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Trust by Hernan Diaz

How vast individual wealth is amassed often hits its mark in biographies. We know the usual suspects: Carnegie, Rockefeller, Jobs. Within each is a story of a commodity or a manufactured good, something tangible for the mind’s eye. Concentrated wealth by way of finance capital is a more nebulous biographic endeavor. Rarer still are novelizations about finance capitalists.

If such a novel sounds beyond dull and has you mentally placing it back on the shelf, then this year’s co-winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction should have you reconsidering. I’ll take it even further: If there’s one novel I would recommend, here and now, it would be “Trust” by Hernan Diaz, the aforementioned winner. It’s a brilliant work told in four parts, each with a different narrator. As such, it’s tempting to label all narrators as unreliable. Fair enough, yet some narratives appear truer than others, with each casting doubt on what you think you’ve already learned. Throughout, the reader is putting together an intriguing narrative puzzle: Who are Benjamin and Helen Rask?

The novel begins with a novella that reads like a biography that’s essentially free of dialogue. Written by a man named Harold Vanner, he pens as his first sentence: “Because he had enjoyed every advantage since birth, one of the few privileges denied Benjamin Rask was that of a heroic rise.” Bookish and solitary, a young Rask enters the 20th century with “no appetites to repress.” When his father dies during his senior year of high school, “relatives and acquaintances alike were impressed by Benjamin’s composure, but the truth was that mourning simply had given the natural dispositions of this character a socially recognizable form.”

To say that he’s without appetite is somewhat of a misnomer. True, the tobacco business that yields great generational wealth within the Rask family bores him. Using that wealth to buy and sell securities decidedly does not bore him. In fact, as he moves through early adulthood, the New York financial community is awed by his ability to capitalize on the market.

But Rask has a problem. His localized fame works against his need for solitude. Continuing his monastic life carries the risk of being labeled, understatedly, “a character.” Rask is cognizant enough to know “there was nothing more conspicuous than anonymity.” He finds the remedy in Helen Brevoort, his future wife. It’s more than a marriage of convenience. They both share ravenous intellectual curiosities. Helen, too, craves a life of the mind. Yet she’s more adroit in crafting their image, understanding that “privacy requires a public facade.” She and Benjamin host numerous gatherings at their New York City mansion, notably chamber orchestra performances.

Throughout their marriage, the Rask fortune grows to levels that leave other financiers wondering exactly how this was achieved. Helen, in turn, uses this wealth to become the nation’s leading benefactor of the arts. Then comes the stock market crash of 1929.

Rather than being ruined, the Rasks inexplicably profit from the crash. They are vilified in the newspapers, Benjamin accused of orchestrating the calamity for personal gain. The Rasks become social pariahs before a brutal illness takes Helen’s life. In the end, despite their lavish parties, no one can say that they really knew the Rasks.

The novel’s second narrator is a financier who worked during the time in question. The novel’s third narrator is Ida Partenza, a woman who’s recalling—many decades later—her employment by the second narrator. And the final narrator’s diary entries completely change the novel’s tone, revealing and answering much. To expound on these narrations here would steal some of the novel’s thunder.

I say “some” because even if someone had disclosed what was to come, I would have devoured the novel nonetheless. Diaz’s writing is exquisite. He captures the voices of the learned, ranging from securities traders to cultural elites. He can also jettison any high-mindedness and share the musings of someone—regardless of socioeconomic class—who’s nearing the great equalizer: death. “Is the strawberry in my mouth alive? Or is its flesh, speckled with the unborn, already dead?”

Partenza’s narration also reveals a life outside the rarefied air of the wealthy. She and her Italian immigrant father are barely surviving the Great Depression in their Brooklyn apartment. It doesn’t help that her father is a self-styled anarchist who detests the very concept of money, a quasi-Marxist who can’t stand the Marxists in power. Still, he and the financier who employs Ida have something in common. They both see the economic depression as a corrective, but for vastly different reasons.

Ida loves her father and doesn’t necessarily disagree with some of his views; yet she finds his dogma insufferable, bordering on fascistic. She can’t help but take some pleasure in knowing that her father must accept that her income comes from a finance capitalist, money that keeps them housed. This period of her long life is short, but a certain person and event within it will also become the standard by which she will forever “measure hatred.”

The stories within “Trust” surround how paper capital begets more paper capital. But it’s also a story about how views on money bleed into all interactions, whether someone realizes it or not. It’s a story about how reality can be made to fit mistakes, about the “bizarre sort of violence in having…memories plagiarized.” Some of life’s narratives are born of deceit, becoming earnestly told and believed with each retelling.

Reviewed by Jason Sullivan

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The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

In April, the Library hosted bestselling author Shelby Van Pelt.  Following her presentation, during the Q&A, an audience member asked what she was currently reading.  She shared that she had just finished a new book by Steven Rowley called The Celebrants. She loved it and thought that it was a powerful, thought-provoking read. 

I am a Rowley fan, so I knew I had to read his latest and immediately added myself to the Library’s hold list.  Several weeks later, the book was ready for me and I could hardly wait to start reading it.  

It is the story of five long-time friends – Jordan, Jordy, Craig, Marielle, and Naomi.  A pack that used to be six, but a few weeks before the group’s graduation from Berkeley, their friend Alec died. His death, right on the cusp of their group entering the adult world, without each other, left them shaken and questioning what their lives and connections would look like after graduation.  

After Alec’s funeral, the friends gather at Naomi’s parent’s house in Big Sur, and spend the time comforting each other and rehashing Alec’s death. During the visit, Marielle suggests the remaining friends make a pact. The rules of the pact being, they will drop everything and get together when one of them calls and requests it. They will throw the requestor a living “funeral.” A group celebration to stop and remind themselves that life can be hard, but worth it, especially with one’s friends in their corner. During times of need these gatherings will be pockets of time where they share their love for one another.  

During the next 28 years, the five friends meet up for “funerals” on three occasions, but the newest call to action is different. Jordan has something he has been keeping from the group and it will not be an easy secret to share, and for the group, not something easy to process.  

Rowley has crafted a beautiful composition to the power and beauty of friendship and what lifelong support looks like. This is not a sappy story, more of the matter-of-fact, read between the lines, style that Rowley is known for, but the elements combined to make an emotional (grab the tissues) and heartfelt offering that reminds readers to not leave anything unsaid. 

Full disclosure, I did not love this book when I first started reading it.  Some, if not all, of the characters are not very likable, at least not from the beginning of the book. They are flawed, and Rowley’s writing style and the way the book jumps between points of time, make this more challenging. But I am so glad I stuck with and finished it. 

At one point, it all just clicked and I was able to realize why he had written it to move from present day to past events in the uneven manner that he did.  The story and the friendships really resonated with me. Friends are there to provide hope, encouragement, and to remind you why this life is worth living. Kudos, Steven Rowley, you have crafted another winner. 

Find the book in the catalog. 

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane

There’s a refrain that spans time and distance. When circumstances are what they are, someone will shrug and say, “It is what it is.” In Dennis Lehane’s gritty new novel, “Small Mercies,” the residents of 1970s South Boston say this, along with such things as “Whatta ya gonna do.” It’s not a question, of course, because it’s a given that, with some things, there’s nothing you can do. The Irish American inhabitants of South Boston embrace both pride and defeat. They proudly call their neighborhood Southie, yet they know that no matter how hard they work, being poor is a lifelong reality. It is what it is.

Mary Pat Fennessy’s first husband died and her second husband walked out on her. After her son returned from the Vietnam War, he became hooked on heroin and overdosed. So that leaves just her and her teenage daughter, Julia (or Jules), sharing an apartment in Southie’s Commonwealth housing project.

Mary Pat “looks like she came off a conveyor belt for tough Irish broads.” She’s small, but—as with so many other Southie kids who grew up in “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” households—she’s ready to fight. Her mother once told her, “You’re either a fighter or a runner. And runners always run out of road.” Not that Mary Pat needed to be told that, really. It’s not as though there was anywhere to run within the cramped household.

Jules is different. There’s a softness to her that Mary Pat has never known but nevertheless tries to foster. Once, when walking with Mary Pat, Jules explodes into tears on a Southie sidewalk, prompting stares from others. Mary Pat, in turn, holds her daughter, proud “of this weak child she’s borne.”

Still, it’s Southie after all, where “most kids come out of the womb clutching a Schlitz and a pack of Luckies.” Here, Jules is no different, which Mary Pat accepts. And if Jules can stay away from some harsher influences (such as the heroin that killed her brother), she might be okay, Mary Pat thinks.

There’s something else raising May Pat’s ire. It’s 1974 and a court-ordered mandate to desegregate public schools is galvanizing Southie. Some white students from South Boston High School are to be bused to Roxbury High School, a predominately African American school. Jules is going into her senior year assigned to Roxbury. Mary Pat is having none of this. Nor are Southie residents accepting that some Roxbury students will attend South Boston High.

It’s in this charged environment that a young black man is found murdered in Southie. On the same night, Jules goes missing. A homicide detective, Bobby Coyne, investigates the murder as Mary Pat desperately tries to find her daughter. Are the murder and disappearance related? Bobby knows that he has a tall order in trying to solve a murder in Southie, its residents an “unknowable tribe.” Mary Pat, part of that tribe, must cross boundaries within her own neighborhood, which takes her into the world of Marty Butler, a neighborhood mobster who’s clearly a stand-in for real-life mobster Whitey Bulger.

Lehane not only keeps the plot rolling, his characters have depth. And throughout, there are nuances that place you right in the scene. When Mary Pat’s niece, for example, is described as “a girl who’s always managed to be twitchy and listless at the same time,” we see her, know her a little already. And, trust, Mary Pat certainly doesn’t stand apart from her neighbors when it comes to prejudices.

The Southie in this novel is not unlike other enclave neighborhoods. It possesses both benevolence and hate. It has a mobster who claims to protect his neighborhood, his people. But in reality, it’s “his people” he hurts the most. It, like neighboring Roxbury, has parents willing to do anything to protect their children from harm. But they know that, in the end, they can’t.

“It is what it is” may seem like a throwaway line. Frequently it is, to be sure. But it also embodies the heartbreaking reality that we, at times, live in an unjust world that metes out punishment for the simple audacity of being alive. The poet Charles Bukowski said there’s often “pain without reason.” Sure, you can unpack the events. But as Bobby says to Mary Pat: “This life. You know? Try and make sense of it.” Well, she does see how it is. And she’s done with anything resembling “Whatta ya gonna do.” She’s rendering judgments. And those on the receiving end had better watch out.

Reviewed by Jason Sullivan

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Addie LaRue was born in the wrong time. Her world is too small; she feels trapped by the village she lives in and trapped by the expectations that society has for her. She dreads the inevitability of marriage which will take away the bit of freedom she has managed to create.

When she finds herself on that final threshold – promised to a widower looking for a mother for his children – she cries out, begging to be given a path out of the future her parents and neighbors have planned for her. And someone answers.

A stranger appears, offering exactly what she wants, as long as she is willing to pay. Addie asks for time and for freedom, to belong to no one but herself. She agrees to give up her soul to the stranger, but only when she no longer wants it.

The side effects of her deal become evident almost immediately. Addie heads back home, grateful to have avoided her fate. She is shocked when her mother does not recognize her. Worse yet, as soon as her mother leaves the room she forgets having seen Addie. She disappeared from her mother’s memory as soon as she was out of sight.

Everyone Addie used to know treats her like a stranger, she is now alone in the world. She belongs to no one and she never will.

Three hundred years later, now living in New York City, Addie has managed to build a life for herself on the fringes. She has become an expert at living on only what she can steal.

Then, everything changes. Addie finds herself in a used bookstore, looking for something to pass the time. She makes a selection and walks out the door, knowing that the clerk will forget her as soon as she is out of his view. Until he chases her down to confront her about the theft. When Addie comes back the next day, certain that their interaction was a fluke, he says three words that she thought she would never hear again: “I remember you.”

Addie is confused, delighted, and desperate to form her first real human connection in hundreds of years. She knows that this man, Henry, could be a trap set for her by the stranger, but she cannot walk away from the possibility that he presents.

She tells Henry about everything: the stranger, the deal she made, and its consequences. For three hundred years, her curse has kept people from understanding Addie’s story but Henry listens – and he believes her. Because he made a deal too.

THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE by V. E. Schwab is an unusual novel, to say the least. It jumps back and forth largely between Addie in 1700s France, struggling through the limits of her new life, and Addie in 2010s New York City. The novel is surprisingly optimistic. Despite Addie’s tragic circumstances, she is able to find joy in her invisible life. She is still delighted by the people that she meets and awed by the experiences that she has only had because her life has gone on this long.

On the other hand, Addie and Henry are both keeping secrets – and the stranger has not given up his hopes of collecting the soul of Addie LaRue.

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Book review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

Happy Place by Emily Henry

With summer on the way, it is a good time to start thinking about what books to take on vacation. To me, vacation reading has become synonymous with a category of fiction called Beach Reads.  These are some of my favorite books to read while sitting at the beach enjoying the sand, surf and summer vibes or even on a staycation where I am nowhere near the beach. 

Beach Reads, according to Book Riot, are “light, fluffy, or compulsively readable novels that are perfect to take on vacation.”  One of my favorite authors, Emily Henry, has a brand new addition to the Beach Read genre, just in time for summer, and it is my pleasure to share about it. 

In Henry’s latest offering, Harriet, Sabrina and Cleo have been inseparable friends since they were assigned to room together their freshman year of college. Years later, the trio have grown up and added partners Wyn, Parth and Kimmy to their group, but they still meet yearly, at Sabrina’s family’s house in a small coastal Maine town for the annual lobster festival.  This is one of Harriet’s happy places and she is excited to see her friends again. 

Currently, Harriet is a determined surgical resident who tries to keep the peace wherever she goes. If her friends argue, she provides a distraction.  This has been one of her key life skills since childhood when her parents and her older sister would get into giant fights.  Harriet is the peacemaker and it has served her well over the years.  She is always trying to make others happy.  So much so that in her own life she is not sure what actually makes her happy.  

This, and a combination of other events, have led to Harriet and Wyn splitting up, however; her friends are unaware because neither of the pair have told anyone.  Wyn agreed he would not attend the trip, making up an excuse so their friends would not find out, so Harriet is shocked to arrive at the cottage and find Wyn in the kitchen. After a big announcement from Sabrina, the pair have to quickly figure out how to handle the situation and what they will do for a full week in the presence of their closest friends. 

Soon they are rooming in one of the primary bedrooms, which offers no privacy, all the while trying to avoid each other at all costs.  What could possibly go wrong? 

Emily Henry is one of my favorite authors.  Her books always have strong, flawed characters that are struggling to figure out life. Her writing is witty and I like how she draws the story out. The reader never gets the full story during the introductory part.  She leaves clues and hints and parcels it out a bit at a time. It keeps readers turning the pages and guessing what will happen next. While this newest title reads a little predictably, I loved the themes of connection, growth and soul searching that were included.

Happy Beach Reading this summer! 

Find the book in the catalog. 

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

I first stumbled upon author Sabaa Tahir when her fantasy series An Ember in the Ashes was suggested to me. While this book review does not cover that series it was fabulous and I have since suggested it to those interested in the fantasy genre. So when Tahir released a standalone book in 2022 I knew I had to read it, and I am so glad that I did. Something that has drawn me to Tahir is her prose. Tahir is an author that can invoke in readers the emotions that her characters are experiencing, possessing a talent for bringing to life emotions that typically can only be felt. That being said, Tahir’s writing might not be for every reader as she does not shy away from “negative” emotions or topics; on the contrary, she explores them, putting them right in your face, and makes you listen. All My Rage follows two Pakistani American high school students as they navigate trauma and healing, and how to do so together.

Misbah is from Lahore, Pakistan, where she married as a young woman before her and her new husband immigrated to California to experience the American Dream. Misbah’s dream comes to life when they become owners of a motel, which she names The Cloud’s Rest Motel. Misbah takes care of the motel and the finances as her husband struggles with alcoholism. Misbah’s passions are the motel and her son, Salahudin, and Salahudin’s best friend, Noor. 

Salahudin (Sal) has never entirely fit in with his fellow students until, in elementary school, a new student walks into his class: Noor. Noor is like him, a Pakistani American struggling to make friends and find a place in the world. This instantly draws the two together and they become as close as family until high school when they have The Fight. Now they aren’t talking and everything is going wrong. When tragedy strikes Sal is faced with an impossible situation that brings Noor back into his life. 

Noor moved to America when she was 6 years old following a tragedy that put her in the care of her uncle, who owns a liquor store in California. Noor finds kinship with Sal, a fellow outsider, and Misbah, who is like a mother to her. Despite this Noor struggles to both be accepted and fit into the culture around her, yearning for the culture she never got to fully experience in Pakistan. Noor’s uncle is impossibly strict, and when Sal and Noor get into The Fight, Noor is left feeling completely alone, even cutting communication with Misbah. When Sal attempts to save The Cloud’s Rest Motel Noor is caught in the backlash, forcing both of them to discover what friendship is worth.

All My Rage is narrated by these three complex characters, jumping to the past for Misbah’s narration, and the present for Sal and Noor’s. All three characters are simultaneously reeling from the tragedies of their past while facing down the tragedies of their present. Intermixed they are also finding love and friendship. Sal and Noor have a friendship that, even in the wake of The Fight, runs deep, providing moments of hope and laughter within the novel. The novel highlights, among many other things, the struggles individuals who immigrate and their children can go through, and how dark life can be. Yet within that darkness Tahir also provides light, layering devastation with a story that is truly moving.

Note: If you are considering reading All My Rage I suggest looking at the content warnings before reading. 

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Review by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

Mallory Viridian spends her life keeping people at arms distance, trying to keep them alive. Death has  followed her for as long as she can remember.

When she was very young, her mother died. Then one of her teachers was murdered, followed by her guidance counselor. Just before she dropped out of college, an annoying classmate and a room service attendant were both killed during a class trip – in two unrelated murders. The final straw came when the guest of honor was murdered at a birthday party Mallory had been forced to attend.

After that, she was done with humans. Thankfully, alien life had just made first contact. Mallory made her case and was granted sanctuary aboard a sentient space station called Eternity.

Life aboard Eternity isn’t always easy. The station is outfitted to care for a variety of alien lifeforms, from the giant rock people called the Gneiss to the ever-present blue and silver wasps of the Sundry hive mind.

With only three humans on board, the station has more pressing matters to deal with than catering specifically to their needs. Mallory has been left to find out which of the alien foods her body is capable of digesting – including a semi-molten liquid rock that could conceivably be called “coffee.”

Her only remaining human contacts are Adrian, the self-important Ambassador of Earth, and Xan, a fellow sanctuary-seeker/stowaway.

Life aboard Eternity has been pleasantly murder-free, but Mallory has just gotten word that everything is about to change. An Earth shuttle is headed to Eternity, and with those human passengers will come a murder. Mallory is certain.

Mallory has a sixth sense for impending death; first she begins to notice unusual coincidences. At the birthday-party-turned-crime-scene, she was almost guaranteed to only know the person who brought her. Instead she finds Xan.

The two had been friends in college, before she dropped out to avoid more murder and he dropped out to join the military. Seeing him out of the blue is not a good sign. Sure enough, after reconnecting with her old friend for a few minutes, the party-goers’ game of Werewolf turns into an actual murder.

With the certainty of this experience, Mallory knows that more humans on Eternity will mean another death. And when her premonition turns out to be correct, the murder ripples out through the station – and no one on Eternity will be safe.

STATION ETERNITY by Mur Lafferty is a well-plotted murder mystery encased in a science fiction shell.

It takes place in the near-future, which helps make the world feel familiar. Human technology and motivations have not changed much in Mallory’s time and it is easy to understand the distrust some humans have for their new galactic neighbors.

The book can occasionally seem choppy, cutting back and forth between Mallory’s present and quick vignettes to the other murders she has solved. These vignettes do not always tell the whole story. Mallory reserves the right to skip details and bring the murders up again before the reader gets the whole picture.

The book’s perspective shifts around between characters, deeply exploring the world that Lafferty has built while still keeping the urgency of the unsolved murder front and center. STATION ETERNITY’s aliens are unusual but relatable, and I would say the same for its humans.

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Review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Sam Mazur and Sadie Green first met, at age 11, in a hospital game room in California.  Sadie was at the hospital visiting her older sister, Alice, who was fighting cancer, and Sam was recovering from a horrific car accident that left his foot crushed. Sadie had upset her sister and been banished from the hospital room and a nurse noticed her and told her of the hospital’s game room. It was a quiet first meeting; unbeknownst to Sadie, Sam had hardly spoken to anyone since the car accident. While they did not speak much, they had a great time trading the Nintendo controller back and forth playing Super Mario Brothers, while discussing Oregon Trail and the woes of dying from dysentery.

When hospital staff learn Sam not only spoke to Sadie, but also engaged with her by playing video games for hours, they encourage her to continue to visit the hospital. Her mother even mentions that it could count toward her community service goal that she is working on for her Bat Mitzvah. Sadie continues to visit Sam and the two are fast friends, however, Sadie does not tell Sam that she is receiving community service credit for all the time she spends playing with him. Nor, that she would have continued their visits without the community service credit. She loves their time together and Sam is the best friend she has ever had. Eventually, Sam learns of Sadie’s deception, and believes that her actions were purely motivated by the service project. After fourteen months of friendship, fun and games their weekly visits end.

While they sometimes see each other at high school functions, the two do not speak again until a chance encounter takes place in Massachusetts, on a subway platform.  Sadie is attending MIT, and is running late for a class, and Sam who is attending Harvard has just exited the subway when he passes Sadie, recognizes her and calls out.  They make small talk, and then upon departing Sadie asks Sam if he still plays games. He says he does and Sadie shares a disc containing a game she has created for one of her classes. 

Later that night, Sam and his roommate Marx play the game together and are both impressed with Sadie’s work. Sam is soon brainstorming ways to get Sadie to work with him during summer break to create a game of their own. When approached with the idea Sadie is interested and what follows is the first in a series of collaborations that will span a lifetime.

The remainder of the novel shares their adventures in gaming, and while many others enter the story, Sam and Sadie remain the central focus. Theirs is one of friendship and love, but also distrust, and at times, heartbreak.  

Author Gabrielle Zevin is a master storyteller and her character development is brilliant. Each one is so completely developed it is hard to stop thinking about them even after finishing the novel. Zevin’s work is breathtaking and should not be missed. I loved this book! It has a backdrop of 90s style gaming that combines with well-rounded, yet flawed characters to tell a compelling story of love, distrust, hope, hurt and healing. It is a love story, but not in the traditional sense. Sam says it best, “To play requires love and trust.” I feel this about reading, too. It requires trust of the author and Zevin does not disappoint.

Find the book in the catalog.

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Hello, fellow reader. Before going too far I must confess something to you: I had ulterior motives when deciding which book my review would focus upon. Nothing nefarious, but with you in mind. My motive is Remarkably Bright Creatures is the book selection for Joplin Reads Together, the library’s premier community read. Common at public libraries across the country, a community read encourages participants from the community to all read one book, and the library provides programs that coincide with the selected book. Through the month of April Joplin Public Library will have a multitude of programs that relate to themes within Remarkably Bright Creatures. There is no cost to participate in Joplin Reads Together or any of the related programs, AND I’m not done with the awesomeness yet – Shelby Van Pelt is visiting the library April 27th to discuss her book. Another plus to the community read is participation is whatever you’d like it to be; you can read the book and come to all the programs in April, or simply read the book and come just to the author visit (or don’t, that’s an option, too!). However one is inclined to participate, Joplin Reads Together offers a shared experience with the library and readers in the community.

In a small tourist town in northern Washington septuagenarian Tova Sullivan works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning the outside of aquariums and mopping the floors after closing. As she makes her way from aquarium to aquarium she talks to the sea creatures inside. While Tova acknowledges the animals don’t know what she’s saying and don’t respond (or so she initially thinks), this characteristic made Tova instantly likable to me for her kind, calm manner. A widow, Tova’s husband recently passed away, a sorrow she carries with her along with grief for her son, who died under mysterious circumstances 30 years prior. At the Aquarium Tova seems to find some solace for her loneliness.

Also at the Sowell Bay Aquarium is Marcellus McSquiddles, an irritable giant pacific octopus that vehemently rejects, among other things, his mortifying last name (he is an octopus after all, NOT a squid). Marcellus has a lot of opinions; he spends his days observing the people that come to the Aquarium, perplexed by their human ways and possessing an uncanny ability to pinpoint facts about them just by observation. In Marcellus, Van Pelt creates an entertaining and funny character that pulled me in. I found myself looking forward to the chapters told from his perspective. Also in Marcellus Van Pelt creates a friend for Tova; Marcellus listens to all Tova has to say as she cleans, and finds his own way to communicate back. As a result of this friendship and the grief Marcellus sees within Tova he is determined to assist her in uncovering what happened to her son all those years ago.

In addition to Tova and Marcellus the novel is full of characters from around the town that are friends to Tova and invested in her life. There’s grocer Ethan who has a crush on Tova, the Knit-Wits who are Tova’s closest friend group, and new-to-town traveler Cameron who is searching for his family. Many of the novel’s characters seem to be on the verge of a new start, driven by their unique searches for that certain something missing in their life. Tova especially is haunted by her past and how to move forward with her future. Can Marcellus help her?

Within Remarkably Bright Creatures Shelby Van Pelt creates a realistic fiction that pulls at the heartstrings. Van Pelt manages to address the heavy burden of loss and grief in a relatable manner, all while maintaining a gentle, often humorous narrative. Tova’s struggle with how to leave the past in the past, while also bringing its memories to the future, is something I think many readers could identify with, especially those that have lost a loved one. While I myself am not 70 years old like Tova is, I found her additional struggle with aging, particularly after losing those closest to her, a necessary conversation that should be examined by a community often and purposefully. How can we assist those in our community that are, day to day, alone? What is the difference between the community we live in, and the community we choose to make for ourselves? If this is a book you pick up to read I hope it brings you the entertainment and thought provoking questions it brought to me. And if Joplin Reads Together is something that interests you I hope to see you at one of the library’s April programs to hear what you thought of Tova and Marcellus.

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Review by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

The Scholomance Trilogy by Naomi Novik

Beginning with A DEADLY EDUCATION, Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy is a contemporary fantasy series about magically gifted teenagers forced to struggle for survival in a school determined to destroy them.

Once a year, the fourteen-year-old magically-inclined children of the world are pulled into the Scholomance – a sentient school designed to teach them how to use their powers. After four years, those who survive are sent back to their families.

The danger inside the school pales in comparison to what waits for untrained magic-users outside the school. When they are young, their parents can protect them. However, as their powers develop, they are more likely to attract maleficaria – monsters that eat magic and the people able to cast it.

The school itself keeps most of the maleficaria out, but it is not foolproof. Students are in constant danger of being attacked. Mals are able to get into the one portal that links the Scholomance to the real world: the graduation door.

Graduation is the last gauntlet that Scholomance students have to face. In order to leave, students must face the mals that have made it inside since the previous graduation.

El has spent the last three years keeping to herself. This is part of the strategy she developed for survival: keep under the radar until her final year, then reveal her powers and find a team with a good chance of getting out alive.

And it would be working, if not for Orion Lake.

No one attracts El’s ire like Orion Lake, the golden boy of the school. He represents everything that she hates most about their world. His mother is a high-standing member of the magical organization in New York, one of the biggest in the world, and he behaves like a storybook hero. He spends all his time fighting other people’s battles – literally.

Inside the Scholomance, it is supposed to be every student for themselves. Danger lurks around every corner and the school is doing its best to put weaker students at risk – with fewer students its resources will go further, after all. Everyone has to make their own way.

Now that she is one of the most experienced students in the school, El finds herself confronted with what this philosophy actually entails. Against her better judgement, she realizes that she cannot let others get hurt when she has the power to help them.

Throughout the first two books, El builds relationships with her fellow students, letting her guard down after three years of mutual distrust between herself and her classmates.

Unfortunately, the more she learns about them, the harder it is to face that many of them will not make it out of the Scholomance. But between her closely-guarded powers and Orion’s superhero attitude, maybe they can work together to fix this broken system.

Naomi Novik’s Scholomance Trilogy concluded last fall with THE GOLDEN ENCLAVES, which starts directly after El’s graduation. Even though they are back home, El and her friends have to hit the ground running. Being magically gifted has not gotten any easier now that they are out in the real world.

 

Review written by: Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

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