Full of heroism, romance and wisdom, Sleep Like Death is a wonderful coming-of-age fantasy story that will delight readers searching for a robust fairy tale retelling.
Full of heroism, romance and wisdom, Sleep Like Death is a wonderful coming-of-age fantasy story that will delight readers searching for a robust fairy tale retelling.
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Few YA series have garnered the level of devotion and praise achieved by Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series (FOTA), which followed Jude Duarte and her battle for power in Faerie. It’s no surprise that Black’s massive fan base rejoiced when the author released a spinoff duology, the Novels of Elfhame. Picking up right after the events of the first book, The Stolen Heir, The Prisoner’s Throne finds Suren, now queen of the Court of Teeth, and Oak Greenbriar, Jude’s brother and heir to the crown of Elfhame, on shifting soil, unsure of themselves and of each other.

While the first novel primarily followed Suren’s point of view, this time we get to be inside of Oak’s head. What was making this narrative switch like? Between the two characters, was one more challenging to write than the other?

It was definitely easier to write Oak’s point of view because I had made so many decisions in The Stolen Heir about his past and personality. It was hard to give both protagonists space, though. Even though we’re no longer in Suren’s point of view, we want to see how things play out for her. And there were some things about Oak’s past and point of view and certainly his powers that I needed to make more granular.

Did you have this spinoff in mind while you were writing any part of FOTA? If so, did planning for a spinoff impact the writing process of FOTA?

When I got to Queen of Nothing, I realized I wanted to write about Oak and Suren at some point in the future. I was intrigued by the way that Wren’s story both paralleled and contrasted with Jude’s. And I was interested in how much Jude sacrificed to make Oak’s life less traumatic than her own—and how despite all that, it still WAS traumatic. I wondered what it would be like to be Oak, doubly burdened by the trauma as well as the understanding that being “fine” was the only way to repay his family for what they’d done for him. I don’t think knowing that I wanted to revisit those characters changed the course of anything in the Folk of the Air books, but perhaps I did think of them a little more because of it.

What’s it been like to balance the telling of a brand new story alongside the incorporation of familiar, pre-existing elements from FOTA?

One of the reasons I wanted to start the duology with The Stolen Heir, and write from Wren’s point of view, was to give readers a chance to get to know Wren and Oak outside the characters they already have a connection with—Jude and Cardan in particular. I knew that we’d see people we knew from Elfhame both in the second book and in Oak’s memories. I hope that spending time getting to know Wren allows readers to care about everyone a lot in The Prisoner’s Throne.

One of the hardest things about having so many well-known characters in The Prisoner’s Throne is that they all needed to have room to be the clever and capable people we know them to be—which meant I needed to throw a lot of problems at them.

We meet Oak as a rambunctious but earnest child in the first series. Now, eight years later, he’s a teenager, scheming and wallowing and defying expectations in his own right. Was it difficult to transition to writing him as a teen? 

It was far more difficult than I expected to figure out who Oak was when he was older. I wanted him to have some of the chaos and whimsy of his younger self, but also to be a complicated, charming person who nonetheless reflected the violence into which he was born. I rewrote him in The Stolen Heir so many times that I am not sure anyone but me saw the final version, but now I can’t imagine him any other way.

A central theme of The Prisoner’s Throne is family: How much loyalty do we owe family? Who counts as family? And what is the role of violence in making or breaking a family? So—hypothetically, if one of your family members wronged another, could you still consider them a part of your family?

My grandmother used to say to me that the most important thing was that I never lie to her. Even if I did something terrible. Even if I murdered someone. That she would do whatever she needed to do to keep me safe, even if I was in the wrong—but I just couldn’t lie. I put that speech into a book at some point because it was so memorable to me. Honestly, it made me feel really loved. It’s definitely not how everyone looks at family and loyalty and values.

There are ways that members of my family—and everyone’s family—have wronged one another. We’re not perfect. I’ve wronged people. But there are also lines that if someone in my family crossed, I wouldn’t consider them family anymore. Despite my grandmother’s speech, I am sure that would have been true for her too. It’s so interesting in fiction to figure out just where that line is for each character.

One of the most enjoyable elements of your work is the riddles and tricks that the Fae tell each other. Do you have a favorite riddle that you’ve written?

Thank you! My favorite riddle—although not original to me—is one I used in Tithe: “What belongs to you, but others use it more than you do?” It’s a useful thing to write in a book, since the answer is, of course, your name.

In both the Folk of the Air and the Novels of Elfhame series, our protagonists begin as enemies and gradually warm up to each other. A famous quote from Cardan is “I have heard that for mortals, the feeling of falling in love is very like the feeling of fear.” What would you say is the secret to a compelling enemies-to-lovers romance?

I think there’s a narratively significant difference between enemies and people who don’t trust one another or who are even on opposite sides of a conflict. To me, the intensity of the personal hatred is what makes the enemies-to-lovers progression so compelling—along with, ideally, the surprise. We sort characters into particular roles in stories and that allows us to not necessarily consider a character to be a romantic possibility until, suddenly, they are. But to me, enemies to lovers is all about how an intensity of feeling blurs lines—and often obscures more complicated feelings, often about oneself as much as about the other person.

Although you’ve explored a multitude of fantastical concepts across your novels, Faerie is a lore you return to again and again, to the great delight of your readers. Will there be more novels or projects set in this realm in the future?

There will definitely be one more Elfhame novel—and what it’s about will be clear after getting to the end of The Prisoner’s Throne. After that, I’m less sure of the specifics, but I know there will be future books set in Faerie.

If you lived in Faerie, what kind of creature would you be, and why? Non-human answers only!

Possibly a phooka. I like the idea of transforming into different creatures and playing tricks on people. And the possibility of having horns.

Photo of Holly Black by Sharona Jacobs.

The beloved YA author discusses her hotly anticipated return to Elfhame.
Interview by

After your very first novel receives a Newbery Honor and you go on to win two Newbery Medals; after you become a two-time finalist for the National Book Award; after several of your books are adapted for the big screen (not to mention a stage musical and an opera); after you’re named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature; and after your work becomes so commercially successful that you sell more than 40 million copies of your books—after you achieve all of that, what mountains are left for you to climb?

If you’re Kate DiCamillo, the author of such widely adored classics of 21st-century children’s literature as Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses, you write another excellent novel: Ferris. While many of DiCamillo’s earlier books feature young protagonists who must deal with the loss of a parent or caregiver through distance, divorce or death, Ferris is a story about a child “who has been loved from the minute that she arrived in the world.”

As we chat over Zoom, Ramona the dog snoozing in a chair next to her desk, DiCamillo reveals Ferris’ deeply personal roots. “My father passed away in November of 2019, and my best friend that I grew up with had her first grandchild on December 31 of 2019.” That date was also her father’s birthday. “I was estranged from my father,” she shares, characterizing their relationship as “very difficult.” As DiCamillo looked at photos of the new baby surrounded by parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, she wondered, “What happens if you write a story about a kid that is just so certain and safe” in her family’s love? “Is there a story in that?”

It turns out, there is.

Ferris follows its titular protagonist, Emma Phineas “Ferris” Wilkey, during the eventful summer before she enters fifth grade. She finds herself on the receiving end of an unfortunate new hairstyle from her Aunt Shirley, whose husband has moved out of their house and into Ferris’ family’s basement. Ferris’ father is convinced that raccoons have infested their attic. Her younger sister, the scene-stealing Pinky, has decided that she wants to be featured on a “wanted” poster and has attempted to achieve her goal through petty theft, an incident involving biting and a hilariously unsuccessful stickup at the local bank. Ferris’ best friend, Billy Jackson, keeps playing François Couperin’s “Mysterious Barricades” over and over on every piano he can find. And Ferris’ beloved grandmother, Charisse, has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure but seems more concerned with uncovering what a ghost might want—a ghost she insists has been appearing in her bedroom doorway.

It’s great that we’re meeting, but even if we never met, I would be there with you, because it’s not a story until it’s you and me, together.

That may sound like a lot for one novel to juggle, but DiCamillo balances it all with the ease of an expert orchestra conductor. She does it so well that some readers may be surprised to learn that DiCamillo describes the experience of creating a novel as an act of “writing behind my own back” and “always starting not knowing where I’m going to end up.”

Where Ferris ends up is a climactic dinner sequence straight out of a screwball comedy, in which every single one of the novel’s many narrative threads coalesces. Although it will have readers gasping with laughter, the seeds of the scene lie in more turbulent soil for DiCamillo. When she was growing up, the family table “was often a place of terror” because of her father. As she worked on the scene, DiCamillo says that she thought about the concept of “repetition compulsion, how you keep on doing something until it turns out differently.” Eventually, DiCamillo says that she realized, “Well, here we go, this is the same place I end up every time I write a story: everybody around the table, happy, safe and eating. It surprises me every time.”

DiCamillo hopes that, through her work as an author, she’s able to create spaces that feel this way for readers. “So much of good storytelling is leaving space for the reader.” When she meets children at book events, she tells them, “It’s great that we’re meeting, but even if we never met, I would be there with you, because it’s not a story until it’s you and me, together. That’s what makes it a story, is both of us being there.”

Perhaps this is why DiCamillo becomes visibly emotional when she discusses what it’s like to write against a backdrop of rising censorship and book bans in schools and libraries across the country. “If there is any hope for us,” she says, “it is in being able to see and feel for each other, and books are a vehicle for doing that. Stories help us see each other and help us see ourselves.” She even confesses that she can’t talk about this subject “without weeping, because I know from personal experience and I’ve seen it with other kids: The right book at the right time will save somebody’s life.”

It’s a transformative power that every reader has experienced, but a power that Ferris is only just beginning to understand. Throughout the novel, Ferris reflects on the words that her “vocabulary-obsessed” fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mielk, taught her. (“All of life hinges on knowing the right word to use at the right time,” Mrs. Mielk claims.) As a child, DiCamillo found it incredibly difficult to learn to read and only succeeded thanks to her mother’s tireless efforts. “I knew that’s what I needed, were those words,” she explains. “What Ferris has—those words, that family, that table to sit around—that’s the way I want the reader to feel too. It’s like, you are invited here, to this place. Now look, you have all those words. You have this table. You have this family. You emerge feeling loved.”

Ferris’ grandmother, Charisse, often tells Ferris that “every good story is a love story.” With Ferris, DiCamillo has created a truly great story, and it’s brimming with love.

Photo of Kate DiCamillo by Dina Kantor.

Love is more abundant than ever before in Ferris, the acclaimed children’s author’s dazzling and hilarious new novel.
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STARRED REVIEW
March 11, 2024

Reading not required: 3 wordless picture books

See the world anew with three wordless picture books that compel the reader to narrate their own story through unique artwork.
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See the world anew with three wordless picture books that compel the reader to narrate their own story through unique artwork.
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Agnes Lee’s debut graphic novel, 49 Days, opens with a series of short vignettes about a young woman trying to make a journey but being foiled—sometimes in dramatic and frightening fashion—by the forces of nature. Every day, she must start her journey only to fail again.

These opening sections are intentionally disorienting for the reader, as they are for the young protagonist, Kit—who, readers soon discover, is actually making her way through what’s known in Buddhist tradition as the bardo, a 49-day space between death and rebirth. 

Kit has died in an accident, and over the course of the novel, Kit’s attempts to reach the afterlife are interspersed with two other narratives: first, Kit’s memories of growing up in a loving family and falling in love; and second, glimpses of how Kit’s two siblings, mother and other loved ones are coping in the wake of her death. 

For Kit’s Korean American family, many memories and important moments center around food, prayer and ritual. Lee, who illustrates the New York Times’ “Metropolitan Diary” column, excels at capturing small moments of family life—learning a new word, sharing a meal together, begging to keep a stray cat—and at conveying intense grief—finding new pain in old joys, falling apart at the sight of that beloved cat waiting by the door of an empty room.

Lee cleverly utilizes three different colors, in addition to black and white, to indicate these three different narrative strands: Kit’s metaphysical journey is a soft blue, while her memories are a muted orange and the activities of her living family are a gentle pink. This is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

49 Days is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

Despite her love for logic and science, 12-year-old Sahara Rashad longs for a trip from her home in Queens, New York, to Merlin’s Crossing, a wizard-themed amusement park.

Alas, as Nedda Lewers’ magical coming-of-age adventure Daughters of the Lamp opens, Sahara realizes her dad didn’t find her “Ten Reasons the Rashad Family Should Go to Merlin’s Crossing” list as compelling as the fact that her uncle Omar’s getting married next week, so they’re leaving for a two week visit with her mother’s family in Cairo. Sahara’s frustration at Merlin-deprivation is rapidly overshadowed by nervousness about staying with people she’s never met, in a place she’s never been. All of this is amplified by long-held guilt over her mom’s death while giving birth to her.

In Cairo, when there’s a bizarre break-in at the family store, and a necklace Sahara’s mother left her goes missing, Sahara and her cousin Naima start a mission to find the necklace and reveal the true nature of Omar’s snooty fiancée, Magda. This quest transforms into one to protect their family from ancient evil, in an exciting turn of events that draws poignant connections between present and past—among Sahara, her mother and their ancestors in 10th-century Baghdad.

Daughters of the Lamp is an engaging and entertaining series debut that takes readers on a thrilling journey through magical family history and mystery, while sensitively exploring the nature of identity and thoughtfully examining the ways in which the age-old struggle between good and evil can affect and inspire us all.

Daughters of the Lamp takes readers on a thrilling journey through magical family history and mystery, while sensitively exploring the nature of identity and the age-old struggle between good and evil.

The shocking disappearance of four people infuses suburban Palmetto, Illinois, with confusion and fear in Melissa Albert’s gripping supernatural horror thriller, The Bad Ones.

Among the missing is high school junior Nora Powell’s best friend, Becca Cross. As children, the duo established a creative partnership and spent hours in the woods together, with Nora writing stories about the goddesses they imagined, while Becca took photographs. When Becca’s parents died, Nora did her best to absorb Becca’s grief and be a source of constancy in an unstable world. But as Becca’s demeanor turned darker, revealing a discomfiting desire for vengeance, the girls began to drift apart.

As The Bad Ones begins, they haven’t spoken for months. Nonetheless, when Nora gets a text from Becca in the middle of the night, she rushes to Becca’s house and is nonplussed to discover she isn’t there. Nora’s bewilderment transforms into alarm when she realizes nobody has any idea what might’ve befallen Becca or the other three missing people, thanks to a bizarre lack of witnesses or evidence.

Tentative hope arrives in the form of clues Becca left for Nora, many of them referencing the goddess-centric activities of their youth and the urban legend that inspired them. Perhaps, if Nora can uncover the origins of the goddess game Palmetto students have been playing for decades, she can figure out where Becca went—and what she may have done. Nora eventually allows her classmates—shy, handsome James and amateur reporter Ruth—to join her efforts. Can they unravel the mysteries swirling around that fateful night before someone else disappears?

Albert, bestselling author of the Hazel Wood series and Our Crooked Hearts, expertly alternates between high school mundanity and supernatural spookiness, complemented by an impressive flair for the atmospheric. The Bad Ones is a compelling, often delightfully creepy coming-of-age tale that thoughtfully explores the nature of friendship, grief and the perilous power of unwavering belief.

 

The Bad Ones is a compelling, often delightfully creepy coming-of-age tale that thoughtfully explores the nature of friendship, grief and the perilous power of unwavering belief.
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An orphan and immigrant in the vast industrial city of White Roaring, Arthie Casimir has made a name for herself as the proprietor of Spindrift, an innovative teahouse situated at the intersection of the posh and working class sides of town. Alongside her adopted brother, Jin, Arthie is offering something unique at Spindrift—especially to the city’s vampire population, which is  tolerated but not entirely trusted, especially under the regime of the Ram, the country’s latest masked monarch. As policies shift from hands-off ignorance to active antagonism, the Casimirs realize the Ram intends for Spindrift to close, one way or another.

When Arthie receives a mysterious visit from Laith, a member of the Ram’s guard who claims to want to take down the Ram, she agrees to help, despite knowing Laith is hiding his true agenda. Joined by allies such as a talented forger from high society and a famous artist who happens to be a vampire, Arthie, Jin and Laith plan to challenge the Ram by stealing a ledger containing damning secrets.

With A Tempest of Tea, Hafsah Faizal (We Hunt the Flame) plugs fully into the young adult fantasy zeitgeist while exploring the violence of colonialism, as well as capitalism’s inextricable role in colonial expansion and conquest. Vampires are portrayed fairly traditionally, with characteristics seen throughout literature. Their sultry allure is on full display, and scenes where our young protagonists interact with the more mature vampires are among the novel’s strongest. While the multiple-perspective heist story is a familiar setup, A Tempest of Tea exemplifies many favored themes present throughout YA novels: reevaluating familial ties, validating chosen family and exploring trauma’s role in character development. Readers who enjoy Leigh Bardugo and Roshani Chokshi, are excited about vampires coming back into vogue, or are looking for historical fantasy and fast-paced, alluring drama will surely drink up A Tempest of Tea.

With A Tempest of Tea, Hafsah Faizal plugs fully into the young adult fantasy zeitgeist, weaving serious themes into a fast-paced and thrilling heist story.
Review by

It’s rare to experience the type of connection to a character that I had with Emma in I Lived Inside a Whale. I Lived Inside a Whale opens on the chaos of a party where everyone is having a blast, except for our irritated little narrator. Emma just wants a quiet spot to read, so she packs up and moves into the mouth of a whale (a reimagined space inside her bedroom). Her calm new home is the perfect place for reading—that is, until an interloper in the form of an excitable little boy slides in on a skateboard, and Emma’s solitude takes an unexpected turn. Written and illustrated by Xin Li, I Lived Inside a Whale is a touching and beautiful tale of finding refuge in stories, discovering unlikely allies and sharing one’s voice with the world.

Li’s evocative watercolor and pencil artwork echoes and expands upon Emma’s emotions. Clogged city streets, dour rain and constant noise reflect Emma’s feelings of needing to escape. An abundance of little details (stuffed animals, a warm reading light, a cup of tea, a perfect amount of books in disarray) makes her whale home enviably cozy. As Emma begins to share with others the wondrous stories and worlds inside her head, Li’s art becomes broadly imaginative: welcoming and expressive, it feels joyfully created and makes one happy. Little eyes will have fun whale-spotting while following along. A few classic storytime characters—such as those from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—also make delightful cameos.

Li narrates with the matter-of-fact voice of a bookish little girl who takes her alone time very seriously. The first-person perspective has the advantage of letting one directly feel Emma’s exasperation, her carefulness and orderliness, and finally, her bliss when storytelling. I Lived Inside a Whale has a moment for every reader, making it perfect for storytime or bedtime or any time in between. We could all use a little vacation these days, and I Lived Inside a Whale is a great escape, no matter your age.

I Lived Inside a Whale is a touching and beautifully illustrated tale of finding refuge in a story, discovering unlikely allies and sharing one’s voice with the world.
Review by

Somewhere in a big city, there are two different babies having two similar, yet different days. Across a “beep-beep street” and along “two bumpy sidewalks,” this baby and that baby wave at each other “at the very same time.” Both babies go on various adventures—giggling on their grown-ups’ laps, kissing their lovies, reading books, making music and pausing for the several inevitable diaper changes of the day—before going out to the park for a surprise play date that ends with a fun peek-a-boo.

This Baby. That Baby. by Cari Best and Rashin Kheiriyeh is a wonderful addition to your reading list and a great picture book to share with the parents and children in our community. Reminiscent of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, this book celebrates all the ways two different babies experience the same expressions of love: playtime, a good book, snuggling and friendship. One, dressed in a blue onesie, sits on a mother’s lap, while the other wears a little red floppy hat to match a father’s red ball cap. Kheiriyeh’s simple, whimsical illustrations create a nursery atmosphere, which is alluded to by the opening and closing pages showing different mobiles that may hang above a baby’s crib. The rhyme scheme is lovely and balanced, making for an engaging read-aloud book that will be a go-to for any classroom, library or nursery.

Hello, This Baby. That Baby.: Welcome to the shelf!

Rashin Kheiriyeh’s simple, whimsical illustrations and Cari Best’s lovely and balanced rhyme scheme make for an engaging read-aloud book that will be a go-to for any classroom, library or nursery.
Review by

One little person suits up in their warmest boots, gloves, scarf and hat to make one giant leap into the wintery unknown. They ride the elevator down to the first floor. . . . Or, wait, are they riding a spaceship? In One Giant Leap, a wonderfully inventive ode to imagination, snow is not snow: it’s moon dust. A pigeon is not a pigeon: it’s an extraterrestrial being (or two, or three). Like any good adventure, there is a moment where all may be lost. Will our little astronaut make it back to their spaceship before the duststorm fills the space sky?  

With papercut collage illustrations that play with color and pattern, Thao Lam dives into the unknown of a child’s imagination, reminding readers that intrigue lies around every corner and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure.

Thao Lam dives into the unknown of a child’s imagination, reminding readers that intrigue lies around every corner and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure.
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A boy and his sister wander their quiet neighborhood and admire the life bursting into color around them. The boy’s sister tells him about the burgeoning flowers and trees they pass, dropping small seeds of curiosity that take root in the boy’s mind. 

As the season blooms into summer, the siblings tend to a garden. Though the boy loves to help his sister nurture and weed the vegetable patch, he also ponders the weeds themselves: Why are some plants cultivated, while others are yanked from the ground before they’re given a chance to thrive? 

Award-winning author (When You Can Swim) Jack Wong’s All That Grows is a delicate but powerful ode to curiosity and the delights to be found in the natural world. There is an eloquent simplicity to the story and its contained focus. Wong’s narrator, the unnamed boy, is quiet and thoughtful as he describes his surroundings and experiences in vivid, sensory ways: “Overnight, the trees go from bare to bursting with leaves, turning the streets into enormous green caverns.” In a way, the writing feels like a photographer’s macro lens, homing in on the tiny universes unfurling inside something bigger.

Wong’s illustrations parallel this idea as they zoom in and out of the book’s verdant, sun-dappled setting. The beautifully textured pastel drawings are realistic, but they also possess a subtle whimsy in their decidedly childlike perspective. Whether it’s the way everything seems to glow at the edges or the exclusion of adults (save one lone glimpse), the effect is potent. In some near-intangible way, Wong has evoked the soft haze of childhood summers where a small stand of trees might be seen as a huge forest, and a field of dandelions offers magical, unfettered possibility.

In All That Grows, Jack Wong evokes the soft haze of childhood summers where a small stand of trees might be seen as a huge forest to explore, and a field of dandelions offers magical, unfettered possibility.
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A child cooped up in a small house all winter receives wonderful news. The weather forecaster announces a sunny day from the television; the window is aglow with the bright sunlight; a new page is turned on the calendar: Today is The First Day of May. First, the child is stopped by a pair of adult legs and a disembodied hand that reminds them to put on their shoes. Shoes on, the child is released into the spring day, in a moment of wonder captured by their starry eyes taking in a vast overhead sky. No time to waste, the child is off—flitting around to explore the surrounding fields and forests, watching the birds, chasing butterflies, dancing to the cricket’s song. This most perfect day concludes with the return of the disembodied adult hand bringing the child a cup of tea and tucking them in for a nap in the forest among the flowers, as birds and animal friends look on lovingly. 

This Portuguese import is pure joy: all smiles and cartwheels and bright primary colors. Henrique Coser Moreira’s art is simple but incredibly expressive with its high contrast colors, making this picture book easy for a young child to follow, while compelling adult readers to also remember the joys of all our firsts.

The weather forecaster announces a sunny day from the television; the window is aglow with the bright sunlight; a new page is turned on the calendar: Today is The First Day of May.
Review by

To say Michael Rosario is anxious about Y2K would be an understatement. It’s August, 1999, and the 12-year-old boy is convinced that incalculable issues will arise when all internal program systems reset to the year 00. He’s stockpiling stolen canned goods under his bed so that he can provide for his single mom when society crumbles at the start of the new millennium. 

The only thing that can distract Michael from his anxieties is his crush on his 15-year-old babysitter, Gibby—that is, until Michael and Gibby find a mysterious boy named Ridge outside their apartment complex. Ridge claims to be the world’s first time-traveler and proves it with a futuristic book detailing the next 20 years. While Ridge marvels at 1999 culture and tries to convince Gibby to take him to the mall, Michael starts concocting a plan to steal Ridge’s book so he can find out what will happen with Y2K.

The First State of Being by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Erin Entrada Kelly is an exciting tale about friendship that blends historical and science fiction. Short chapters build tension as Michael’s morality is tested and Ridge wonders if he will be able to get back to the future at all.

The third person prose is imbued with personality, for example when describing Gibby’s brother, Beejee: “Michael still couldn’t figure out how the world’s most perfect creature could be related to a rotten potato like Beejee, but these were the mysteries of the universe.” Kelly shines in the details, such as how given coordinates accurately lead to the exact, real-life neighborhood in Delaware found in a map at the beginning. Occasional glimpses of the year 2199 are given in the form of textbook entries, interviews between scientists, and transcripts of conversations from the lab housing the Spacial Teleportation Module that Ridge uses. Foreshadowing for the plot twists is expertly woven in and leads to well-laid surprises.

This short but suspenseful novel is Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me meets Tae Keller’s Jennifer Chan is Not Alone. Though it takes place at the turn of the millennium, modern readers will be able to identify with Michael’s anxieties over the future of the world, and find his journey compelling. 

Though The First State of Being takes place at the turn of the millennium, readers will be able to identify with Michael’s anxieties over the future of the world.

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