Susan McCloskey has worked at Bookshop Santa Cruz since graduating from UCSC in 2000. She is the former Event Coordinator at Bookshop and continues to consult for the store. In her other life, she is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She believes in story, and loves the meld of working with books, narrative, and people.
It is hard to believe that this is a first novel—the writing is so deeply rooted with truth and lyrical brilliance. The story is told through the eyes of 14 year-old June and how her understanding of the world shifts with her Uncle’s death from AIDS. It would be a mistake to view this book as only a story of loss and tragedy, as it is instead a story about growing up, and the sharp beauty that comes with the discovery of how to live truly and honestly. I cannot say enough about the stunning reach of this novel—the way that it will move you and the way that it becomes embedded into your own understanding of courage and veracity. This is one of those books that is not written to just be read, but instead it is a novel that is felt. My soul responded—what more is there to say?
A novel is truly captivating when it creates a world that is wholly original and solely its own. This novel does that in such a compelling way that your heart, your mind, and your intellect experience a feeling of precariousness that comes with belief and faith. Now imagine how Budo feels. Budo is Max's imaginary friend. Although only Max can see him, he is real. Real as in, well, real. He and the other imaginary friends watch over their children until the day comes that the child stops imagining them. Then they are gone. Budo exists because Max has faith: that is the premise of this captivating novel—but I am leaving out so much because I cannot ruin the story. I can suggest Emma Donoghue’s Room as a comparison, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but really, all that you need to know is that you will fall in love. This is a book about bravery. It is a book about grief at the order of things that cannot be changed, and about the magnificence that comes with those that can.
This memoir struck me on so many levels—not just for its exquisite and textured writing but also for its powerful honesty and startling frankness. Ian Brown’s son Walker was born with an extremely rare genetic syndrome. To his parents, caregivers, and even his doctors, Walker is a mystery, unable to speak and truly communicate; his disease makes Walker and his needs, feelings and even his symptomatology a complete unknown. As investigative journalist, Ian turns his focus to the disease, traveling the world to meet with the few doctors and parents of children who know CFC (cardiofaciocutaneous), and becomes immersed in this community. He comes to find the value of every human life, and begins to accept the wonder and love of Walker just as he is.
I know that book groups might be hesitant to read a book that falls into the Young Adult genre, but truly I think any story that can depict childhood and coming of age in a way that can immerse both young and adult readers, is a story that is well worth discussion. In When Things Come Back 17 year-old Cullen narrates what happens when his small town suddenly becomes a hotspot after what was thought to be extinct woodpecker is spotted. Cullen is both impressed and mortified by his town's transformation—suddenly his peers are sporting woodpecker inspired haircuts and bird-watching becomes an ideal date. But then when his 15-year-old brother goes missing amidst the chaos, Cullen’s surprise turns to something more vigilant and shadowed. The gift of this YA novel (which was the winner of the coveted Michael Printz award) is the way that regret, surprise, and humor are all interweaved. Layered and remarkably unique, this novel calls to mind how ordinary and extraordinary are only a coin’s throw apart.