North by Scott and Jenny Jurek is inspiring and insane. Being a runner myself makes me typically love running adventure stories on a visceral level, but Scott is a master of the sport at distances I quake to even imagine. His record-breaking trek northward on the Appalachian Trail is something to behold–North lets us in close, showing how the Jureks used a journey longer and harder than any runner really has the natural-born right to attempt as one of restoration, in the sense that sometimes we need to break ourselves before we can heal. This portrait of Scott’s tenacity as the ultimate ultrarunner will hurt you, humor you, and make your heart soar. The alternating perspectives between Jenny (also a superathlete!) and Scott show a portrait of a deep, deep marital love, and what it takes to show up for one another. The photos are also a great addition. The one of Scott touching the sign at Katahdin made me cry–anyone who has undertaken and conquered an intense physical challenge will know that special kind of heartbroken pride.
To Be Honest is a charming, of-the-moment young adult read. Martin creates a narrative voice around her main character, Savannah, that is realistic and lovably imperfect. It is refreshing to find a teenage heroine who is body positive and romantically confident in her larger figure. Savannah very much owns her own story. Just seeing the cover–with that big, gorgeous girl on the front–is going to mean so much to so many readers who have been waiting forever for a fictional leading lady to identify with. Her body, while such an important aspect of the book from a representation perspective, really isn’t the main focus–we see her struggle through relationships, form her identity, and cope with family tension and dysfunction. I was cheering Savannah on the whole time. As is typical in YA, there are definitely moments where characters or aspects of plot are oversimplified, but the romantic tension and family toxicity feels real and will please young readers. Candy-sweet in a good way.
Lincoln in the Bardo is simply a brilliant work of art. George Saunders takes the historical truth of President Lincoln’s grief over his dead son, and imagines it into a bizarre and stunning meditation on the unseen tension between the living and the dead. The story’s mouthpiece is not one, but rather a cacophony of restless ghosts–a structural risk that pays off admirably for Saunders, creating something as weird and gorgeous as it is indelible. The novel romps, slinks, and keens through the liminal space of haunting, exploring the uncertainties of identity that characterize our uneasy relationship with mortality. This book is remarkable.