Mariel Fechik

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As long as piracy has existed, it has been shrouded in myth, legend and rumor, which compromises the reliability of primary texts describing its major figures. Author Katherine Howe tackles this historical pitfall in her newest novel, A True Account.

Hannah Masury, nicknamed “Hannah Misery” by the clientele at the waterfront inn where she works in colonial Boston, has a small life. As an orphan and a girl, she doesn’t possess much in the way of prospects. When, on a balmy June morning in 1726, Hannah witnesses the hanging of a pirate named William Fly, something breaks open in her. In a matter of hours, a combination of coincidence and terrible timing leads to Hannah running for her life. With nowhere to turn, she seeks refuge aboard the ship of infamous pirate Edward Low, in disguise as a cabin boy.

Meanwhile, in 1930s Cambridge, a bright-eyed freshman named Kay brings Dr. Marian Beresford a tattered manuscript that claims to be a true account of the adventures of one Hannah Masury. Marian almost immediately dismisses it, but her initial skepticism gives way to a guarded curiosity. Could the manuscript be genuine? If it is, did Hannah intentionally alter details to hide something? And if she did . . . what exactly is waiting to be unearthed?

Using dual narratives and timelines to create a work of metafiction, Howe examines the contradictory tales of the real Edward Low through the lenses of Hannah and Marian.  Conceptually, the idea is fascinating, though Hannah’s narrative of transformation is the more interesting and better constructed of the two. Too often, Marian teeters on the edge between character and device, and her sections can veer into a juvenile tone. In contrast, the use of a diaristic narrative to tell Hannah’s story invites readers to feel the rush of clandestine discovery alongside Marian and Kay.

While the novel might have been stronger with Hannah’s voice alone, her half of the story is too compelling to be overshadowed. Readers who found their childhood love of pirates rekindled by the HBO superhit “Our Flag Means Death” (which involves other real-life pirates such as Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet and Calico Jack) will be enamored with Howe’s piratical retelling in which the heroes are as unlikely as buried treasure itself.

Readers who found their love of pirates rekindled by the HBO superhit “Our Flag Means Death” will be enamored by this piratical retelling in which the heroes are as unlikely as buried treasure itself.
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All Inez Olivera wants is to be with her parents in Egypt, where they work as archaeologists with her Tio Ricardo. From her home in Argentina, Inez longs to understand what separates her family for half of every year, and waits hopefully for her parents to send an invitation to join their latest expedition.

Instead, a courier arrives with the news that her parents went missing in the desert and are now presumed dead. Having just turned 18 and inherited both her family’s fortune and Tio Ricardo as a guardian, Inez immediately books passage to Egypt to find out what happened to her parents. She carries with her the last item she received from her father: a gold ring bearing  ancient magic.

Inez is frustrated when Tio Ricardo’s assistant, Whit Hayes, meets her at the dock with orders from Ricardo to send her back to Argentina immediately. Refusing to leave without answers, Inez decides to begin her own investigation. Tio Ricardo is hiding something, and the answers can only be found along one path: down the glittering Nile, into the desert.

Author Isabel Ibañez’s fourth young adult novel, What the River Knows, is a lush and layered fantasy adventure that plays with the magic of ancient Egypt while delivering a multilayered commentary on colonialism. Inez hails from a country that historically suffered under Spanish rule; additionally, she is angered by the impacts of British imperialism in Egypt. Ibañez offers a nuanced look at the complex dichotomies of archaeology and the handling of antiquities: academic conservation and curation versus theft and appropriation of cultural legacy.

Ibañez balances all of this with fun: Fans of the enemies-to-lovers trope will relish Inez and Whit’s growing flirtation, and readers who spent their childhoods poring over kids’ encyclopedias about ancient Egypt will find themselves captivated.

Though the novel’s lengthy exposition is generously sprinkled with compelling depictions of magic and late 19th-century Cairo, readers may find themselves losing steam early on. That said, once Inez and crew begin their journey down the Nile, the plot is captivating and full of intrigue, making great use of a clear influence: Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.

What the River Knows is dense and may take some time to build investment, but for fans of atmospheric historical mysteries tinged with magic, Ibañez’s story will be well worth the time.

A lush and layered fantasy adventure, What the River Knows plays with the magic of ancient Egypt and ponders the complex dichotomies of archaeology and the handling of antiquities.
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For their entire lives, Penny and Tate have orbited each other reluctantly. Since before Penny and Tate were born, their moms, Lottie and Anna, have been attached at the hip, and this permanent package deal means constant, unwanted proximity for the two daughters. See, Penny and Tate are not friends. They’re also not not friends. They just . . . can’t seem to stop almost kissing at extremely inopportune moments. 

But Tate lives with the ever-present threat that her mom’s illness, a genetic condition that impacts Anna’s lungs and liver, will spiral out of control, while Penny lives in the aftermath of a horrific rafting accident that took her father’s life. Penny’s mom, Lottie, has been distant and cold in the two years since the accident, and Penny tries to tiptoe around her while working through her own grief and guilt.

So when Lottie decides to become a living liver donor for Anna and combine their two households to save money while they recover, it’s a shock to the fragile ecosystem that Penny has so carefully constructed. There’s no way she and Tate can survive an entire summer in the same house without exploding, so they decide to call a truce. Its terms include no fighting, no snitching, equitable division of labor and no stressing out their moms. Unfortunately for Penny and Tate, some things between them just can’t stay buried forever, truce or not.

6 Times We Almost Kissed (and One Time We Did) may sound like the title of a sweet, comedy-of-errors rom-com, but Tess Sharpe’s novel is not so fluffy. Although inspired by the “five things” fan-fiction story concept, the book playfully subverts reader expectations by being about much more than six near kisses. Penny and Tate’s story is rich with the complexity of friendship and family and the messiness of grief. Their relationship leans heavily into a number of classic rom-com tropes, including “only one bed,” roommates and height differences. Both girls are well-drawn, grounded characters, and their internal struggles feel emotional and realistic.

One of the novel’s strongest subplots is the arc of Penny’s relationship with her mom. Sharpe never suggests that a relationship as fraught as theirs can be easily fixed with apologies or in a single conversation. Indeed, she acknowledges that such a relationship might not be possible to repair. Teen readers with difficult parental situations of their own will feel validated by the nuance Sharpe brings to this portrayal.

Sharpe untangles the knotted web of her novel with exacting balance and grace while never compromising the love story at its core. This swoony, Sapphic story is sure to please readers who like their romance with a side of emotional devastation.

This love story between two girls who can’t seem to stop almost kissing at inopportune moments is rich with friendship, family and the messiness of grief.
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Seventeen-year-old Jade Nguyen has never forgiven her father for leaving his family in the U.S. and returning to Vietnam. Until this summer, Jade had never visited her parents’ home country, and she isn’t looking forward to the trip. But Ba has made her a deal: If she’ll spend the summer with him in the French colonial villa he’s rehabbing, he’ll give her the money she desperately needs to pay for college in the fall. So she and her younger sister make their way to Da Lat and to Nha Hoa (“Flower House”), nestled in a forest of pines. Trapped in a place that isn’t home with little in the way of companionship, Jade grudgingly works on the future bed-and-breakfast’s website. 

But Nha Hoa soon reveals itself to be more than just a house: It is where Jade’s ancestors worked and toiled for French soldiers, a site of violence done in the name of duty. Jade wakes every night paralyzed and drenched in sweat as figures move on the edge of her vision. Ba works himself to the bone fixing pockmarked walls and rat-infested pipes, but the core of the house remains fetid with rot. Something is eating its way through Nha Hoa and into the minds of its inhabitants, and it refuses to remain in the shadows for much longer.

Trang Thanh Tran’s debut novel, She Is a Haunting, is a welcome addition to the quickly growing canon of culturally diverse, queer horror. Jade’s story is clearly influenced by Shirley Jackson’s iconic gothic novel The Haunting of Hill House, in which self-inflicted psychic damage is as tangible as any physical threat. Like Jackson, Tran mirrors Jade’s claustrophobic paranoia through setting and atmosphere. Just as Jackson’s protagonist suffers from her surreal and isolating surroundings at Hill House, so too is Jade afflicted by the oppressive humidity and unfamiliarity of Vietnam. 

Jade is haunted both by actual ghosts and the specters of colonialism, which take the form of not-so-subtly racist American expats and the crumbling French villas that dot the countryside around Nha Hoa. She is plagued by visions of ruined insects and decay, and she dreams of memories that are not her own, all while attempting to keep a lid on the resentment she feels toward Ba—and herself. 

Jade’s first-person narration is sometimes bogged down as she prevaricates about her feelings, which leaves some of the horror elements to fall a bit flat. Nevertheless, She Is a Haunting successfully combines the alluring aesthetic of gothic ghost stories with the complexity of contemporary immigration narratives. The result is an atmospheric horror novel that teens with a penchant for the grotesque will delight in unfolding, bit by rotting bit.

Trang Thanh Tran’s debut novel, She Is a Haunting, is a welcome addition to the quickly growing canon of culturally diverse, queer horror.
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Lucha Moya is a fighter. Born and raised in Robado, on a lifeless strip of land known to its inhabitants as the Scar, Lucha has grappled her way through life alongside her community. Robado is surrounded on all sides by a strange and monstrous forest, and grotesque, skeletal creatures stalk along its edges, leaving the people who live there isolated from the rest of an unknown world. 

Haunted by legends of a demonic presence known as El Sediento, Robado lives under the violent thumb of Los Ricos, who control access to a powerful drug called olvida, which makes users forget their troubles. Lucha’s mother has been losing increasing amounts of time to the drug while Lucha struggles to support herself and her younger sister, Lis.

When Lucha’s mother fails to return from her latest bender, Lucha and Lis are evicted from their home and their precarious existence becomes even more fraught. Amid this desperate situation, Lucha discovers a power she didn’t know she possessed and strikes a dark bargain that will change the path of Robado—and the wider world—forever. 

Acclaimed YA and middle grade author Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Lucha of the Night Forest is a powerful allegorical fantasy novel. Embedded in its story of magic and sisterhood are important questions about addiction, justice and the price of activism. The Scar mirrors real neighborhoods where infrastructure is failing, food deserts are growing and crime is too often the only way to survive. In a place where nothing is nurtured, how can anything grow? Robadan tales of El Sediento and a long-lost forest goddess echo these contradictions, as one figure brings rot and decay while the other promises verdant life. Lucha, too, learns harsh truths about who, in her world, hopes for change and who must bear the brunt of the pain and sacrifice required to make that change happen.

Lucha of the Night Forest is a multilayered novel that will appeal to fantasy readers and young activists alike. Seasoned genre fans will enjoy its fast-paced storytelling as well as its fresh take on nature-based magic within a vivid setting filled with glowing mushrooms and otherworldly forests. A sweet queer romance adds another appealing level to the narrative. But it’s Mejia’s clever and compelling incorporation of familiar social justice themes that make this such an impactful, enduring read.

This powerful allegorical fantasy embeds questions of justice and the price of activism within a fresh, fast-paced story of magic and sisterhood.
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Nigeria Jones is a teenager. She’s a warrior princess. She’s a sister. She’s a stand-in mother. She’s a queen. She’s a student. Within the Movement, the Black separatist utopian community founded in West Philadelphia by her parents, Kofi Sankofa and Natalie Pierre, Nigeria is all of these things and none of them. Alongside the Movement’s members, whom Nigeria knows as aunties and uncles, sisters and brothers, Nigeria has spent her life being home-schooled and learning about Blackness—its traditions, its histories, its struggles, its triumphs. The Movement isolates itself from the world, divesting from white supremacist systems, all in service of a vision for the future in which Black communities can thrive, independent from oppressive forces.

But Nigeria’s mother has left, disappeared, and without the woman under whose care and attention the Movement thrived, Nigeria is floundering and filled with doubt. She has internalized her father’s teachings, from his loving, community-oriented leadership to his ire toward all systems, including education, corporate capitalism and health care. Then Nigeria discovers that her mother secured a spot for her at a wealthy private school, and she begins attending classes there. As Nigeria embarks on a journey of self-discovery, she also learns about the world outside the Movement and meets other teens, some Black, some not. As Nigeria moves further from everything she’s ever known, she’s forced to ask: Who is Nigeria Jones?

The best word to describe acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi’s Nigeria Jones is heavy. The novel depicts the horrors of generational trauma while also placing the personal traumas of one girl, one family and one community within a national and even global context. All the while, Zoboi (Pride, Punching the Air) strikes a delicate balance with the story’s political topics, never moralizing or seeking to provide answers but also not leaving things so open-ended as to appear ambivalent. Through Nigeria and her peers’ interactions with the complex, nuanced subjects they encounter, Zoboi offers a flawless depiction of Generation Z’s activist relationship to such topics. 

Nigeria’s upbringing and experiences are unique, and her inner world, her thoughts and reactions, feels exceptionally true to life. Zoboi tells a singular story of a singular girl, and Nigeria Jones opens wide and welcoming arms. 

In this story of a girl who questions her parents' Black separatist utopian community, author Ibi Zoboi strikes a delicate balance with weighty themes.
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Squire is the brainy sidekick to the brawny Sir Kelton, a knight whose reputation precedes him but never quite seems to prove itself. Regardless, while Sir Kelton is heralded as a hero, Squire stands quietly by, more interested in books and knowledge than sword fighting and rescuing. When the two come across a desolate village that appears cursed by the presence of a dragon, Sir Kelton vows to slay the beast and rides off to save the town. Squire, preferring to stay behind, notices something amiss. Interest piqued by the townspeople’s strange stories, he begins to investigate, and soon, little pieces begin to fall into place.

Prolific cartoonist Scott Chantler’s middle grade graphic novel Squire & Knight is a short, sweet story about the power of curiosity and the idea that strength and confidence aren’t everything. Chantler illustrates in a simple yet bold style, using only neutral shades and orange tones. The lone ruddy hue pops against otherwise monochrome backgrounds, guiding the reader’s attention through the subtly comedic storyline.

Chantler employs classic fantasy tropes—the sidelined sidekick to the daring knight, a treasure-hoarding dragon—while also subverting expectations. Squire, whose accomplishments and intelligence are frequently ignored by his noble employer, is the true brains behind their entire operation, while the dragon, despite appearances, just wants to collect his treasures in peace. The voices of the characters are dynamic and easy to hear in the reader’s mind. (For this reader, the dragon sounds exactly like Billy Crystal.)

Squire & Knight may not be revolutionary in form or subject, but it’s certainly an enjoyable read that champions the shy, the brainy and the inquisitive. This is the first volume of a planned duology, so we can look forward to at least one more adventure of Squire and his knight. 

Squire & Knight may not be revolutionary in form or subject, but it’s certainly an enjoyable read that champions the shy, the brainy and the inquisitive.
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In the collapsed city-nation of Alante, the “other-born” are descendants of long-ago gods who have inherited their ancestors’ powers. They are stigmatized and sometimes feared, and they often live in poverty. Still, the people of Alante rely on other-born like the descendants of the Muses and the Furies to provide guidance and order for society.

Io Ora and her sisters, Thais and Ava, are other-born who trace their lineage to the Fates, whose descendants always come in the form of a trio: one to weave the threads, one to pull them out and one to cut them. With their parents dead and older sister, Thais, living far away, Io and Ava do the best they can to get by. Ava sings at the Fortuna gang’s club, and Io works as a private investigator. But the lives they’ve carefully built are threatened when a string of murders sweeps through the impoverished area of Alante. Unnatural wraiths are targeting other-born, so Io is hired by Fortuna’s leader, the Mob Queen, to investigate alongside a stranger named Edei, who is connected to Io by a thread of fate. Soon, Io and Edei are pulled into a tangle of theories and leads, finding danger at every turn, as well as solace in each other.

Kika Hatzopoulou’s debut novel, Threads That Bind, is a high-concept fantasy mystery filled with political intrigue. Drawing on the pantheons of gods from a variety of cultures, Hatzopoulou puts an enticing spin on the idea of inherited godhood: People with powers are feared rather than revered. The frame of a murder mystery allows for a layered narrative that plays on interpersonal and societal dynamics, and the political commentary is well balanced with Io and Edei’s sleuthing. Fans of Amanda Foody’s Ace of Shades or Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows will find a similar atmosphere here.

Despite Threads That Bind’s excellent concept, some clunky moments disrupt the plotting and a few important questions go unanswered. Hatzopoulou has clearly set up the narrative for a sequel, but the story as it stands may leave some readers scratching their heads. Despite these incongruities, fantasy readers who are interested in mythology will likely appreciate this unique take on the genre and enjoy a largely promising start to a new series. 

Fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows will find a similar atmosphere in Kika Hatzopoulou’s debut novel.
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Hilde, a part-swan, part-human daughter of Odin, ferries souls along the silver road in the sky to the Other Wood. She envies her five sisters’ brighter gifts, but Odin chose her for this duty because of her strength, so she continues this melancholy work—until she meets the equally lonely Baron Maximilian von Richter on the shore of a lake.

From within his crumbling and solitary Bavarian castle, Richter dreams of a bigger life for himself, one filled with jewels and notoriety. When he invites Hilde into the glittering world of his imaginings, she trades her wings to become more human, eagerly learning the complicated waltz steps of 19th-century Europe. But when Richter proves to be more captor than liberator, Hilde begins to seek an escape. Allied with Franz Mendelsohn, a kind and talented artist who seems to see the truth of her magic, Hilde searches to reclaim the wings she once sought to give up forever.

With feather-light precision, R.M. Romero’s YA novel-in-verse A Warning About Swans (Peachtree, $18.99, 9781682634837) walks the thin line between fairy tale and allegory, selfhood and love, dreams and reality. This winding fable about living myths, set in postindustrial Europe, softens the tale of Odin’s daughters—known in many versions of mythology as the Valkyries—while respecting its origins.

As in her previous novel, The Ghosts of Rose Hill, Romero writes in clear, lovely verse. Unlike novels-in-verse that fail to demonstrate a strong understanding of poetry, A Warning About Swans lends itself perfectly to the form, maintaining a spare beauty and creating fully formed characters within the limited confines of a shorter text. Richter is believable as a terrifying representation of what men with unchecked power often do, while Hilde and Franz’s burgeoning love story feels multidimensional and authentic.

A Warning About Swans soars in its exploration of myths: their power, their failings and how they change alongside humanity yet stay with us throughout millennia. Romero provides a lovely example of how across all of time, some lessons stay true.

R.M. Romero’s winding fable of postindustrial Europe walks the thin line between fairy tale and allegory, selfhood and love, dreams and reality.
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Join a family of four as they make challah, a braided Jewish bread used for many holiday meals. It’s Friday evening, which means Shabbat is here. An excitable child narrator guides Mom, Dad and Baby through the recipe as they prepare for dinner with Grandma and Grandpa. Written by Charlotte Offsay and illustrated by Jason Kirschner, Challah Day! (Holiday House, $18.99, 9780823454112) is a scrumptious celebration of family traditions.

Starting at sundown on Friday, Shabbat dinner marks the beginning of the Jewish day of rest. Although we witness the family as they light the Shabbat candles and sit down for the traditional dinner, the book stays focused on making challah, making Challah Day! a sweetly straightforward and celebratory read for Jewish families as well as those wanting to learn more about Jewish culture. Offsay’s jaunty and quick-paced rhyming couplets are perfect for reading aloud and pair well with other picture books about cooking with family, like Linda Sue Park and Hoe Baek Lee’s Bee-Bim Bop! or Lisa J. Amstutz and Talitha Shipman’s Applesauce Day.

Matching the bouncy tone of Offsay’s writing, Kirschner’s charmingly dynamic illustrations highlight the characters’ actions in realistic detail against simple backgrounds. The muted, pastel colors do not detract from the story’s vibrancy. Several full-spread illustrations are especially lovely, such as when the challah dough is being braided, or when children jump across larger-than-life bags of sugar, salt and flour.

After the story is finished, back matter not only offers a recipe for “Challah for a Crowd” but also provides context and information about challah and its surrounding traditions. In addition to highlighting the different ways that challah can be made, Offsay also shows readers various ways that Jewish people come together to celebrate. Challah Day! is simple, but its warmth and joy are palpable. By the end, your mouth will be watering.

Challah Day! is simple, but its warmth and joy are palpable. By the end, your mouth will be watering.
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Mia is of two tribes: Her mom is Jewish, and her dad is Muscogee. Mia’s dad and his new family live in Oklahoma, far away from California, where Mia lives with her mom and stepdad, Roger. Since marrying Roger, Mia’s mom has begun to take participation in Judaism much more seriously.

Exhausted by her experiences at Jewish day school and frustrated with her mother’s refusal to speak about her dad, Mia works out a secret plan to visit her dad in Oklahoma and learn more about her Muscogee heritage. While Mia initially feels like an outsider there, it doesn’t take her long to bond with an older cousin and feel at home with new traditions. But Mia’s mom quickly realizes that Mia’s not on the school trip she claimed to be and comes to get her. Will this incident be the final fracture in Mia’s family, or will it create a bridge between tribes?

Inspired by author and cartoonist Emily Bowen Cohen’s real-life experiences growing up Jewish and Muscogee, graphic novel Two Tribes (Heartdrum, $15.99, 9780062983589) examines the complex tensions and beautiful facets of a childhood between cultures and in a blended family. Cohen supports the story with a vibrant but realistic illustration style peppered with the occasional abstract image.

Where Two Tribes shines is in its portrayal of Mia as a self-possessed 12-year-old who is attuned to the importance of embracing differences rather than pretending they don’t exist. Cohen provides a nuanced picture of how Mia has in some ways come to resent her Jewish heritage because of the way it’s been placed in opposition to her dad’s Indigenous culture.

The story is somewhat unbalanced by Mia’s Jewish family and rabbi, who are portrayed more antagonistically than the other characters. For example, when Mia’s school rabbi makes a racist joke about Native Americans at dinner with Roger and Mia’s mom, it’s brushed off by all the adults as a simple mistake rather than a genuinely problematic remark. However, Mia’s family and her rabbi eventually begin to understand how they have failed Mia in certain aspects.

With its incredibly complex subject of personal identity, Two Tribes might have benefited from the additional space given by a traditional novel form to explore its themes more deeply rather than coming to a picture-perfect resolution. That said, perhaps the increased accessibility of the graphic novel format serves this book well. For children just coming into adolescence, a biracial background—especially involving two marginalized groups—can make for a tangled web of difficulties. By seeing their stories represented, things might start to make sense.

The graphic novel Two Tribes examines the complex tensions and beautiful facets of a childhood between cultures and in a blended family.
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There is no library in the small town of Martinville. Twenty years ago, it burned to the ground, and nothing was ever built in its place. But one day in the waning months of spring, a little free library appears overnight in front of the town’s History House, guarded by a large, purring, orange sentinel named Mortimer.

Fifth grader Evan is one of the first to discover the new library and take some books. He also seems to be the only one to notice that most of the books are from the old Martinville library, where they were all returned on November 5, 1999—the same day the library burned down. Not only that, but the famous mystery writer H.G. Higgins appears to have been the last person to check some of them out.

As the little free library grows, so does Evan’s list of questions. Why did the old library burn down? Why didn’t they build a new one? Did H.G. Higgins live in Martinville? Did he set the fire? With the help of his best friend, Rafe, Evan investigates the expanding number of clues. But Martinville isn’t ready to give up such big secrets so quickly.

Written by two powerhouses of children’s literature, Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass, The Lost Library is a charming love letter to libraries, stories and life’s little mysteries, told through the alternating perspectives of Mortimer the cat, Evan and ghostly librarian Al. Stead and Mass provide all the tools required to solve the book’s multilayered mysteries—but rather than make the reveals too obvious, they create an alluring trail of breadcrumbs, inviting readers to leap to each discovery by themselves.

The story is relatively small in scope but speaks to the wider importance of connection. Throughout the novel, characters shine through their relationships with others, and the overarching lesson is clear: People need each other, and this is a good thing.

Though readers might expect something on a slightly grander scale from the combined powers of Stead and Mass, The Lost Library’s whimsical simplicity is a delight. It is subtly magical, sweetly optimistic and above all, kind. The Lost Library reminds us that each book contains an entire universe, and the next one you step inside of could be the one that changes everything. The next time one of its readers walks past a little free library, they might just stop to look inside.

Written by two powerhouses of children’s literature, Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass, The Lost Library is a charming love letter to libraries, stories and life’s little mysteries.
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On a quiet street in postwar Naples, two young girls embark on a complex friendship that will encompass decades of strife, jealousy, bitterness and fierce devotion. Since early childhood, Lenu and Lila have been each other’s protectors and confidantes. Lenu lives in fear of her domineering mother, while Lila is expected to put work and family first, with her education being a low priority.

Lenu worships the enigmatic Lila, believing her to be smarter, more beautiful and more interesting than herself. But Lila’s shifting moods are inscrutable, giving way to unpredictable bouts of anger, irritability and depression. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Lenu sticks by Lila’s side. As Lenu and Lila age, they are pulled in opposite directions—but they remain fixed points in each other’s orbits, for better or for worse.

Chiara Lagani and Mara Cerri’s adaptation of the first novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend: The Graphic Novel, is a brief and impressionistic rendition of the original. Lagani’s spare text (through Ann Goldstein’s translation) provides broad vignettes of the novel’s pivotal moments while Cerri’s artwork brings to life the often grim setting of Lila and Lenu’s neighborhood.

Ferrante’s original is a dense book, spanning years of childhood and adolescence over more than 300 pages. Rather than cover each event in detail, the graphic novel pinpoints the most life altering events for Lenu and Lila. The artwork is the true star of this adaptation. Using pencil, charcoal and pastels on coarse, off-white paper, Cerri reflects the harsh reality of postwar Italy—its grit, its violence and its fear. The panels are large and without straight lines as Cerri alternates between aerial views and intimate, uncomfortable moments. Similarly, the color palettes range from hyper-pigmented to washed out. The materials used imbue the book with an aged appearance, as though Lenu herself had crafted it as a diary—Cerri often leaves original pencil sketches in place, and the reader can see exactly where the drawing was altered.

It’s difficult to say if My Brilliant Friend: The Graphic Novel can stand on its own; most of its readers will likely be those who have read the original, and it’s unclear whether there are plans to adapt the rest of Ferrante’s quartet. That said, it is a unique and evocative tribute to a modern classic.

The artwork is the true star of this unique and evocative adaptation of the first novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.

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