The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas. At home in a neighborhood riven with gang strife, Starr Carter, 16, is both the grocer’s daughter and an outsider, because she attends private school many miles away. But at Williamson Prep, where she’s among a handful of black students, she can’t be herself either: no slang, no anger, no attitude. That version of herself—”Williamson Starr”—”doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.” She’s already wrestling with what Du Bois called “double consciousness” when she accepts a ride home from Khalil, a childhood friend, who is then pulled over and shot dead by a white cop. Starr’s voice commands attention from page one, a conflicted but clear-eyed lens through which debut author Thomas examines Khalil’s killing, casual racism at Williamson, and Starr’s strained relationship with her white boyfriend. Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted—and completely undervalued—by society at large. Ages 14–up.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

second-mrs-hBy Susan Rivers

When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away? To what extremes can war and violence push a woman who is left to fend for herself?

Told through letters, court inquests, and journal entries, this saga, inspired by a true incident, unfolds with gripping intensity, conjuring the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel. As she comes to understand how her own history is linked to one runaway slave, her perspective on race and family are upended. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war,The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how this generation—and the next—began to see their world anew.

This is one of those books that progresses so seamlessly that you marvel at the authenticity of it. In fact, Susan Rivers has said that the novel was inspired by her discovery of a mysterious crime in South Carolina during the Civil War, and she wrote her novel to make sense of it; once she started writing, the story poured out through these myriad voices. But because Rivers is also a meticulous researcher, every part of the story has some basis in fact. As in Hillary Jordan’sMudbound, you will feel that you’re in the hands of a natural storyteller who knows how to breathe life into this period of history, the young Placidia, and all of the people around her. This is a remarkable, moving, and unforgettable debut.

Faster Than Light

Faster Than LightFaster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 by Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut poet and UConn professor

Conjuring numerous voices and characters across oceans and centuries, Faster Than Light explores widely disparate experiences through the lens of traditional poetic forms. This volume contains a selection of Marilyn Nelson’s new and uncollected poems as well as work from each of her lyric histories of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century African-American individuals and communities, and The Cachoeira Tales, a long riff on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Poems include the stories of historical figures like Emmett Till, the fourteen-year-old boy lynched in 1955, and the inhabitants of Seneca Village, an African American community razed in 1857 for the creation of Central Park. Bivouac in a Storm tells the story of a group of young soldiers, later to become known as the Tuskegee Airmen, as they trained near Biloxi, Mississippi, “marching in summer heat / thick as blackstrap molasses, under trees / haunted by whippings.” Later pieces range from the poet’s travels in Africa, Europe, and Polynesia, to poems written in collaboration with Father Jacques de Foiard Brown, a former Benedictine monk who becomes the subject of Nelson’s playful fictional fantasy sequence, Adventure-Monk! Both personal and historical, these poems are grounded in quotidian detail but reach toward spiritual and moral truths.

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