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The Porcupine of Truth.

Konigsberg, Bill (author).
May 2015. 336p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, hardcover, $17.99 (9780545648936). Grades 9-12.
REVIEW. First published March 1, 2015 (Booklist). Seventeen-year-old Carson has come from New York City to Billings, Montana, to spend the summer with his dying father, whom he hasn’t seen in 14 years. Things are different in Billings. For one thing, it’s quiet; for another, there are no animals in the Billings Zoo—well, except for a depressed Siberian tiger “with a look of existential despair in his eyes.” However, all is not lost, for it is at the zoo that Carson meets Aisha and falls instantly in love. There’s only one hitch: Aisha is a lesbian. Carson is disappointed, but, nevertheless, the two form an easy, bantering friendship, and together they set off in search of Carson’s grandfather, who vanished when Carson’s dad was a teenager. Their goal is to bring the dying man closure, but their quixotic search ends up testing their friendship. And the truth, when it emerges, may be as thorny as, well, a porcupine. Konigsberg (Openly Straight, 2013) employs a colorful style (a day is “warm, like bread just out of the oven,” and Carson’s new room is “like a remote bunker where people store their afterthoughts”) and crafts fascinating, multidimensional teen and adult characters. A friendship between a straight boy and a lesbian is relatively rare in YA fiction and is, accordingly, exceedingly welcome. And that’s the truth.— Michael Cart

School Library Journal

Should Online Book Reviews Be Anonymous? | Up for Debate
SLJ presents the latest Up for Debate regarding young adult author Kathleen Hale’s tale of her response to being catfished by a reviewer, which ran in The Guardian last October. What role can anonymity play in book criticism? Is it invaluable or irresponsible? A critic and an author respond.

When Boys Can’t Like ‘Girl Books’
Author Shannon Hale recently learned that some boys weren’t welcome at one of her school readings. It wasn’t the first time. Now the kid lit community is asking, are boys being discouraged from reading girl books?

Anonymous Book Reviews: License to Be Cruel
Too many anonymous reviewers use their alternate online persona as a blank check to for cruelty. It’s as if being faceless themselves allows them to forget that there is a living, breathing human being with a full range of emotions who will be affected by their words.

Library Journal

Audiobooks from Couch, Haddam, Larimore, & Debut Author Schumacher | Xpress Reviews
A double dose of Couch, one with Galdorisi, for action aficionados; Haddam writes for fans of Philadelphia; Larimore's title is a poignant window to Eastern frontier life; Schumacher shows a real talent and seems to have a very bright future

Graphic Novels from Ed Brubaker & Co. and Luke Ramsey | Xpress Reviews
Brubaker & Co.'s latest is a fun, fast read for fans of film noir and Golden Age Hollywood stories; more art collection than graphic novel, Ramsey's work will find a home with fans of surrealism, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and M.C. Escher

Nonfiction on Puffins, William Morris, Women of Science, Math, and Marie Curie | Xpress Reviews
Rescuing the endangered puffin, a fascinating, somewhat scholarly examination of William Morris, introducing headstrong women of science to a wider audience, a fresh take on Marie Curie

Kirkus Reviews

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As a member of the Scintilla, 17-year-old Cora possesses the rare ability to see people’s auras, making her both an object of desire and a target for harm.

A showdown between the few remaining Scintilla and the Arrazi, a group capable of feeding on people’s auras, leaves Cora’s father dead. She also discovers that Finn, her “rock-star poet,” is a member of this vampirelike group. Chapters bounce between Finn’s attempts to deny his murderous heritage and Cora’s discovery of her latent powers. Thankfully, in addition to her addled mother, Cora also has the support of fellow Scintilla Giovanni and Mari and Dun, friends from America. Following clues left in Dante’s Paradiso, they begin to unravel the history of the two races as well as to research ways of possibly defeating the Arrazi. The love triangle among Cora, Finn and Giovanni echoes that of Twilight and its many imitators. However, Cora, possessing both her own powers and a fierce determination to protect those she loves, is no shrinking violet. New enemies emerge, and new alliances are forged as the death toll rises. Passion and power are the driving forces behind this series that continues to deliver.

A solid if not terribly original sequel to Scintillate (2014). (Paranormal romance. 14 & up)

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Three stories wind round one another in unexpected ways in this science-fiction offering peppered with recurring symbols.

Fifteen-year-old Ariel Burgess survived a nightmarish attack on his home village by hiding in a refrigerator. He was taken in by a family in Virginia, and to his chagrin, he has now been packed off along with his adoptive brother, Max, to stay at Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, a free perk his family receives for the work done by their inventor father for a research group. A multitude of strange and grimly funny characters populates the camp, including Mrs. Nussbaum, a prim therapist whose forced cheer is at one point hilariously described as being “about one-half-octave above ‘drunkenly enthusiastic’ and just below the sound baby dolphins make” and who offers the first hint that all may not be as it seems. Two other narrative threads—one involving a ship called the Alex Crow stuck in the ice during the 1800s and the other detailing the madness of a character called the “melting man,” who hears various voices urging him to commit acts of violence—are juxtaposed against Ariel and Max’s story, smartly weaving their ways into it right up to the surprising conclusion.

Magnificently bizarre, irreverent and bitingly witty, this outlandish novel is grounded by likable characters and their raw experiences. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

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A memoir exploring how Johannes Vermeer’s paintings bestow bountiful gifts.

Poet White (Creative Writing/Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington; Vermeer in Hell, 2014, etc.) was stunned when he first saw Vermeer’s The Milkmaid during a visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. “Stillness. Not emptiness but stillness,” he thought as he gazed at the figure of the milkmaid. “A great soul balanced there.” When he discovered that only 35 of the artist’s works are on view in the world, he decided to see them all: in The Hague, Washington’s National Gallery, New York’s Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London’s Kenwood House, Royal Collection and National Gallery. In this lyrical memoir, the author recounts his travels in search of Vermeer, set in the context of love, loss and pain: a difficult childhood, alcoholism and recovery, the grueling death of his first wife and, most recently, a wrenching divorce. Along the way, he tells of two unpromising dates with women he met online; his love for his young daughter; and his frustration over the custody fight that will limit his seeing her. Vermeer’s “radiant canvases” serve as an antidote to his enervating sense of loss: “The rapturous inner life of each woman and the infinitesimally detailed and self-contained life of the street are each imagined as an undiscovered heaven on earth.” White’s descriptions are sensuous, precise and evocative. He describes one painting as a “dialogue between Vermeer’s favorite colors [that] pervades the entire atmosphere of the room.” A window “seductively refracts the world rather than revealing it, and in so doing makes it seem new and strange.” The figures communicate with one another in “a circular, closed system of glances.” White praises Vermeer for his sensitivity to “anatomies of intimate, unguarded moments,” a sensitivity that White himself brings to his luminous readings of the paintings.

An enchanting book about the transformative power of art.

<March 2015>