Prophecies, Libels, & Dreams by Ysabeau Wilce

YES!  More Califa stories!  The California/Aztec world created by Wilce is one of my absolute favorites, so when I stumbled across the existence of this compilation of short stories (cleverly compiled by a “historian” who comments on the likely historicity of each one in chapter Afterwards), I jumped at getting my hands on it.  I’m so glad I did!  Although the last two stories didn’t quite grab my attention–they take place after the events of the Flora series–the first five are wonderful.

We get the background of Springheel Jack in a flashy, hyper-descriptive little story.  But no contest, my favorite stories were the three about Hardhands and Tiny Doom.  Flora’s father was always one of my favorite characters, and it was so fun to read about him as an arrogant, powerful teenager.  Tiny Doom as a toddler was also hilarious fun, and as always, Pig is a scene-stealer.  Continue reading

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

If you ever want to fall apart in an emotional wreck, this is the book for you.  I sped through the first 200 pages, because as horrible as the story is, it’s addicting.  I got distracted by vacation, and it was a good two weeks before I was brave enough to pick up Jesus Land again.  I wanted desperately for Julia and David to have a happy ending, but I was terrified they wouldn’t.  I won’t tell you what I found out.

Jesus Land is excellently written, a first-person memoir written in present tense, so everything feels immediate and emotional.  Julia’s descriptions of growing up in an emotionally, physically, spiritually abusive family with her adopted black brother is horrific.  That they both get sent to the Dominican Republic to a Christian camp for rebellious teenagers that is even more abusive makes their story all the more horrifying, pitiable, and desperate.  Escuela Caribe has since closed, and I can only imagine that Jesus Land is largely to thank for it.  I am so glad Scheeres is speaking openly about her experiences.  Christianity has always been a home to people who would use God as a means to subjugate and intimidate others, and this has got to stop.  Continue reading

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

It’s impossible to read Keegan’s book of short stories and essays without constantly thinking about the tragedy of her too-early death.  Mostly this is because the introduction to her book is essentially a well-written eulogy.  But it’s also because several of her essays deal with death or a hoped-for successful life come to naught.

Keegan’s real life tragedy adds a layer of meaning to her work, but the stories stand on their own.  She was a remarkable talent, and her short stories are poignant, funny, and incredibly real.  She was able to slip into the skins of varying protagonists of different ages and sexes.  I loved reading her work, and I so wish she had lived to write more.

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Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012.  She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker.  Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.

As her family, friends and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits.  She had struck a chord.

Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation.  The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.

Release Date:  April 2014

Want another opinion?  Check out reviews at Love and Sparkles and Susan Coventry.