fiction · romance

Book Review: Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) by Sarina Bowen

I love hockey, though I haven’t been able to follow it at all during the pandemic (I have no desire to watch players and fans get COVID in real time, thank you very much). So when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books recommended Sarina Bowen as an author, I decided I wanted to read something of hers and started digging through what my library had to offer. And lo and behold, she had a hockey series! Onto my list went Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) (Berkley, 2016). It took me a while to get to it, though. Thanks to one of my New Year’s resolutions being to finally read all of the ebooks I’d been saving on my TBR, now was the time! (I adore my kindle; the ebooks just got pushed to the side in part because of worries about the library closing again and my needing to save something from my TBR in case that happened. No worries, though; I have a plan if that does go down!)

Georgia’s life is going pretty well these days. She’s the temporary head of PR for Brooklyn’s new hockey team, the Bruisers. She wasn’t quite planning on her father signing on as head coach, but they’re close, so it’s all good. She’s sharing a tiny apartment with a friend she loves. Sure, she hasn’t really dated much at all in the six years since she walked away from her high school love after having survived being raped while on a college tour, but everything else is perfectly fine. Georgia is finally feeling safe in her life.

Enter the team’s newest player, straight from the minor leagues: Leo Trevi, who just so happens to be Georgia’s high school boyfriend. Both are absolutely floored to see each other. Leo’s ready to pick back up where they left off; he never got over Georgia when she dumped him out of the blue six years ago. For Georgia, Leo’s reappearance in her life begins to dredge up old feelings she thought she’d moved past, and she’s not so sure about moving forward with him. But Leo’s patient, and Georgia’s feelings for him aren’t quite as over as she thought.

This is really a great, solid sports romance. Obviously there’s a content warning for rape; the subject comes up often (though never in any kind of detail) and is an integral part of the storyline, so if reading this would be difficult for you, it’s okay to choose another book. Be kind to yourself. Leo is gentle and patient at all times with Georgia; her moving on from him has nothing to do with his reaction to her attack, only her own misinterpretation. Georgia is strong and independent, but she’s lonely and still hurting, though she covers it well.

The romance in this novel absolutely sizzles! WHEW. I was rooting for the two of them the whole way, because they have some serious chemistry. And Sarina Bowen’s writing in the hockey game scenes is utterly top-notch. I was on the edge of my seat and could barely handle reading the tension. Who would win, who would score, the potential for serious injury, it was all perfectly paced and described. Ms. Bowen obviously knows hockey and has talent in spades for letting her love for the sport shine on each page.

This was a fun, fun, FUN book to read, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Sarina Bowen in the future.

Visit Sarina Bowen’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn

A while back, I did a search through my library’s card catalog (from home. My older readers, remember when physical card catalogs existed? I have a scar on my left hand from dropping the H drawer on it. My library tattoo, if you will…) for Jewish books. There’s not a ton of fiction out there with a Jewish theme (beyond the hordes of Holocaust books, that is. Though there has been more non-Holocaust fiction lately, and I’m thankful for that!), so I was happy to stumble across Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn (Walker & Company, 1992). A historical romance with a Jewish bent? Sign me up!

Miriam’s parents want to marry her off, but she’s shocked by the pale, nerdy Torah scholar they’ve chosen for her and immediately proclaims her intentions to travel through Europe with her doctor uncle instead of marrying that guy, shocking everyone in the room and humiliating the young man. A decade later, her uncle has passed away and Miriam is stuck in France, thanks to the war between France and England. A deal struck with Jacob Rothschild to return her home teams her up with Isaac Cohen, a fellow Jew, and Felix, an antisemitic British aristocrat fallen on hard times. They’ll be smuggling some gold back into England on their long journey home, and the tension between the three- for various reasons- is enormous.

Difficulties befall the group constantly while traveling across France, and Miriam and the two men begin to work out their differences- kind of. She develops affections toward both of them, but in the end, she’ll have to make a choice- if they get home safely, that is.

Miss Jacobson’s Journey turned out to be a really entertaining read. Felix and other characters’ antisemitism was, obviously, unpleasant to read, but it was necessary to both further the plot and in order to be historically accurate. Historical fiction, oddly, can sometimes not age well, but despite having been published when I was twelve, this seemed just as fresh as though it were a new release. Carola Dunn’s voice reminded me distinctly of Tessa Dare, and this book was an enjoyable read the whole way through.

Miriam is a delightful character, headstrong and independent, curious about the inner workings of her religion/ethnicity that have been denied to her by dint of having been born female (it wasn’t considered proper for women to learn Torah back then and Miriam’s curiosity and Felix’s ignorance of anything Jewish make for interesting educational bits that help further the plot). Isaac is sweet and proper; Felix, while being a smarmy oaf, makes decent strides in becoming a better person. And journeying through France in the 18-teens made for a wonderful literary field trip while being stuck in the house due to freezing temps and Omicron.

Visit Carola Dunn’s website here.

nonfiction

Book Review: 100 Side Hustles: Ideas for Making Extra Money by Chris Guillebeau

I’m a pretty determined person, and when I set a goal, I’m quite often so single-mindedly focused on it that I rarely step off the path toward crushing it. I’m absolutely that way with my TBR; I stick to reading the books I added to it and don’t often wander the library looking for new reads (especially these days. The less time spent indoors anywhere, the better). But on a trip to the library to grab things from my TBR, I spotted 100 Side Hustles: Ideas for Making Extra Money by Chris Guillebeau (Ten Speed Press, 2019) just hanging out on a shelf, and I was intrigued. “I’ve got some wiggle room,” I told myself as I shoved the book in my bag. “I can be flexible and read other things.” And I can! And it’s fun!

Chris Guillebeau is the creator of the Side Hustle School podcast (which I haven’t listened to, but it sounds fun). This book seems a likely companion read, or maybe more like the podcast in book form. Each chapter focuses on a certain type of side-hustle business- services, products sold that the seller doesn’t need to make or store themselves, etc- and provides multiple examples of someone who created a successful side hustle that fits these parameters. Some hustlers make a few hundred bucks per month; others pull in millions of dollars per year. Each side business started off as something distinct from the creator’s day job.

This was a really fun and interesting read. I’m not a particularly creative person, I don’t think, so being able to delve into the thinking processes of people who are was insightful. Some people turned their hobbies and passions into a business; others identified a need and set up a business that provided a solution. Still others brought a sense of humor to the whole thing and let it rip. I think my favorite business in the entire book was Troll Cakes, a bakery that will send a small cake with their mean internet comment on top to the commenter. Click on the link to see examples of their hilarious work. I laughed and laughed and laughed at that section. I would have never thought of anything like that!

I’m a bit of an anti-consumerist at heart- even more so now, after reading Made in China by Amelia Pang, so I have no desire to provide people with products that are merely wants and not absolute needs (I mean, everyone needs clothing, but don’t most of us already have more than enough? A business selling t-shirts with witty sayings on them would be fun, but I’d have some serious guilt over cluttering up the earth with even more unnecessary junk and contributing more to climate change and likely unfair labor practices, given that the product would most likely come from China). I’d love to have a side business that pulled in serious cash, but a lot of what was featured here- while absolutely fun to read about- wouldn’t quite mesh with my own personal sense of ethics.

However, I really did enjoy reading about others’ creativity. I wish my brain worked like the people featured in this book. Sometimes stepping off the path is a little fun, and I’m glad I grabbed this from the library, instead of just sticking to my list.

Visit Chris Guillebeau’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis

Obviously, I love nonfiction. If you’ve hung out in these parts for any length of time, you know that I’m a huge, huge fan of that whole section of the library. (I do enjoy fiction as well! I promise!) And I really love nonfiction that reads like a novel. The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis (WW Norton Company, 2021) is exactly that. I learned about it from another one of those best-of-the-year book lists and added it, but I was a little worried about reading it at first. Haven’t we all had enough pandemic at this point? Was my brain too full for this? Yes, and no, respectively. This is an amazing, fabulously-written, rage-inducing explanation of how we got here and why it’s so disgustingly bad out there.

Years ago, a father who worked for Sandia National Laboratories was fiddling with a new work program when his daughter, who had been learning about the Black Death, came in and saw it, and, after realizing that program might be used to predict disease, began working with her father to learn more. They eventually developed a whole project that they managed to get in front of some important people, people who were tasked (mostly self-assigned; kudos to George W. Bush for actually understanding how terrible a pandemic could be and putting together a team to work towards formatting a response. I hadn’t known about this) with working out a nationwide response to a potential pandemic.

This pandemic team saw what was coming. They understood what could happen and began working to put in place a plan to save not just American lives, but lives around the world. The one thing they didn’t expect: that the leadership at the top wouldn’t care. That there was no leadership, that no one cared about saving lives if it meant their egos may take a hit and if the economy might struggle and so, basically, every American would be entirely on their own.

This is a truly remarkable book about a group of wildly intelligent people who understood the dangers of communicable disease and did everything they could to prepare the country, only to be ignored, mocked, and treated as though they were hysterical nutjobs. We could have cut COVID-19 off at the start, could have led the world in the response and saved millions of lives. Instead, we went with the strategy of protecting Donald Trump’s already over-inflated ego and stroking the egos of the people at the CDC (who had little interest in stopping the pandemic, only seeing what happened as it rolled out and protecting the economy instead of lives). We decided to protect the economy instead of people. Michael Lewis has thrown the curtains wide open on how there’s really no such thing as leadership when it comes to public health in the United States.

I’ve pretty much lost all respect for and trust in the CDC after reading this; it’s explained so much to me about why they’re so desperate to get kids into schools with a virus variant that has an R-naught of TWELVE. I’m completely, utterly disgusted, and I’m grateful to Michael Lewis because this book was the perfect read for right now. I understand what’s going on so, so much better now.

If you can’t figure out why the US has made these decisions (or why your country has looked to the US for leadership and has made similar decisions that have resulted in so much death and suffering), if you need to make sense out of why we’re here at this moment in history and absolutely no one gives a shit about the body count, about the trauma being foisted upon healthcare workers (who are leaving in droves because of it), about why the people in charge are insisting that you get back to work even if you’re still sick, this is the book that will grant you some insight into the dearth of empathy and leadership in the top echelons of the United States. We’re all on our own; there’s no one coming to save us.

If I could’ve given this book ten stars, I would have. It was incredible.

Visit Michael Lewis’s website here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods by Amelia Pang

So much of my reading centers on learning about the world and figuring out ways to do better- to be a kinder person, to learn more about injustices around the world and what part I can play in ending them, to discover ways I can be friendlier to the earth. The global supply chain has been constantly in the news throughout the pandemic, and that’s had me thinking a lot about supply and demand and what exactly it is that we’ve all been demanding so much of. That’s how Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods by Amelia Pang (Algonquin Books, 2021) ended up on my TBR. I knew very little about how so many products are produced in China before; this book opened my eyes in a major, major way.

Back in 2012, a woman opened a package of Halloween decorations that had been sitting in her shed, unopened, for two years, only to be shocked to find a letter begging for help, detailing the gruesome conditions under which the decorations were produced. The woman hadn’t known too much about China’s forced labor system, sentencing political dissidents and ethnic and religious minorities to long sentences of slavery under hideous conditions, all to fulfill the relentless demands of global corporations, but after reading the letter, she began contacting human rights organizations in order to make them aware of what was in the letter.

Amelia Pang tells the story of Sun Yi, a Falun Gong practitioner imprisoned multiple times for dissent and the injustices he and so many others suffered and continue to suffer under China’s system of forced labor. Inmates are forced to work with little food, little sleep, no adequate medical care (unless they’re being examined as a possible forced organ donor; I wish that were an exaggeration), suffering beatings and torture, working until they drop dead. What China is running is essentially a system of concentration camps, and Amelia Pang has written a scathing exposé on the true cost of our consumerism.

This book is soul-crushing, and if you’re not reading it and thinking of all the absolutely unnecessary junk you’ve bought over the years that were likely manufactured with Chinese prison labor, I question your humanity. My husband owned one of the products specifically mentioned in the book, which completely and utterly horrified me. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’m going to buy much of anything ever again after reading this book- but that’s the whole point. I’m responsible for feeding into this system of demand. You are, took, if you’ve ever bought cheap products manufactured in China. We all are. And this needs to stop.

The problem is that there’s almost no way to tell which products are made using forced labor, a point which Amelia Pang stresses and outlines multiple times throughout the book. Often, because Chinese manufacturers will subcontract their labor out to these prisons, companies aren’t even fully aware of how or where their goods are produced. All they know is that demand is high, so they need to put pressure on their manufacturers to produce more and more at lower and lower prices. And what can be better for lower prices than not having to pay your ‘employees’ and forcing them to work 22 hours per day, beating them if they don’t produce as much as you want them to?

This is a book everyone needs to read. America isn’t the only country that feeds into this filthy system, though we are one of the biggest. I’m devastated to learn exactly how much torture and starvation and pain and death has gone into the products that fill my house, but I’m grateful that my eyes have been opened by this riveting book. I’ve never been that much of a thoughtless consumer, but I’m definitely going to be scrutinizing every single purchase I make from hereon out. No one should suffer or die for cheap goods.

Visit Amelia Pang’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt

Who doesn’t love gross stuff?

Okay, so, like…lots of people. I’m not one of them, though. I love gross stuff. The grosser, the better, and so when I learned about the existence of Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt (National Geographic Society, 2021), it went right on my list. What better way to gain more knowledge about gross things and how they affect our lives? Life is weird and squishy and pretty much just all-around disgusting, so I knew this book would be a perfect fit. And it was!

Human bodies are disgusting, when they’re alive and in death. Animals are pretty foul themselves. Insects? EW. And in Gory Details, science reporter Erika Engelhaupt answers all those weird questions that you’ve wondered but maybe haven’t felt brave enough to ask. Will my dog eat me if I die alone in the house? What happens if a cockroach climbs in my ear- and what’s the deal with earwax, anyway? Some of the gross things covered in this book might qualify as things you could have lived without knowing- eye worms, anyone?- but others will fascinate you endlessly.

So if you’re curious about crispy, sautéed grasshoppers (mmm), bacteria in your dog’s mouth, floating feet that wash ashore on the beach, and how, even in an empty building, you’re never, ever alone (so. many. facial. mites), you NEED this book. Embrace the morbid curiosity you had as a child and dig deep into this book. You won’t be disappointed- a little squeamish, maybe, and you may never want to eat seafood again (trust me on this one), but you’ll have so much fun learning these bizarre facts.

MAN, this was a fun book! What a great way to start off what will surely be a fabulous year of reading. I loved every page of this and didn’t want the disgusting facts to stop flowing, even as I squirmed and my stomach rolled. If you’ve ever enjoyed Mary Roach’s science writing, Erika Engelhaupt is of the same school, with that same snarky, accessible style that makes for a fun read the whole way through. I truly hope she comes out with an entire shelf of books in the future, because this was seriously great. Entertaining, informative, and a brilliant example of how much fun science writing can be.

Five stars, two thumbs up, and three cheers for this excellent book!

Visit Erika Engelhaupt’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller

My last read of 2021 was one from my list, and ended up being about one of my pet subjects: prison reform, or, more accurately for this book, life-after-prison reform. I learned about Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller (Little, Brown and Company, 2021) because it appeared on one of those best-of-the-year book lists. I added it and grabbed it on my next library trip. And it didn’t disappoint.

Scores of Americans are affected in one way or the other by our heinous system of mass incarceration. Whether it’s because they’ve done time themselves, a family member or loved one has been inside, or they or someone they know work for the system, few of us escape the burden of what mass incarceration has done to American society as a whole. Reuben Jonathan Miller knows this well. As a Black man, he’s fortunate to have grown to adulthood without having served time (since we imprison Black folks at a much, much higher rate than white, along with imposing longer sentences for the same crimes), but he hasn’t escaped the affects; his brother has served multiple sentences, and Professor Miller deals with the system constantly because of this.

Part memoir and all condemnation of the mass incarceration system that wrecks lives and wreaks havoc on the people tangled up in it, Halfway Home shows the difficulty formerly incarcerated people face in the afterlife of their sentences. How do they find a job when no one wants to take a chance on someone who has done time? How do they find a place to live when so many places have rules and laws against allowing people with criminal records to live there? How is it possible to survive when all the odds are stacked against you and society as a whole is determined to throw you away?

Halfway Home will open your eyes to the devastating effects of American mass incarceration. The punishment doesn’t stop when the sentence is served; the punishment never stops, and we keep punishing people until they die, with laws, regulations, and rules that limit where they live, where they can work, who they can spend time with, and the list goes on and on. And as for rehabilitation? No such thing in our system. Bootstraps only, and then we faux-wring our hands and are shocked, shocked, at the high recidivism rate.

Halfway Home will frustrate and likely depress you, but it will also open your eyes to what life is like for incarcerated people after the sentences end- and the frustrations that exist for the people who love them.

Follow Reuben Jonathan Miller on Instagram.

graphic nonfiction

Book Review: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu, translated by Montana Kane

Yet another example of how I shouldn’t be allowed unfettered access to the library when I already have books at home. But how could I resist? Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second, 2018), translated by Montana Kane, was just sitting there, begging me to take it home, and I was like, “It’s graphic nonfiction! It won’t take me long to read at all! It’ll be fiiiiiiiinnnnne.” And it was. : )

In short chapters, Ms. Bagieu tells the story of a woman from history- sometimes ancient, sometimes modern- who stepped outside of the lines society drew for her and created her own reality. Some you’ve likely heard of- Temple Grandin, Nellie Bly, Betty Davis, Hedy Lamarr- and others likely not- Naziq al-Abid, Frances Glessner Lee, Delia Akeley, Giorgina Reid. Each has a spark of something a little extra that allowed them to stand up against the restrictions society placed against women in their time and that inspired them to be a little more than what the world told them to be. The charming illustrations are perfect for Ms. Bagieu’s slightly snarky sense of storytelling; overall, this is a fabulous book of women’s history.

I learned a lot from this book; even at 41, there’s still so much I don’t know, and I was absolutely fascinated with every story in this book. That’s not to say I loved all the people portrayed; some were a little disturbing (but, as the author says, plenty of men act in similar ways and they’ve gotten away with it for centuries, which was, happily, something I also thought about when I was I reading this particular historical figure’s story. I love when my brain actually thinks intelligent things and not just things like, “Wait, why did I get up and walk into the kitchen again???”), but wow, there were just so many fascinating women portrayed in this book that I had never heard of. I would love to read anything else Pénélope Bagieu has written, because I enjoyed everything about the experience of reading this book.

It’s too late for the 2021 holidays, but this would make a fabulous gift for any young feminist (and that’s male or female!), even if they’re not much of a reader. The graphic nonfiction format makes it a quick read, but the format will also hold the attention of even the most reluctant non-reader, and the humor sprinkled throughout the stories keep the feel light. Pick up a copy for that niece that’s hard to buy for, or your feminist co-worker’s son. They’ll love it.

Visit Pénélope Bagieu’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by Gabrielle Glaser

I’ve always been fascinated by adoption; a lot of the books I read when I was younger featured characters who had been adopted or spoke about adoption in some way (looking back, it’s likely that adoption was finally becoming more normalized in the culture at that time and that this was likely the start of representation for people touched by adoption in kid lit). I’ve continued reading about it as an adult, delving into a lot of memoirs that focus on the different sides of adoption and the many emotions behind it. I was shocked when I read The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond, and depressed and full of rage after reading The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Ann Fessler. Those two book are why I knew immediately that I wanted to read American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by Gabrielle Glaser (Viking, 2021) the second I learned about it.

Margaret Erle was an average Jewish Baby Boomer teenager, in love with her boyfriend George in the early 1960s. When Margaret became unexpectedly pregnant, however, she fell prey to the societal shame of the time, shame that told her she was a sexual deviant, that she wasn’t capable of raising a child, that girls who had sex before marriage were the scourge of the earth and their babies deserved better than to be raised by them. Despite she and George wanting to get married, Margaret was sent to a home for unwed mothers to wait out her pregnancy. When she gave birth, her baby was taken from her and placed into foster care. Margaret never lost hope that she and George could get him back, but when the agency told her that if she didn’t sign papers relinquishing her son for adoption, they would send her to prison (a threat that, thanks to the wayward girl laws at the time, they could have legally followed through with. But hey, who needs feminism, right???), and Margaret knew she was out of luck.

Despite the agency’s demand that she forget this ever happened, Margaret unsurprisingly never forgot her son, never stopped looking for him or wondering where he was…or worrying if he was okay. Not when she and George got married just a few months after the baby’s birth. Not when she gave birth to her son’s full siblings. Not when they grew to adults and she became a grandmother. And thanks to a series of both fortunate and unfortunate events, her son eventually began looking for her, too.

Interspersed with the story of Margaret and her son are the history of those homes for unwed girls in the United States, where young girls who fell pregnant outside of marriage were sent so that they didn’t bring shame to their families and instead were forced into a lifetime of depression, rage, and trauma. The homes ranged from adequate to treating the young women like chattel slaves. Their babies were a product in high demand; the mothers were given all the respect of a wrapper stuck to one’s shoe.

This is an amazing book, highly emotional and disturbing in what our country did (and what a disturbing amount of people want to go back to). It bears a lot of resemblance to The Girls Who Went Away, but with one family (as it is) at the forefront, with history being the background. The Girls Who Went Away is more history, with various interviewees scattered around to illustrate the damage the history caused. Both are utterly incredible books; I can’t recommend either highly enough.

American Baby is the story of an unnecessary tragedy, of pain that never had to happen and a family that never needed to be separated. While the agency responsible for separating Margaret from her son no longer exists, but there are still homes like this, and while the coercion may not be entirely the same, I’m looking at the website for the home for pregnant girls in my hometown, and…they seem like they heavily push adoption. And adoption can be a great thing, but it’s not without its own trauma for both birthmother and child, and shouldn’t be something entered into lightly (and I’m deeply uncomfortable with the forced-religious aspect of this particular home. “Girls MUST go to church and participate in weekly Bible study.” Sigh) Anyway, beware of places like these and vet them before giving them your money. There’s no need to support places that give adoption a bad name and further the trauma that mothers and children already endure.

Visit Gabrielle Glaser’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

graphic memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teens by Ken Krimstein

I should never be trusted in the library alone.

I ran my son over there this week; he had lost his wallet earlier this year and hadn’t yet replaced his library card, plus there was a book he wanted to check out, so we stopped in. “I don’t need anything,” I told him. “Don’t let me look at books. I have two library books to read right now, plus two from NetGalley waiting for me. I don’t need to bring home another book.”

Friends, I brought home another book.

But how could I not??? I’d heard of When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teens by Ken Krimstein (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021). I hadn’t added it to my TBR, but it remained lodged in my brain, and as soon as I saw it standing on top of a shelf in the New Books section, I gasped and grabbed it (and then mentally yelled at myself, and then yelled at myself for yelling at myself). And then I checked it out and took it home, being sure to keep my eyes off all the other tempting books before we left the library.

I didn’t realize until I was at home that Mr. Krimstein is the same author of The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt, which I read and enjoyed right before the beginning of the pandemic (I’m going to assume the stress of that time erased his name from my brain, because I’ve thought of that book often since reading it). Always nice to spend more time with an author I’d previously enjoyed!

Just before Poland was invaded, writing competitions were held for Yiddish-speaking young adults in eastern Europe. Because of the invasion, the winners were never announced, and the manuscripts were hidden away from the book-burning bonfires of the Nazis. They were discovered again in 2017, painting a vivid picture of what life was like for young people standing on the edge of likely destruction.

As the competitions required anonymity, only one of the author’s identities has been discovered (and fortunately, she survived), lending the book a haunting feel when you read with the hindsight and clarity of knowing what was to come for these optimistic teenagers. The illustrations add to this feel, and the overall book is at once tragic and wistful, optimistic and with an overarching sense of doom. It’s a miracle that these writings survived at all; that they’ve been illustrated and published is an amazing testament to our strength and our ongoing fascination with this subject and our determination to not let these voices be silenced.

Because of the nature of this book- it’s graphic nonfiction- it’s a quick read, but the wonder and the unanswered questions will stay with you.

Visit Ken Krimstein’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.