PL’s Brendan Dowling talks with author Yoojin Grace Wuertz about her recently released novel “Everything Belongs to Us.”
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Hala Alyan’s debut novel Salt Houses spans four generations in the life of a family on the West Bank, following their journey from the early 60s to the present day. Through all of the challenges the family endures—wars, invasions, love affairs, and displacement—they are held together by the luminous Alia. Equal parts headstrong and effervescent, Alia loves her family with a fierce compassion and remains bonded to them as various forces compel them to move to Kuwait, Beirut, Boston, and Paris. Alyan’s background as a clinical psychologist is evident in the novel, endowing characters big and small with an emotional complexity. The Millions praised Salt Houses as a “heartbreaking and important story” while Bustle said that it “illuminates the heartache and permanent unsettledness experienced by refugees all over the world.” Alan spoke with Brendan Dowling via telephone on April 18th.
With his debut collection of short stories, Big Lonesome, Joe Scapellato demonstrates a confident grasp of plot and character that is equal parts Larry McMurtry and George Saunders. Each story examines some facet of America’s West—its characters, environment, and mythology—and celebrates the peculiarities of the region with mordant wit. Publisher’s Weekly praised Scapellato as “an exceptional surrealist” while Kirkus Reviews singled out his ability to be “unpredictable, witty, and self-aware while remaining heartfelt.” Joe Scapellato spoke to Brendan Dowling via telephone on February 2oth.
Jami Attenberg’s extraordinary All Grown Up focuses on Andrea, a thirty-nine year-old who’s abandoned her passion for painting in favor of a financially safe career in an advertising firm. In elliptical chapters, Attenberg depicts the various characters in Andrea’s world: her mother, a former social activist; her brother and sister-in-law, a glamorous couple whose lives have been upended by caring for their terminally ill daughter; and the different men she’s dated. Newsweek called All Grown Up “impossible to put it down” and Booklist praised it as “stinging, sweet, and remarkably fleshed out in relatively few pages.”
Simple incremental steps go a long way to effect change. Start with a new voicemail message or venture out from behind the desk to help patrons on the floor. Try something new. If it doesn’t work, try something else. There are no mistakes!
Booki Vivat’s exuberant Frazzled introduces readers to Abbie Wu, a wisecracking sixth grader struggling with the transition to middle school. Her two best friends have thrived in their respective activities, while at home she is bookended by a brilliant older brother and adorable younger sister. Abbie’s voice, by turns droll and vulnerable, is bolstered by Vivat’s […]
Adelia Saunders’ Indelible centers around Magda, a young Lithuanian woman who possesses a burdensome ability: she’s able to read the major and minor events of people’s lives on their skin. She copes by not wearing her glasses (rendering her barely able to see at all), but she’s jolted out of her routine when she reads her own name on the face of Neil, a young American graduate student studying abroad in Paris. Meanwhile, Neil’s father Richard has also traveled to Paris to research the life history of his mother, a prolific and influential author who abandoned him as a toddler. As the novel progresses, Saunders deftly reveals the different secrets that comprise all three characters’ lives and shows how they are inextricably linked. Adelia Saunders spoke to Brendan Dowling via telephone on October 19th, 2016.
M-E Girard’s Girl Mans Up tells the story of Pen, a gender-nonconforming high-school student, as she navigates a tumultuous year that involves breaking free from her domineering friend Colby, staking her independence from her overprotective parents, and embarking on a romance with her alluring classmate Blake. Pen’s vibrant and funny voice will draw readers in […]
Jade Chang’s novel The Wangs Vs. The World traces the rollicking road trip of a brilliant family. The story kicks off when Charles Wang, a wealthy industrialist, loses all his money in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. Left without a place to stay, he gathers up his two youngest children: Andrew, a college student who dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian, and Grace, a death-obsessed teenager with a thriving fashion blog. They pile into an ancient Mercedes station wagon to drive cross country to the home of the oldest sibling, Saina, a conceptual artist reeling from a devastating break-up. As the characters adjust to their diminished financial means, they also navigate new territories in their personal lives as well. The New York Times praised the book as “unendingly clever” while Newsday called it “a firecracker of a debut.” Jade Chang spoke to Brendan Dowling via telephone on October 27th, 2016.
Imbolo Mbue’s transfixing debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, details the lives of Jende and Neni, two Cameroonian immigrants who have moved to New York to pursue the American Dream. The story begins in 2007 when Jende takes a chauffeur job with Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. More financial opportunities arise as Neni begins to work for Cindy, Clark’s wife, and the two families’ lives are soon deeply intertwined. When Lehman Brothers collapses, all four characters’ ways of life are threatened and they each begin to buckle under the financial pressure. Mbue’s lush and compassionate prose makes each character come to life and forces the reader to reexamine the notion of the American Dream. The New York Times Book Review hailed Behold the Dreamers as a “capacious, big-hearted novel” while The Washington Post praised Mbue as a “bright and captivating storyteller.” Mbue talked with Brendan Dowling via telephone on August 29, 2016.
Kate Saunders’ The Secrets of Wishtide introduces readers to Laetitia Rodd, a private detective in 1850s England. Droll and pragmatic, Rodd works undercover for her barrister brother to investigate cases for his clients. When a wealthy lord questions the identity of his son’s recent paramour, Rodd goes undercover as a governess on his estate to uncover the truth. Yet Rodd quickly learns that each family member has something to hide when a murder takes place on the estate. Equal parts cunning mystery and dissection of Victorian society, The Secrets of Wishtide marks the debut of an intriguing new series.
After more than twenty years as a financial journalist for the Wall Street Journal, and authoring three books for adults, Karen Blumenthal turned to writing biographies and retellings of pivotal events in American history for young people. Her titles include Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929 (2002); Let Me Play: The […]
Ben Winters’ unsettling new novel, Underground Airlines, takes place in an an alternative United States where the Civil War never occurred and slavery still exists in four states. The book centers around Victor, a former enslaved person who took a job as a Federal bounty hunter in exchange for his freedom. Tasked with tracking down a recently escaped slave known only as Jackdaw, Victor travels to Indianapolis in order to insinuate himself into the the local chapter of the Underground Airlines. the abolitionist movement. Yet as he untangles Jackdaw’s flight to freedom, Victor realizes that none of the people around him—from Jackdaw to Victor’s enigmatic boss—are what they seem. NPR dubbed Underground Airlines “indisputably a winner” and Ann Patchett praised it in Time, noting that it “kept me up at night and changed the way I saw the world once I was finished.” Ben Winters spoke to Brendan Dowling via e-mail on August 16th.
Nicole Dennis-Benn’s searing debut novel Here Comes the Sun explores the relationships among three Jamaican woman: Margot, who works at the front desk of a Montego Bay resort; her mother, Delores, a charismatic vendor at a tourist market stall; and Thandi, her fifteen-year old half sister, a brilliant high school student who both women work overtime to […]
“The True Story of My Heart”– Kate DiCamillo Talks friendship, summer reading, and “Raymie Nightingale”
Kate DiCamillo has been a favorite of young adult readers since the publication of her first novel, Because of Winn Dixie. That book was named a Newbery Honor book in 2001, while her later books The Tale of Desperaux and Flora and Ulysses both won the Newbery Award. Her most recent work, Raymie Nightingale, is sure to be similarly embraced by fans and critics alike. Focused on a trio of ten year-old girls who–for very different reasons–have all entered the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, Raymie Nightingale follows the girls’ exploits through baton-twirling classes, an animal shelter break-in, and a reconnaissance mission at a nursing home. At its heart is the title character, who leaps off the page with her resilience and ingenuity. Brendan Dowling spoke to Kate DiCamillo via email on May 9th, 2016.