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The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
A beautiful coming-of-age story told in free verse. Acevedo is a slam poet so this book has a cadence to it, a rhythm, a street-wiseness that perfectly suits her tale. It's hard to put it down because the flow is so seamless and the descriptions vivid and sensory. I could almost smell Harlem in the summertime. Xiomara is a 15-year old Dominican-American girl living with her very devoutly Catholic mother, absent father, and her closeted gay brother, Twin. She feels unheard and finds support in the notebooks where she records all her emotions and opinions--these run the gamut from first love, sexual harassment and unwanted attention, rape culture, body image, and the restriction of a Catholic upbringing. Poetry is her secret way of putting words to, and making sense of the inequalities that she sees and feels every day, but when she is given the opportunity to take part in a poetry slam, she has to decide whether she is brave enough to go public. At the core, this is a book about claiming your voice and being seen.
My Ariel is a deep immersion into Sylvia Plath's Ariel, a series of glosas on the poems that make up that book, by wonderful Montreal poet Sina Queyras. Queyras' poems in this book dive into this massive work of Plath's, and also use it as a launching point and pivot point for her own exceedingly affecting observations and memories. Queyras has noted that she only really started to "feel" Plath once she had children, and the fact of motherhood and the body, in youth and age, its changing location in various family, permeates the book. This is a stunning book of poetry, full of energetic, physical words and emotion, and no shying away from investigations of power dynamics and history. A fascinating, engrossing book of poetry by a pre-eminent Canadian author.
I eagerly read everything David Sedaris writes, so couldn't wait for Calypso to come out. Calypso is as hilarious as anything he's written (like, laugh-so-hard-you-cry funny), but he is increasingly allowing the tragedy to show through. The pieces on his family in particular are extremely powerful, mixing sorrow (the death by suicide of a sister; the decrepitude of his father) with thoughtful reflection and absurd humour. He is now writing entirely without fear, and this makes for great reading. The quest to feed his removed (benign) tumour to a snapping turtle is an epic thread; his chapter on Eastern European curses is jaw-dropping. A highly recommended read!
By Sophie Blackall
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
The immersive experience of wonderful picture books is particularly well-suited to making history come alive. In this case, it is the the lost way of life of the lighthouse keeper. In the expert hands of author-illustrator Sophie Blackall, the reader is treated to a glimpse into the lonely vigil of a lighthouse keeper “on the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world” (based on a real lighthouse on an island at the northern tip of Newfoundland). His daily routine consists of keeping the light bright - polishing the lens and refilling the oil, chipping the ice from the lantern room windows and winding the clockwork that turns the lamp - to warn sailors of peril. He watches the wind and water, logs his experiences, and remains steadfast in his isolated watch, sending letters by bottle on the sea. Life is punctuated by occasional daring rescues of shipwrecked sailors and rare visits from a tender which delivers supplies and finally his wife. Together they make a life for themselves there, have a child, and when their role as keepers of the light is overtaken by automation and they are moved back to the mainland, it is clear that they will miss the elemental quality of this unusual life. Blackall’s soft, precise illustrations in Chinese ink and watercolour are at once nostalgic and evocative (reminiscent of her Caldecott Medal-winning book Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear), inviting us to imagine life in a remote round house surrounded by the sea in all its fury and beauty.