The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

astonishing A beautiful exploration of mental illness, family, and culture. The Astonishing Color of After takes place immediately after Leigh’s mother has committed suicide. Leigh, who is already a teenager discovering her place in the world, struggles to come to terms with what happened – and how her mother’s depression has affected both Leigh and her father. Believing that her mother’s spirit is still present, Leigh travels to Taiwan to reconnect with her estranged maternal grandparents.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful look at mental illness and grief, as well as an exploration of Taiwanese culture (the author’s background as well.) It’s also a touching reflection on family. The chapters move back in forth in time – present day Taiwan, and in the past, with flashes of memory surrounding Leigh’s mother and parents.

The subject matter here could easily become either melodramatic or saccharine, but Emily X. R. Pan has managed to write an incredibly thoughtful and balanced book that explores heavy topics with grace and a deft hand. I loved the writing, and I loved spending time with Leigh in Taiwan as she rediscovers her mother’s roots. Quietly powerful and highly recommended. (Submitted by Veronica)

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Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

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It’s a science fiction novel depicting a time in the near future when a small number of people will be forced to essentially become refugees in space to preserve the human race because of a calamity that will make the earth uninhabitable.

This book had me riveted. The author does an amazing job of painting the picture of the events leading up to the necessity of humans having to escape to space. He develops the characters really well and includes twists and turns in the plot that are highly plausible in the given circumstances. It’s a lengthy novel at nearly 900 pages, so not for the faint of heart, but I highly recommend it. (Submitted by Seline)

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Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

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I can’t remember why I placed a hold on Tell Me More, but I’m happy that I did. On the dust jacket it cites the Huffington Post, who call her “the poet laureate of the ordinary.” This book evoked all sorts of responses from me; I laughed, I cried, I sent photos of passages to friends. It was the recounting of experiences in life that provide suggestions about how to handle heartbreaks and joys that a reader might encounter in their own life. I plan to re-visit it. (Submitted by J.Wilson)

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The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

wrathdawnThe story is centered in a middle eastern city called Khorasan, many years ago. It follows a teen girl named Shahrzad who is on a revenge seeking mission to kill the young king of Khorasan. The king has been marrying a different woman every night, and then having them murdered the next day for many months now, and he had Shahrzad’s best friend killed. Shahrzad is the first woman to volunteer to be the next bride sacrifice, and the king cannot help but wonder why this girl would give up her life. As the two start to spend more time together, Shahrzad begins to realize that there must be a reason why the king kills these women, and she is determined to find out why. I was so impressed with how strong the female characters were in the story, and how the author seemed to make a point that women are capable of saving themselves. The story has romance, suspense, action, humour, and it is a bit like Game of Thrones mixed with Aladdin but for Young Adults. A good book to read in the summer. (Submitted by Joy)

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Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

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The Indranan War series by K.B. Wagers

Behind the Throne (Book 1)

After the Crown (Book 2)

Beyond the Empire (Book 3)

This far-future science fiction trilogy (so far) holds enticements for a range of tastes. Within the covers of each volume you will find imperial palace intrigue featuring some truly nasty villains, action-packed fights and wide-screen space battles, and complex characters negotiating interwoven relationships and learning more about themselves than they might want to know. Whew!

Interstellar gunrunner Hail Bristol is dragged unwillingly and unceremoniously back to the home from which she fled many years earlier. Her family wants her—needs her—back, and Hail has little or no choice in the matter. Turns out she is no ordinary gunrunner. Her family is the ruling dynasty of the Indranan Empire. Hail wants nothing to do with them, for complicated reasons that become clear only later in the story. But Indrana is in crisis, and Hail is their last, best hope for survival.  She’ll need all the toughness and cleverness that she has honed in her years of surviving and thriving plying her trade in the most violent corners of the galaxy. She will also need friends—but who can she trust? (Submitted by Jim W). 

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The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke Harris

deepest wellThere are many facets to stories of childhood trauma, and many layers. As we see in Nadine Burke Harris book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, trauma is no stranger to anyone: if we haven’t experienced ourselves, we know a loved one who has had experience with or witnessed it. When I read this book, I could not help but think of the children who are now separated from their parents at the borders and of children fleeing Syria. There are many places where trauma is a fact of life, and the inner city can be one of them.  WHO recognizes that social conditions are important factors in health, and the all contribute to our total health. Nadine Burke Harris’ in The Deepest Well, gives a gripping account of her exploration of the link between adverse childhood experience or (ACE) and toxic stress. She is a social innovator in public health and serves a vibrant community, in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point (BHP). She describes the challenges she faced personally and professionally when she opened the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) as well as her attempts to have ACE and toxic stress, recognized as serious issue in children’s health, which included getting pediatricians to use screening protocols for ACE in pediatric assessments.

Burke Harris, a pediatrician with a Master’s in Public Health, writes with compassion and balance about connecting the stress of her patients with their emotional and physical well-being. When offering free pediatric care to children via her clinic, CYW, in BHP, an area that is on the extreme end of San Francisco’s social and economic inequality, Burke Harris saw clear relationships between the trauma that the community’s children experienced and their emotional and physical health. Toxic stress can, and often does, manifest itself in disease and poor health. Her examination discusses how poverty in the inner city can result in greater incidence of poor health with difficult living conditions, more exposure to violence, and untreated mental illness. While San Francisco’s median income was above $100,000 in 2016, City-Data shows that 31% of residents of Bayview Hunters Point live below the poverty line as of the last U.S. Census.

Poverty contributes to trauma, but Burke Harris reminds her audiences that trauma crosses all socio-economic boundaries. She tells us not only the stories of the children that she treated, and still treats, at the BHP Center, but also about her personal journey of trauma. Trauma does not stop in the wealthier neighborhoods. Helping overcome childhood trauma depends on your caregiver. There are engaged and nurturing caregivers in every community, just as there are neglectful caregivers in any community; however, if you live in inner city poverty, your chance of seeing violence randomly outside the home is likely. In one of Burke Harris’ case studies, a teenage boy, recovering well from childhood abuse, sees his best friend is killed on the street in front of him. Understandably, this incident is a setback for his health. The children Burke-Harris treated suffer from multiple adverse reactions, and have debilitating physical and psychological challenges ranging from asthma, obesity, failure to thrive, to stunted growth.

Although Burke-Harris’ accounts of traumatic experience can be shattering, such as the boy who stopped growing at age four when he trauma is exclusive to inner city poverty.  Burke Harris reminds her audience repeatedly that toxic stress is an issue in any income bracket. Bringing this to a wider audience, Burke Harris shows us that society suffers when it ignores childhood trauma.

Thankfully, something can be done to help children (and adults) suffering from toxic stress. In fact, according to Burke Harris, part of the antidote to toxic stress is truly integrated health treatment including a combination of healthy relationships, counselling, meditation, exercise, and nutrition. The  caregiver and their response to trauma play a huge role, but, sadly for those in underserved areas, so do  the resources available to the child.

Though the subject matter is tough, the book and its author are inspiring, positive and passionate. This title comes as a hardcopy, eBook and is also available as an audiobook narrated by the author, which I highly recommend.

Watch Dr. Nadine Burke Harris here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk or find her book at your local library in audio, eBook or hardcopy: Burke Harris, Nadine. (2018) The deepest well: Dealing with the long-term effects of childhood adversity. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

(Submitted by J.Wile)

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

 

 immortalistsHow would your life change if you knew the date on which you will die?  This is the premise of Chloe Benjamin’s novel, The Immortalists.  It follows the lives of the Gold Family from 1960’s New York City to San Francisco in the 1980’s, Vegas in the ‘90s, to the present day in Upstate New York, and everything in between.  The trajectory of the lives of the Gold siblings is permanently altered when they meet a psychic who reveals to each of them the date they will die.  Benjamin takes us along for the ride as they grow from curious and innocent children in the summer of 1969, to adults with full and complex lives.  One by one, we discover how their lives unfold, and how knowing when the end will come both burdens and frees them in unimaginable ways.  Benjamin tackles the question of fate with clarity and heart, and I highly recommend The Immortalists for fans of thought-provoking, sweeping family sagas. (Submitted by Sarah J.)

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