It is 1899 in New York City, a thriving metropolis teeming with the hopes and dreams of thousands of newly arrived immigrants. Among them is Chava, a chaste Jewish widow who keeps to herself and works tirelessly in a lower East Side bakery, and Ahmad, an aloof Syrian tinsmith who wears an iron band on his wrist and makes beautiful figurines out of precious metal. Each of them is hiding a terrible secret that if discovered, could lead to their destruction. Chava can plunge pins into her own skin and not feel pain while Ahmad can raise them temperature of an entire room by just entering it. Because beneath their ordinary exteriors, Chava is a golem formed from clay, while Ahmad is a jinni made of fire. Neither of them requires sleep, so they each roam the young city’s streets alone at night, Chava yearning to fit in with her human peers, Ahmad longing to escape from them. When they finally meet, they recognize the strangeness in each other and form a mystical bond that is tested when a mysterious figure from Ahmad’s ancient past appears with a plan to enslave them both forever. This impeccably researched, lushly written novel of identity, faith, free will and unlikely friendship will appeal to readers of all ages and any card-carrying member of the history or folklore fandom. It’s also a stunningly good New York story. I spent a very happy week immersed in the smoky, sooty atmosphere of the turn of the century Bowery and Lower East Side learning how to braid challah bread in a Jewish bakery and mend kettles in a Syrian tin shop. If you are seeking a book that will transport you far from the stinky bunks of your summer camp or overly-air conditioned office of your summer job, LOOK NO FURTHER. Summer reading satisfaction guaranteed!
The troubling visions started when Ellie mixed the ashes of a long dead bat with some beer and convinced Glory to drink it. Suddenly both girls are seeing into the pasts and futures of every stranger they pass on the street, but it is only Glory who is getting terrifying glimpses of a second Civil War where women’s rights disappear completely and the entire United States is thrown into poverty and chaos. It doesn’t help that the visions start coming right on the heels of Glory’s high school graduation, serving as a further reminder that she has no freaking idea what to do with her life. Her best friend Ellie, a modern day hippie who lives on the commune next door, is too busy chasing boys and dealing with the unwelcome surprise of an STD to have an opinion, while Glory’s father, a virtual shut-in since Glory’s mother Darla committed suicide years ago, can’t move forward in his own life, let alone help Glory with hers. So Glory retreats to her dead mother’s photo developing darkroom, where she finds a hidden portfolio of pictures and starts to piece together the puzzle of her family’s past in order to make some sense of the dead bat visions and her own uncertain future. This is not a read-all-in-one-sitting story with a page-turning plot, but rather a novel of ideas that deserves patience and contemplation as readers ponder their own personal and intellectual journeys as they travel along with Glory on hers. In other words, it’s a novel that could only be conceived and written by the whip-smart A.S. King. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2014. While you wait, check out the rest of King’s semi-surreal backlist, along with the one of the most bonkers, bizarre road trip books ever, Going Bovine by Libba Bray.
It’s summer and I’ve been cleaning out bookshelves and I came across this marvelous collection of short stories that had somehow drifted to the back. I’m shocked that I didn’t post about this title before, as it contains narratives by some of my absolute favorite authors, like Libba Bray and Patricia McCormick. I decided to rectify that immediately, since it’s also the perfect season for stories about being up all night. July and August are the months when schedules become fluid and the freedom of the warm weather lures us into all kinds of situations that we’d never even consider during the cold busy school months. In Libba Bray’s “Not Just for Breakfast Anymore,” Maggie and her friends try to forget all their troubles at a Cheap Trick concert, but discover that no amount of booze, drugs and rock and roll will erase the truth of their messy lives. In “Orange Alert” by Patty McCormick, a teen girl sneaks out of her house and practices driving at night in order to escape her lecherous stepdad, finding the strength to defy him on the road. David Levithan imagines a warm Manhattan night where a chorus of teens finally confess how they really feel underneath their carefully constructed public faces, while Sarah Weeks focuses in on an intimate interaction between two brothers over the death of the little brother’s pet mouse in “Superman is Dead.” Rounding out this stellar assortment is a paranormal family drama by Peter Abrahams and a short comic by rockstar graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. Be sure to check out this awesome anthology as you begin to plan your own summer night excursions!