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What We’re Reading: April Round-Up

2017 April 6

What We're ReadingSpring is slowly stretching out its green tipped limbs here in Minnesota. With the new season comes renewed curiosity, and that translates to everything from daily decisions to my book selections. I think you’ll see that echoed in today’s staff round-up, too. What are you reading that is fulfilling your curiosity these days?

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (HarperCollins, January 2017)
Reviewed by Cassidy

Mary Addison brutally murdered a baby. Allegedly. At least, that’s what the judge decided when he sentenced her to “baby jail” when Mary was just nine years old. Now Mary is 15, and though she’s stuck in a group home with a crew of her violent and volatile peers and a case officer who couldn’t care less, she’s determined to make the most out of her life. . . until she becomes pregnant with her boyfriend, Ted. Mary is suddenly faced with a choice: stay in the system and give up her baby, or tell the real truth of what happened that night that three-month-old Alyssa lost her life. This book is one part thriller and one part searing indictment of the prison industrial complex (think Orange is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myers meets The Bluest Eye), rattling along at breakneck pace until the very last page. Oh, and no spoilers, but if you’re a big fan of twists, this book contains the be-all, end-all of surprise endings.

The Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio De Maria, translated by Ramon Glazov (Liveright Books, 2017)
Reviewed by Josh

I’m caught between two books, one nearly finished and one nearly started. Giorgio De Maria’s The Twenty Days of Turin (translated by Ramon Glazov) is a weird, scary story that combines a strange, Borges-esque Library, a pseudo-Woolfian collective, temporary psychosis, and a narrator trying to uncover how all of this strangeness disappeared into the past. It’s a small book, and I’m savoring every little bit of it. Once I’m out of this nightmare vision of Turin, I’ll leap into Yoon Ha Lee’s Hugo-nominated science fiction novel Ninefox Gambit, about which I know very little but for which I am totally excited!

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery (Atria Books, 2016)
Reviewed by Taylor

Despite my fascination with octopuses, I didn’t know much about them before reading this book. First of all, I learned that it’s octopuses, not octopi. I learned that octopuses have complex nervous systems that dominate the arms, where they have an excellent sense of touch—and taste. I learned that octopuses taste with their suckers, passing food from arm to arm to mouth, where they have a sharp beak like a parrot. I learned that there’s still so much more to discover about these intelligent, playful, problem-solving, color-changing, shape-shifting escape artists.

Intrigued by octopuses, author and naturalist Sy Montgomery makes regular visits to the New England Aquarium, followed by a sudden ambition to get scuba certified, all along the way meeting people who share her unexpected love for the eight-armed creatures. In The Soul of an Octopus, Montgomery chronicles the observations and intimate encounters she shared with each octopus she came to know, weaving together thoughtful, moving stories of her friends—humans and underwater aliens alike—while exploring the question of consciousness and the remarkable connections made between species.

Shade the Changing Girl #1-7 by Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, et al (DC Comics/Young Animal, 2017)
Reviewed by Aaron

Take one birdlike alien from a parallel dimension. See her adopted by the most boring parents her sci-fi world has ever known. Then drop her
into the body of a hateful (and hated) Earthling teen. This is the formula that Shade the Changing Girl is built on. The series inherits a name and aesthetic from comics that positively ooze the times they were made: Steve Ditko’s psychedelic Shade the Changing Man from 1978 and 1990’s mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know reboot, the Changing Girl incorporates its forerunners’ lore without being bogged down by it; in fact, Shade queers just about everything: sci-fi, adoption, sexuality, family, and home. It’s a comic about the people that exist between and outside of accepted norms. Shade’s world is a Guillermo del Toro fantasy colored by Lisa Frank, and I can’t get enough.

Abandon Me: Memoirs by Melissa Febos (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Reviewed by Wren

Melissa Febos visited the Loft (where I work) last month. I hadn’t read any of her work prior to her visit, but let me tell you: I have officially reached fan-girl status. When researching prior to her visit, I came across this essay, “The Heart-Work: Writing About Trauma as a Subversive Act” and immediately signed up for her full-day short essay workshop and bought Abandon Me. I also found out via Twitter that not only do we share the same first name (ICYMI, my real name is Melissa, not Wren), but we also share the same Myers Briggs classification of ENFJ. YUP, FAN GIRL, HI. One thing (out of many things) Febos said in the workshop that really stuck with me was (paraphrased): tell your story with enough specificity that it reveals a universal truth. Her essays and memoirs do exactly this. Febos has a very different background than my own, but each essay resonates with a thread of universality within my own experiences. The essays in this collection juxtapose the legacies left by both her birth father and the sea captain father who raised her, and delve further into her relationships with drug addiction, love, and other familial relationships. Abandonment is an overarching theme that runs throughout these essays, and Febos doesn’t shy away from the raw, tender spots of her own story. This is a beautifully lyric, heart-opening exploration of her life and the universality of vulnerability.

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