keir Graff, Booklist, *Starred Review* – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://tinyurl.com/plg7g63
Girl at War by Sara Novic
Nović’s important debut brings painfully home the jarring fact that what happens in today’s headlines on a daily basis—the atrocities of wars in Africa and the Mideast—is neither new nor even particularly the worst that humankind can commit. Take it from ten-year-old Ana Jurić, conscripted into the Yugoslav civil war in the early 1990s by the bad luck of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. . . . . As Nović gradually reveals, you can take the girl out of the war zone, but you can’t take the war zone out of the girl. By the time Ana becomes a student at a New York university, all that violence has been bottled up inside her head for a decade. Thanks to Nović’s considerable skill, Ana’s return visit to her homeland and her past is nearly as cathartic for the reader as it is for Ana. – Booklist, *Starred Review* – Recommended by Interim Associate Dean, Lynn Lampert. Location information: http://tinyurl.com/nam6rt9
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Ready Player One takes place in the not-so-distant future–the world has turned into a very bleak place, but luckily there is OASIS, a virtual reality world that is a vast online utopia. People can plug into OASIS to play, go to school, earn money, and even meet other people (or at least they can meet their avatars), and for protagonist Wade Watts it certainly beats passing the time in his grim, poverty-stricken real life. Along with millions of other world-wide citizens, Wade dreams of finding three keys left behind by James Halliday, the now-deceased creator of OASIS and the richest man to have ever lived. The keys are rumored to be hidden inside OASIS, and whoever finds them will inherit Halliday’s fortune. But Halliday has not made it easy. And there are real dangers in this virtual world. Stuffed to the gills with action, puzzles, nerdy romance, and 80s nostalgia, this high energy cyber-quest will make geeks everywhere feel like they were separated at birth from author Ernest Cline. – Chris Schluep, Amazon.com review – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b2724685
Point of Direction: A Novel by Rachel Weaver
Hitchhiking her way through Alaska, a young woman named Anna is picked up by Kyle, a fisherman. Anna and Kyle quickly fall for each other, as they are both adventurous, fiercely independent, and in love with the raw beauty and solitude of Alaska. To cement their relationship, they agree to become caretakers of a remote lighthouse perched on a small rock in the middle of a deep channel—a place that has been uninhabited since the last caretaker mysteriously disappeared two decades ago. What seems the perfect adventure for these two quickly unravels, as closely-held secrets pull them apart, and the surrounding waters threaten uncertain danger. A psychological thriller set against the rugged landscape of coastal Alaska, Point of Direction is an exquisite literary debut. – ig Publishing – Recommended by librarian Marcia Henry. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b3313725
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Geek Love is the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias set out–with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes–to breed their own exhibit of human oddities. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan . . . Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins . . . albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family’s most precious–and dangerous–asset.
As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion; as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same. – Penguin Random House – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b1591191
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world. – Little, Brown and Company – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://tinyurl.com/p8etrmy
Still Alice: A Novel by Lisa Genova
In Lisa Genova’s extraordinary New York Times bestselling novel, an accomplished woman slowly loses her thoughts and memories to Alzheimer’s disease—only to discover that each day brings a new way of living and loving. Now a major motion picture starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and Kristen Stewart!
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what it’s like to literally lose your mind…
Reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind, Ordinary People, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Still Alice packs a powerful emotional punch and marks the arrival of a strong new voice in fiction. – Gallery Books – Recommended by librarian Susanna Eng-Ziskin. Location information: http://library.calstate.edu/northridge/books/record?id=b2701969