24 Booklist July2017 www.booklistreader.com
fans of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply (2009)
and Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs (2014)
as well as to literary book clubs, which will find
much to discuss. —Kathy Sexton
By Michael Poore.
Aug. 2017. 384p. Del Rey, $27 (9780399178481).
Poore (Up Jumps the Devil, 2012) tells the
moving, gloriously entertaining story of Milo,
his love of Death, who prefers the name Suzie.
The premise enables Poore to move backward
and forward in time and to inhabit numerous
genres along the way, including fantasy, sf, historical fiction, and dirty realism. Poore’s style
and imagery echo an eclectic mix of writers:
Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Samuel Delany,
and Kurt Vonnegut. This stunning novel is
also reminiscent of Ron Currie’s Everything
Matters! (2009) and Mark Danielewski’s Only
Revolutions (2006); it shares plot elements, and
all three are ultimately love stories, with Poore’s
grounded in the relationship between Milo
and Suzie. Thoroughly enjoyable,
Reincarnation Blues is a tour de force of imagination
and humor and a genuinely life-affirming tale.
Shadow of the Lions.
By Christopher Swann.
Aug. 2017. 368p. Algonquin, $26.95 (9781616205003).
When Matthias Glass’ roommate and best
friend, Fritz, disappears without a trace after
they have an argument, Matthias feels responsible. Ten years later, after some success as a
novelist with a wild lifestyle, Matthias decides
that he needs to refocus and accepts a teaching position at the exclusive boys’ boarding
school that he and Fritz attended. Once there,
he becomes obsessed with Fritz, seeing his face
on strangers while picking up bits of information that shed a new light on the day of his
disappearance. Matthias follows each lead as
it comes, grappling in turn with the police,
the school administration, Fritz’s powerful
D.C. family, and a vengeful drug dealer. The
characters are well drawn, and the first-person
narrative pulls the reader along with Matthias
on his emotional roller-coaster ride in search
of redemption. Swann’s masterfully measured
debut novel is a powerful coming-of-age tale in
the tradition of A Separate Peace and will appeal
to readers who enjoy literary fiction with an air
of mystery and suspense. —Jane Murphy
YA: Though the point-of-view is an adult’s
looking back in time, the focus is on
coming-of-age at school, and teen fans of
literary fiction might be swept along. JM.
Sing, Unburied, Sing.
By Jesmyn Ward.
Sept. 2017. 304p. Scribner, $26 (9781501126062).
Jojo, 13, and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla,
live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop,
while their mother, Leonie, struggles with
drug addiction and her failures as a daughter, mother, and inheritor of a gift (or curse)
that connects her to spirits. Leonie insists that
Jojo and Kayla accompany her on a two-day
journey to the infamous Parchman prison
to retrieve their white father. Their harrowing experiences are bound up in unresolved
and reverberating racial and family tensions
and entanglements: long-buried memories of
Pop’s time in Parchman, the imminent death
of Mam from cancer, and the slow dawning
of the children’s own spiritual gifts. Ward
alternates perspectives to tell the story of a
family in rural Mississippi struggling mightily
to hold themselves together as they are assailed by ghosts reflecting all the ways humans
create cruelty and suffering. In her first novel
since the National Book Award–winning
Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly
drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and
a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical. —Vanessa Bush
By Jenny Zhang.
Aug. 2017. 320p. Random/Lenny, $26 (9780399589386).
The narrators of Zhang’s finely wrought debut collection are Chinese American girls and
young women who pass through one another’s
classrooms, homes, and full-to-bursting apartments in New York City boroughs. Zhang,
author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are
All Find (2012), lets these
daughters of scholars and
artists, who in the 1990s
take America up on its many
slow-to-be-delivered promises, be gross and unkind, and
swear exquisitely. They are
deeply loved, and fear true terrors, like school
bullies; their parents’ high expectations for
their futures; and the horrors, somewhat abstract to them, that their families have endured.
Stacey, whose grandmother requires constant
closeness during her visits to the U.S., realizes
“I was old enough to understand how one of
trauma’s many possible effects was to make the
traumatized person insufferable.” Christina,
who shares with her mother a love for only the
sourest fruits, narrates the first story, in which
she is on the cusp of being sent back to relatives
in Shanghai so that her parents can get their life
in better order, and the last, where she is older
and maybe finally accepting the phantom-limb
feeling that is the immigrant’s inheritance.
Zhang’s insightful, combustible collection is in
a class of its own. —Annie Bostrom
YA/M: Rookie contributor Zhang has
a built-in teen audience for these stories
about cursing, difficult, brilliant girls
trying to figure out their families and their
place in the world. AB.
Stay with Me.
By Ayobami Adebayo.
Aug. 2017. 288p. Knopf, $25.95 (9780451494603).
When Yejide and Akin fall in love, they decide not to have a polygamous relationship.
This surprises their Nigerian families, especially when, four years into their marriage,
Yejide still hasn’t become pregnant. Although
everyone recognizes how
hard Yejide is trying to
conceive, the family secretly
brings in a second wife. Yejide is furious, and desperate
to save her marriage. Adebayo’s debut novel expands
beyond the second wife’s
arrival to explore the darkest
moments of life and marriage. The story alternates between the late 1980s and a funeral
in 2008, setting Akin and Yejide’s marriage
against a period of political instability in Nigeria. Telling the story from both Akin’s and
Yejide’s perspectives, Adebayo describes parenthood and love with heartbreaking prose.
She deftly reveals secrets and the decisions
that set life-altering events in motion. The story’s fast pace brings surprising twists to Akin,
Yejide, and their families’ lives while delving
into their history, as a couple and as individuals. Readers of Stay with Me will eagerly await
Adebayo’s next book. —Laura Chanoux
What We Lose.
By Zinzi Clemmons.
July 2017. 224p. illus. Viking, $22 (9780735221710).
Clemmons’ spectacular debut is written in
bursts, from single-sentence pages to sparse
paragraphs, and combines photographs,
diagrams, charts, articles, and blog posts to
amplify an intimate story of personal loss into
a larger narrative of identity, family, race, and
socioeconomic access. Thandi is the daughter
of a New York–born mathematics-professor
father and Johannesburg-born-nurse mother.
She grows up privileged as a “light” African
American in Philadelphia. Her lifelong best
friend is Aminah, their bond
cemented by their parents’
friendship, which resulted
from their fathers being two
of the only five African American faculty at their university.
Thandi’s mother dies of cancer while Thandi is in college,
leaving her with a gaping
emotional void that only intensifies when she,
too, becomes a mother. Clemmons creates
haunting authenticity by imbuing Thandi with
autobiographical elements—parentage, life in
Philadelphia, attending Columbia, her mother’s death—but through enhanced fiction, she
pushes Thandi into global citizenry, shows her
skin color to be a barometer of fraught relationships and race politics, explores mother-child
bonds with brutal honesty, and even reveals
cancer to be “a disease of privilege” elevated
with ribbons and campaigns. Clemmons performs an exceptional sleight of hand that is
both affecting and illuminating. —Terry Hong