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★ Berry Song

A reverent and joyful celebration of berry picking, Berry Song is the stunning authorial debut of Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade, an enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. 

As a girl and her grandmother pick berries in the Tongass National Forest, located not far from the author-illustrator’s home in Sitka, Alaska, Goade poetically describes nature’s many bounties and conveys the need for humans to be Earth’s stewards. All the while, she never loses sight of those yummy berries! Choral litanies of berry names (“Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry. / Huckleberry, Soapberry, Strawberry, Crowberry.”) keep the tone light and playful. 

Once the pair return home, they transform their harvest into treats such as huckleberry pie and nagoonberry jam. The book ends by depicting how its wisdom continues to pass from generation to generation as the narrator, now an adult, leads her younger sister into the forest. “I have so much to show you,” she says. 

Goade’s energetic artwork imbues the book’s natural setting with an enchanting, otherworldly beauty. The poster-worthy first spread welcomes readers with a spirit of adventure as the young narrator, arms outstretched in the wind, rides with her grandmother in a motorboat over a “wide, wild sea” toward the forest. Bright blue and red berries “glowing like little jewels” provide a striking contrast to the deep and verdant woods that teem with wildlife. In several illustrations, human and flora appear to merge, with leaves sprouting from hair or tree limbs extending from arms or hands, reflecting a call and response exchange between the girl and her grandmother: “‘We are a part of the land . . .’ ‘As the land is a part of us.’” 

Excellent backmatter includes photos of some of the berries mentioned in the book, information about the role that berries play in the lives and culture of the Tlingit people and Goade’s personal reflections on some of the book’s key concepts including gunalchéesh, a Tlingit word spoken to express gratitude.

Keepunumuk

A modern-day Wampanoag grandmother tells her grandchildren the story of the first Thanksgiving from a new perspective in Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story. “Here’s what really happened,” she says. 

Co-authors Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry and Alexis Bunten set the stage effectively through two sections of text, titled “Before you begin” and “Important words to know,” placed between the book’s title page and the beginning of the narrative. They explain that the Wampanoag people lived in their ancestral homeland for 12,000 years, which is why they are referred to as “the First Peoples” throughout the book. 

The grandmother narrates the story of the Three Sisters (Beans, Squash and Weeâchumun, or Corn), whom illustrator Garry Meeches Sr. portrays as spectral elders. When Seagull announces that newcomers have arrived, Weeâchumun asks Fox to watch them and report back. Fox relays that the starving newcomers have found corn seeds but don’t know what to do with them, so the sisters converse with Deer, Rabbit and Turkey about the best course of action. “We will send the First Peoples to help the newcomers,” Weeâchumun concludes. 

After a Wampanoag man named Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, teaches the newcomers how to grow crops, they invite the First Peoples to celebrate Keepunumuk, the harvest. “That meal changed both our lives and theirs forever,” the grandmother explains to her young listeners. “Many Americans call it a day of thanksgiving. Many of our people call it a day of mourning.” “That’s different from what we learn in school,” one of the children replies. 

Meeches’ illustrations incorporate familiar images of the Wampanoag people’s early encounters with the Plymouth settlers but stay focused on the First Peoples, their beliefs and the land itself. Many scenes unfold against deep blue skies and natural landscapes, and when the Three Sisters appear, they’re often accompanied by lovely curling, twining tendrils. A somber page that depicts the silhouettes of the First Peoples who were “taken by sickness” is particularly striking. 

With a skillful balance of detail and simplicity that’s just right for young readers, Keepunumuk offers a vital viewpoint on the national Thanksgiving holiday. 

Still This Love Goes On

To create Still This Love Goes On, acclaimed Cree Métis artist Julie Flett faced an unusual challenge: to illustrate a song from Canadian American musician Buffy Sainte-Marie’s 2009 album, Running for the Drum.

In an author’s note, Sainte-Marie explains that the images she describes in her song’s lyrics were “like taking photos with my heart of all that I see on the reserve.” As she wrote, she wanted to express her love “for it all, day after day, year after year—especially the people and our Cree ways, precious like the fragrance of sweetgrass.” The book’s backmatter includes complete lyrics and sheet music.

Flett’s vibrant presentation celebrates the power of family and the immense beauty of open spaces. In the first spread, a mother and child sit together, surrounded by a vast expanse of ice tinged with blue and pink, and watch “the winter grow.” Subsequent spreads evoke changing seasons and the passage of time amid wonderful vistas: A woman and child gaze at the ocean as a whale breaches the surface of the water; a child runs through a mountain meadow filled with yellow flowers; a herd of buffalo gallops toward a distant rainbow. A series of images that depict a drum circle, two jingle dancers and a girl singing and playing her guitar are almost audible as they echo both Sainte-Marie’s lyrics and the feelings evoked by her music. 

Still This Love Goes On transforms a memorable song into a moving and heartfelt visual poem. A worthy homage to Cree people, lands and traditions, it’s a reassuring read-aloud that will encourage young readers to reflect on the places and people they love.

Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade's Berry Song leads a trio of picture books that convey stories written and illustrated by Indigenous North Americans, offering insights into cultural practices, history and heritage.

In 2010, oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies provided a stunning history of cancer and medical scientists’ ongoing research into ways to overcome it. In 2016, he delivered a similarly breathtaking treatment of genetic biology in The Gene. Now, in The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human, Mukherjee tells the compelling story of cell biology and the ways that cellular engineering can help us rethink what it means to be human.

Drawing on case studies, interviews, visits with patients, scientific papers and historical archives, Mukherjee tries to understand life in terms of its smallest unit: the cell. As he puts it, he’s listening to a cell’s “music” when he observes its anatomy and the way it interacts with surrounding cells. For example, the genes, proteins and pathways used by healthy cells are “appropriated” or “commandeered” by cancer cells. “Cancer, in short, is cell biology visualized in a pathological mirror,” Mukherjee writes.

Such knowledge allows medical researchers and doctors to imagine how cellular therapy could modify a patient’s cellular structure to treat their disease or medical disorder. In one case, a girl named Emily Whitehead, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, received CAR T-cell therapy: Her own T-cells were extracted, modified to target her disease and infused back into her body. Although there was an initial setback because of an infection, the cellular therapy succeeded. Mukherjee includes other stories like Whitehead’s, as well as those of heroes such as Rudolf Virchow, who discovered that “it isn’t sufficient to locate a disease in an organ; it’s necessary to understand which cells of the organ are responsible”; John Snow, the founder of germ theory; and Frederick Banting and Charles Best, who discovered insulin.

According to Mukherjee, the cell sings of a new human who is “rebuilt anew with modified cells [and] who looks and feels (mostly) like you and me.” Using cellular engineering, he writes, “we’ve altered these humans to alleviate suffering, using a science that had to be handcrafted and carved with unfathomable labor and love, and technologies so ingenious that they stretch credulity: such as fusing a cancer cell with an immune cell to produce an immortal cell to cure cancer.” Captivating and provocative, The Song of the Cell encourages us to rethink historical approaches to medical science and imagine how cellular biology can reshape medicine and public health.

This captivating, provocative book from Pulitzer Prize winner Siddhartha Mukherjee encourages us to imagine how cellular engineering can reshape medicine.
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In her debut novel, Sign Here, author Claudia Lux presents a modern vision of hell as a capitalist bureaucracy of the most inane, obnoxious variety.

Souls arrive in Hell on different levels, depending on how badly they sinned in their former lives. The worst of the worst head to what is known as Downstairs. Some sent there become line workers, tasked with applying various methods of torture. In other cases, they’re the ones on the rack. Protagonist Peyote Trip, however, is a resident of the fifth floor of Hell, so his afterlife is a little less bleak: He lives in an apartment and works in an office as a caseworker. Peyote tracks the plights and problems of mortals, and when one of them has a dire need, to the point that they’re willing to do anything to achieve what they desire, he arrives to make a deal via infernal contract. The mortal gives up their soul, and Peyote uses his abilities to make all their earthly dreams come true.

Despite being an agent of Hell, Peyote tries to treat both his “clients” and his co-workers with dignity and honor, especially when it comes to helping his new co-worker, Calamity, adjust to the myriad annoyances of life on the fifth floor. Peyote and his peers bring five pens everywhere, because the first four will never work. If a soul hates country music, it will be the only station available on their radio and it cannot be turned off. No food is truly hot or cold, and neither is any living space. Lux’s Hell is the epitome of absolute discomfort, like an itchy wool sweater on a humid day.

How Claudia Lux found humanity in an infernal bureaucracy.

Calamity soon gets involved in Peyote’s ultimate career goal: securing his fifth and final contract from the wealthy Harrison family. Attaining five souls from the same family, also known as a Complete Set, will grant Peyote an important promotion. Lux tells much of this story from the perspectives of three members of the Harrison family: Silas; his wife, Lily; and Mickey, their daughter. Lux takes the reader deep into each Harrison’s point of view, highlighting their dark temptations, shame and awkwardness in equal measure and creating such a high level of empathy for her painfully realistic characters that it borders on uncomfortable. It all adds to the ever-growing, nearly palpable feeling of imminent disaster. With their desires on such clear display, it’s impossible to forget that any one of the Harrisons could be Peyote’s next victim.

Lux’s unique iteration of hell is consistently engaging, grounded in relatable discomforts yet spiked with surrealist imagery, but readers will also be enthralled with the sheer humanity displayed on each page. No character comes off as mostly good or evil; they’re all just products of their natures and upbringings. With surgical precision, Sign Here captures the difficulties of morality in a complicated modern world.

Sign Here is both a hilarious reimagining of hell as a corporate nightmare and a painfully realistic exploration of morality in the modern world.
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Latinx writers and other artists of color have proven and continue to prove that race is not just a means of adding verisimilitude to a work but rather a vital part of any story told within our racialized society. Since his debut collection, Zigzagger, was published in 2003, Manuel Muñoz’s work has been recognized as prime proof of this fact, captivating and moving readers with tales of Latinx tribulation and triumph. In The Consequences, Muñoz adds even more depth and dimension to his writing, delivering a collection of stories that probe deep into the heart of Latinx experiences.

Muñoz sets his stories in 1980s California, seeking contemporary truths through the past and reflecting on where the Latinx community has been and where it’s going. His main concern is love—how we are able to connect with, tolerate and help one another in a world that seeks to alienate us from our communities and ourselves.

In the opening story, “Anyone Can Do It,” Delfina, a headstrong mother whose husband has gone missing with other immigrant workers, ponders the risks of trusting her new neighbors. When she is betrayed, however, she doesn’t shut herself off from her community but rather learns how to create a new identity for herself and her son out of the struggle they must endure. Muñoz never lets his characters off easy, and in the process, he problematizes and expands upon centuries-old archetypes.

Throughout the collection, Muñoz’s use of quotation marks has deep significance. In the second story, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA,” the only quotation marks appear around a sentence spoken in English, as if all of the Spanish (translated by the author into English) is not said aloud but rather communicated nonverbally. Food, on the other hand, appears frequently throughout the book, not just as a cultural signifier but also to show the impossibility of affection. In the same story, a woman offers the protagonist her cold tacos, trying to gain her trust while on their perilous journey to retrieve their partners from deportation. In these ways, Muñoz shows that the two things Latinx culture is most known for (language and cuisine) are far more complicated than they appear to white readers. Through such textual and symbolic details, Muñoz forges a new Latinx narrative, wherein all aspects of Latinx life are displayed with richness and complexity.

Muñoz brings the reader into a Latinx world rife with meaning, showing what some of us have known all along.

Through his story collection, Manuel Muñoz forges a new Latinx narrative, wherein all aspects of Latinx life are displayed with richness and complexity.
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In 1952 San Francisco, homosexuality is illegal and largely frowned upon by society. But the gates of the titular Lavender House keep an extended LGBTQ+ family safely tucked away from the persecution and discrimination of the outside world, able to live their lives without judgment or reprisal. This shelter and sense of belonging comes thanks to their benefactor and matriarch, soap entrepreneur Irene Lamontaine.

If only they were able to keep their own petty jealousies and rampant ambitions in check. But this is not the case in Lev AC Rosen’s twisty new mystery. Irene soon turns up dead, and one of Lavender House’s denizens may be responsible for her demise.

Enter Evander “Andy” Mills, an ex-police detective who was fired after being caught in a raid at a gay bar. Irene’s widow (in all but name), Pearl, hires him to find the killer in their midst. The mystery is told through Andy’s point of view, and readers will share his fascination with the unique life afforded the inhabitants of Lavender House and deeply empathize with his position as an outsider struggling to find his own place in the world.

Lev AC Rosen is breaking new ground for noir.

Rosen quickly turns the Agatha Christie-esque elements of the mystery on their head with a dynamic cast of characters and an inimitable take on hard-boiled noir that revels in the foggy atmosphere of San Francisco while also highlighting the characters’ angst and inner turmoil. Readers familiar with Rosen’s young adult novel Camp, which follows LGBTQ+ teens at a utopia-like conclave, will enjoy this deeper, darker examination of what it means to be a queer person in a homophobic world.

In Lavender House, Rosen not only thoroughly entertains mystery lovers but also ups the ante by presenting a thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be free to love who you love.

Mystery lovers will be thoroughly entertained by Lavender House, a thoughtful noir that examines midcentury LGBTQ+ life with a cast of dynamic characters.
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World War II is remembered as a conflict between democratic and fascist countries. But during the 1940s, nearly 10% of the residents of the world’s largest democracy were considered second-class citizens because of their race. Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad by Matthew F. Delmont, a professor of history at Dartmouth College, chronicles how Black Americans had to fight for the right to combat racism abroad because of the racism at home.

The irony of this was not lost on African Americans, who were acutely aware of how segregation kept them from full citizenship. Adopting a “Double Victory” strategy, Black Americans treated the war as a means of defeating foreign fascism and domestic racism. Half American recounts the history of this struggle, from Langston Hughes’ newspaper coverage of the Spanish Civil War to the mistreatment—even murder—of returning African American veterans. Furthermore, Delmont demonstrates that this story is not frozen in the past but is key to understanding—and changing—our present.

This book would have been a significant contribution to our knowledge of World War II history even if Delmont had only focused on the performance of African American combat troops. The Tuskegee Airmen are famous, but fewer people are aware of the Black Panthers, a Black tank battalion that served in Italy, or the Montford Point Marines, who were the first African American marines and fought valiantly at the battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima. But Half American is more than an excellent introduction to this underappreciated chapter of military history. It is also a groundbreaking illumination of African American civilians’ complex involvement in World War II.

In addition to official records, Delmont used archives, oral histories and contemporary coverage from the Black press to document his work. As a result, Half American gives voice not only to prominent African American leaders such as Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois and Thurgood Marshall, but also to Black soldiers, factory workers and other everyday people who contributed to the war effort—people who are rarely mentioned in history books, even though they created history.

During World War II, Black Americans had to fight for the right to combat racism abroad because of the racism at home. In Half American, Matthew F. Delmont chronicles that fight.

Poet Ross Gay’s powerful sixth book and second collection of essays, Inciting Joy, opens with an imaginary house party to which people bring their sorrows as plus-ones. Soon the living room becomes a raucous dance floor, and in the middle of this unexpected mirth, Gay poses two central questions: What incites joy? And more importantly, what does joy incite in us?

Early on, Gay offers his own hypothesis that joy is “an ember for or precursor to wild and unpredictable and transgressive and unboundaried solidarity.” By holding each other through a range of emotions—grief, anger, curiosity and even hilarity—we co-create manifestos for survival, and we refuse to allow capitalistic ills like proprietorship and unbridled ambition to make our lives narrower and lonelier. During an interview with BookPage, Gay explained that the book’s goal is essentially “to study the ways and the practices by which we . . . care for one another. Probably with a sort of firm conviction that institutions do not do that.” He also mused that Inciting Joy could just as easily have been called The Book of Rage for its exploration of his own life at desperate moments, from the impending death of his father from liver cancer in 2004, to a period of deep emotional and physical distress that Gay, often called “the happiest poet around,” feared he wouldn’t survive.

Ross Gay shares how he hopes ‘Inciting Joy’ will make readers feel.

Yet, in the final chapter, joy reigns supreme, and the book ends with a very different kind of party: a potluck attended by members of the Dessalines Brigade, a group of Haitian farmers who, in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 2012, burned seeds donated by the agrochemical company Monsanto. These farmers’ joyful refusal of the gift, because it could have potentially introduced harmful chemicals into Haiti’s food supply, also speaks to the heart of Inciting Joy: that by regarding one another, and considering not only one’s own good but that of the greater community, we do more than incite joy. We save ourselves.

Poet Ross Gay’s powerful sixth book poses two central questions: What incites joy? And more importantly, what does joy incite in us?
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In 1778, when future U.S. president John Adams arrived in Paris to solicit aid for America’s revolutionary cause, most Frenchmen were disappointed that they wouldn’t be meeting with John’s older cousin Samuel, the renowned theorist and provocateur of American revolution. In spite of this past fame, the man some have called the most essential Founding Father is now more closely associated with a Boston beer than American independence.

In her terrific new biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff (The Witches, Cleopatra) presents readers with a vivid sense of this complicated man and how, using “sideways, looping, secretive” tactics, Samuel Adams steered Massachusetts and the vastly divided colonies toward asserting their rights and separating from Britain.

Adams was born in September 1722, a privileged son of a prosperous malt maker (hence his association with the contemporary beer). However, he ran the family business into the ground and spent most of his life in penury. “Alone among America’s founders,” Schiff writes, “his is a riches-to-rags story.” But what he lacked in monetary wealth, he made up for in intellectual and moral capital.

Adams was shaped by his abstemious Puritan background; unlike his boastful, self-promoting colleague John Hancock, Adams’ signature on the Declaration of Independence was self-effacingly small. But the impact of his eloquent arguments for American rights was huge, galvanizing the citizenry and causing some British officials to call for him to be hanged for treason. The British troops who sallied forth toward Lexington and Concord in April 1775 were likely seeking not just hidden stores of weapons but Adams himself. He was considered such a lightning rod that many who later gathered in Philadelphia for the Continental Congress mistrusted him. For the sake of unity, he took a tactical back seat during the deliberations, allowing others their moments of glory. This may be one reason his essential contributions to the cause have been minimized or forgotten over the years.

Schiff’s biography focuses on the 1760s and 1770s, the period when Adams’ revolutionary activity was unparalleled. Her dense early chapters especially require a reader’s undivided attention, since she tells the history prospectively rather than retrospectively. We read through a confusing, riotous moment of conflict, for example, that we later realize is what we would now call the Boston Tea Party. The effect is electrifying, and Schiff writes with keen insight and wit throughout. By the end of The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, attentive readers will vibrate with questions about the parallels between Adams’ political era and our own.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff vividly renders the man some have called the most essential Founding Father: Samuel Adams.

In his 2021 book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders turned to Russian literary giants like Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy to provide the source material for a stimulating master class on the craft of the short story. With Liberation Day, Saunders offers up nine of his own inimitable stories, each serving to enhance his status as a contemporary master of the form. It’s his fifth collection, featuring four new stories and five previously published in The New Yorker.

Saunders has a fondness for challenging readers by dropping them into an alien environment and then patiently revealing details that bring a hazy picture into sharp focus, gradually making it all feel uncomfortably familiar. That’s true of the novella-length title story, in which a group of characters, led by the narrator, Jeremy, is programmed to deliver reenactments of historical events—in this case a graphic rendering of Custer’s “last stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In “Ghoul,” another unfortunate coterie serves as actors in an underground amusement park, slowly discovering, to their horror, the truth of their plight. And in “Elliot Spencer,” the already damaged titular character finds himself manipulated by an unscrupulous group of political activists.

Not all of Saunders’ stories qualify as material for an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” “A Thing at Work” is a nightmarish version of “The Office,” shifting seamlessly among the perspectives of four characters in a chess game of escalating retribution, while “Mother’s Day” explores the bitterness that remains between two aging women who once loved the same man. “Love Letter” is a moving and at times chilling letter, written by a grandfather to grandson, that serves as both an apologia and a warning. The letter describes a turbulent political era uncomfortably similar to our own, when the grandfather and his wife watched as the TV “blared this litany of things that had never happened, that we could never have imagined happening,” all the while assuming “that those things could and would soon be undone and that all would return to normal.” 

The volume concludes with the small gem “My House,” a haunting tribute to the persistence of desire and human folly, whose seven pages are a gorgeous example of Saunders’ ability to evoke heightened emotion with the most economical prose. 

Describing the work of his Russian subjects in Swim, Saunders wrote that they “seemed to regard fiction not as something decorative but as a vital moral-ethical tool.” In Liberation Day, Saunders is actuated by similar concerns, focusing his attention on how, for better or worse, we weigh the moral choices we’re called upon to make and how we live with the consequences.

In his fifth story collection, George Saunders focuses his attention on how, for better or worse, we weigh the moral choices we’re called upon to make and how we live with the consequences.
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Appalachia is a place that’s often ignored, forgotten or written over. When the region does become the subject of a book, as rarely as that may be, it’s frequently misrepresented. Barbara Kingsolver brings a notably different energy from her previous work to Demon Copperhead, a novel that dwells in the challenges of impoverished southern Appalachian communities and honors the ways in which our landscapes shape us. She does all this through a tremendous narrative voice, one so sharp and fresh as to overwhelm the reader’s senses.

In many ways, Demon Copperhead is a novel of survival—of finding one’s way through the mess of it all and living with dignity. Demon is born into poverty with only his teenage mother to call family, though she later becomes entangled in an abusive relationship. He faces such challenges as the foster system, child labor and his own desire to find success and a meaning for his life. At each turn, he finds ways to make things work. He’s willing to take risks, he cares about his people and community, and he often looks for the best in a moment, even if he doesn’t fully understand what he’s facing. With each choice, Demon’s spirit comes through, and it is haunting. It’s the reason the pages keep turning, as it’s imperative for the reader to find out how he’s going to get out of the latest mess or scrape, how he’s going to find his family and his own story.

Demon’s story—a tale of growth, challenges, sorrow and surprises—is both a retelling of and in conversation with David Copperfield, Charles Dickens’ novel about an orphan surviving in Victorian England, which was inspired by the author’s early life. Similarly, Kingsolver’s Demon is spunky and full of life as he navigates a complex, uneasy world. But Kingsolver has made this story her own, and what a joy it is to slip into this world and inhabit it, even with all its challenges.

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel is inspired by David Copperfield, but she has made this story her own, and what a joy it is to slip into this world and inhabit it, even with all its challenges.

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