Friday, October 26, 2018


Written by: Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy

First line: Come out of the sunlight—rise from the burning dawn—stride into the watching noon—hide in the midnight shadows.

Why you should read this book: For historical purposes: this is the first work ever marketed as a "graphic novel" thus disproving the idea that comics were only for semi-literate mouth breathers and five-year-olds. It works really hard to feel generate a sense of edginess and righteousness as it draws a world of the future in which violence and technology has stripped some degree of humanity from the human race. Enter Sabre, a consummate gunslinging anachronism accompanied by a nearly naked, nubile, and naughty companion, and his mcguffin-esque quest to help some people who we never see and whose destiny is not addressed in the context of the story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Really overwritten, really inexplicable, really hard to plow through.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: Non-magic people (more commonly known as muggles) were particularly afraid of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognizing it.

Why you should read this book: Voldemort has slunk out of sight, but Harry has plenty of other problems in his third year at Hogwarts, including being pursued by a large, canine specter of death, attacked by floating, corpsified specters of death, a professor who repeatedly predicts Harry's imminent death, and not having a parent or guardian to sign the permission slip that would allow him to go into town on the weekends. Meanwhile, the vicious killer, Sirius Black, has escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban, and all the adults are hiding his apparent intent from Harry in the name of protecting Harry from the truth. Armed with his trust cloak of invisibility, which Harry seems incapable of hanging on to for more than five minutes at a stretch despite it being one of the most valuable artifacts on the planet, plus a magic map that reveals more than most maps can manage, and, of course, his friends, Harry will try to survive this book while playing quidditch and passing his third year of school (this book is also notable for Hermione smacking Malfoy in the face).

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still hear the screams of your dead parents. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Room Away from the Wolves

Written by: Nova Ren Suma

First line: When the girl who lived in the room below mine disappeared into the darkness, she gave no warning, she showed no twitch of fear.

Why you should read this book: Bina isn't just running away from home, where her mother seems to care more for the feelings of Bina's wicked stepsisters than for her own daughter; she's running to somewhere: an all-girls boarding house in New York City where her mother once spent a summer that has grown to mystical proportions in Bina's imagination. But something strange is going in at Catherine House, something she can't quite put her finger on, something to do with ghosts and secrets and rules and girls who don't want to be there but can't seem to leave and an opal ring that vanishes and reappears with astonishing regularity. Bina doesn't want to leave, but she doesn't know if she can stay, and until she figures out the mystery of the house, and how it connects to her personally, she'll never figure out who she is or what she's supposed to do.

Why you shouldn't read this book: A house full of teenage girls is your nightmare, even without the ghosts.

Red Clocks

Written by: Leni Zumas

First line: Born in 1841 on a Faroese sheep farm.

Why you should read this book: In a muted nightmare America, abortion and in vitro fertilization have been outlawed and adoption is only legal for two-parent households in a book that highlights ways in which women are harmed by anti-woman legislation masquerading as pro-child values. Ro, single and middle aged desperately wants a baby but can't conceive; her teenage student Mattie finds herself trapped in an unwanted pregnancy; Susan has a traditional marriage and a traditional family but feels miserable in her life; Gin, an herbalist with a nontraditional life and worldview, is a woman with the power to help women, may also be the one who pays the steepest price. The personal is political in a novel that highlights how impersonal politics personally impact individuals.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The people who aren't going to read or understand the book are the people who most need to read this book. If you think there's any legitimacy to the phrase "fetal personhood," you probably won't pick it up, but you might learn something about actual personhood if you did.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

Written by: Adeline Yen Mah

First line: As soon as I got home from school, Aunt Baba noticed the silver medal dangling from the left breast pocket of my uniform.

Why you should read this book: Considered unlucky due to the proximity of her mother's death to her own birth, Jun-ling, known to her family is Fifth Daughter, suffers the discrimination of her young, powerful, and probably insane stepmother, under whose influence the entire family follows suit. While her half-siblings receive the best of everything and her older siblings band together, Jun-ling is psychologically tortured throughout her entire childhood; at one point in the story her parents literally take her to a war zone and leave her in a convent school even as the other girls are pulled from the school and taken away to safer places by parents who care whether they live or die. Jun-ling's only shred of hope in life is her academic prowess, which gives her a prayer of a better future as well as a world to escape to in the present.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Wow, this family is seriously messed up.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Written by: Athol Fugard

First line: There had been a silence, as always happened at about the same time, a long silence when none of them moved except maybe to lift a glass and hold it high above their heads for the dregs to drip into their open mouths, or to yawn and stretch and slump back into their chairs, when one of them might scratch himself, another consider the voice of the woman in the backyard, the old woman who was scolding, rattling her words like stones in a tin, and all of them in their own time looking at the street outside, and the shadows, wondering if they were not yet long enough.

Why you should read this book: Set in South Africa during apartheid, this novel details a moment of revelation in the life of Tsotsi (literally"gangster"), a boy without a past or a future, a young man living in the moment of drinking and stealing and killing, feeling no remorse, feeling nothing whatsoever, until the night one of his gang members calls him out for his lack of feeling. Tsotsi beats the accuser into unconsciousness, runs into the night, and ends up in possession of a helpless infant, whose presence helps Tsotsi comprehend empathy, recall the trauma of his past, and begin to care for something beside the next job. In addition to its excellent writing and exquisite description of the human psyche, this novel also provides a detailed understanding of the everyday horrors of apartheid and the casual dehumanization of black people in South Africa in the late seventies and early eighties.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's not happy. Nothing happy happens. The ending is enlightening, but not uplifting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.

Why you should read this book: Terrible things are afoot in Harry Potter's world, as evidenced by the fact that school hasn't even started yet and already he's been chastised by muggles and magicians because a house elf dropped his aunt's pudding, shut out of the passageway to Platform 9 3/4, and been beaten up by a tree while illegally riding in a stolen flying car. But these events are overshadowed by the strange horror lurking the halls of Hogwarts: a monster that petrifies muggle-borns and threatens to bring an end to Albus Dumbledore and the entire school of magic. If he breaks any more rules, Harry risks expulsion from Hogwarts, but if doesn't break the rules, he risks losing magic altogether.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Spiders. Lots of spiders. Really giant spiders.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Falling in Love with Hominids

Written by: Nalo Hopkinson

First line: "The easthound bays at night," Jolly said.

Why you should read this book: This deeply imaginative short story collection covers the range of traditional speculative motifs, including ghosts, fairies, monsters, gods, and stochastic flying elephants, while maintaining a modern, enlightened sensibility that injects a bright freshness into familiar tropes along with the voices of queer folks and people of color. From teenage girls taking on the persona of dragons to fight back against sexual harassment to the sibling rivalry between the spirits from Shakespeare's Tempest, these intelligent  stories feel new and smart and forward-thinking. Enjoyable, fast-paced, clever, and wonderfully written, it's both fun and provocative.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some nasty bits with city rats.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Among the Dolls

Written by: William Sleator

First line: The poplar trees along the roadside shimmered in a light breeze, and there was hardly a nip in the autumn air.

Why you should read this book: Incensed that her parents bought her a creepy antique dollhouse for her birthday instead of the new ten-speed bike she desires, Vicky begins emotionally abusing the dolls by using them to act out a terrible family life for her own amusement. Vicky's own home life becomes less and less optimal until one day she finds herself magically transported into the world of the dollhouse, whose occupants, well aware that Vicky is the cause of all their misery, intend to take out their revenge on her person. She has very little time to discover the dollhouse's secrets and escape from the terrible world of her own making.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Probably not a good choice for kids who have witnessed domestic violence.

The Hookah Girl and Other True Stories

Written by: Marguerite Dabaie

First line: Being a Palestinian requires so much responsibility.

Why you should read this book: The author packs a lot of ideas into a tiny little volume, painting a pretty detailed picture of growing up as a Palestinian-American girl in black and white strokes. She outlines her understanding of her culture of origin, depicting Arab customs to an audience that may be unfamiliar with the food and culture, while also highlighting her own growing understand of her own place within her family and her desires to move in the larger world. It's introspective, provocative, joyful, and honest.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your designer kaffiyeh is an important fashion statement.