The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner
Francesca’s life is complicated. She has a crush on her best friend’s boyfriend. She blames herself for the drowning of her younger brother, and her father may be having an affair with their neighbor. Gae Polisner’s excellent story-telling gives us what starts off seeming to be a breezy, summer-at-the-beach romance, but turns out to be a heartfelt exploration of how to recognize what lasts forever and how to let go of the things that cannot be kept. Every character in The Summer of Letting Go is authentic, and while some of the coincidences are at first hard to accept, that turns out to be the point—we cannot always make rationale sense out of the surprises that life gives us, but we can respond to the surprises with compassion for everyone involved, including ourselves.
That Shakespeare Kid by Michael LoMonico
When Peter is accidentally thumped on the head with his mom’s massive Riverside Shakespeare, he suffers a mild concussion and suddenly can only speak lines from Shakespeare plays. In Michael LoMonico’s clever novel That Shakespeare Kid, we see Peter effortlessly speak the language that bedevils so many students. At first, other students think he’s faking it, and then they become annoyed. But when Peter appears on The Today Show and later performs as an especially convincing Romeo, his classmates begin to change their opinions about both Peter and William Shakespeare. Although I admired and enjoyed this story, it also seemed to be saying, “Notice here how Shakespeare should be presented to young people.” I tend to agree with the book’s approaches, but the pedagogical tips took me out of the story a couple of times. That Shakespeare Kid will appeal to many readers, especially those familiar with Romeo and Juliet.
Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd
Chip Kidd is the graphic designer of more than a thousand book covers, including Jurassic Park’s iconic black-on-white T-rex. Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design is an entertaining and enlightening trip through graphic design principles that will have readers closely examining the ways that images and typography mix to grab our attention. Abundantly illustrated with examples from his own work and those of other graphic designers, Go is relevant, interesting, and useful for young designers working with both print and digital designs.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Alternating between a tiny Italian coastal village in the early 1960s and present-day Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins gives us the story of a young American starlet who didn’t quite make it big, a young Italian hotel owner with dreams of the big-time, a washed-up rock musician, and … Richard Burton. Author Jess Walter artfully blends all of these plot threads in a bright, entertaining, and sometimes devastating drama that stands in contrast to the fabulous fiasco of the Liz-and-Dick Cleopatra movie and a misguided unmade film about the doomed Donner party. Although some of the dialogue and situations seems a little too much in places, Beautiful Ruins is a captivating novel about the kinds of choices we can make when things get messy, as they inevitably do.
Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers by Kate Messner
Kate Messner’s Real Revision is filled with ideas for motivating young writers to engage in meaningful revision. Many of the activities are focused on developing fiction pieces, but Kate clearly shows how to apply them to other genres. Both pencil-and-paper and more tech-savvy approaches are included. Using the ideas in this book will help students (and teachers) see revision as not just something a writer does artificially at the end of a writing project. Revision is how we clarify our own meanings, to ourselves and to our readers.
Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half is a collection of stories, self-therapy sessions, and advice about dogs. Brosh’s artwork looks like it was drawn during electrocution, while the writing is hilarious in places, reflective in others, and always self-deprecating and honest. Each of the pieces in this collection hits its mark. Hyperbole and a Half is a unique, rewarding reading experience, as is the blog of the same name.
Stitches : A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair by Anne Lamott
I’m a long-time admirer of Anne Lamott’s writing and outlook. While Stitches features her appealing trademarks, it also seems shallower and less insightful than her other recent books in this genre. It pretty much boils down to “Sometimes life is hard. You can get through it though.” I can never dislike an Anne Lamott book because I respect her reflective capacity so much, but I like this one a little less.