During these fleeting months of summer, a book-loving team of Malden community members have been considering which book to choose for the 2019 Malden Reads program. Now entering its ninth year, the popular “One City, One Book” program works to promote literacy and a love of reading AND build community in the city of Malden.
For the 20+ members on the Book Selection Committee, this meant reading a lot of books! The group has whittled down a list of more than 30 suggested book titles (gathered from the community) to the top four selections. Now, YOU have a chance to share your thoughts and comments on these titles as the committee considers the final pick. Detailed descriptions and reviews are provided below.
Chris Kosta, a veteran on the Book Selection Committee describes the process. “The group is open-minded to book suggestions, and has thoughtful and insightful discussions about which book should be the one for this year, trying to come to a group consensus on the decision.” Karen Lynch, a new member to the Book Selection committee, says, “The hardest thing in choosing a book is to find one that will reach and interest many people in the community, and that has a theme that can be related to or learned about by many.” Diana Jeong, also a new member on the committee this year, says, “Finding something that is accessible, enjoyable—as well as something that you can learn from, and that can truly bring the community together—that is not easy to do!”
After selecting the book, Malden Reads will offer a wide range of programming, beginning in February 2019. As in the past, this will include an Opening Celebration, book discussions, film screenings, community dinners at local restaurants, and a diverse array of other social and cultural events. Companion books for younger readers will be selected and appropriate programming for families and children of all ages will be offered.
Here are descriptions and reviews (courtesy of Amazon) of the top four contenders for the 2019 main book selection.
The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham
Growing up in rural El Salvador in the wake of the civil war, the United States was a distant fantasy to identical twins Ernesto and Raul Flores—until, at age seventeen, a deadly threat from the region’s brutal gangs forced them to flee the only home they’ve ever known.
In this urgent chronicle of contemporary immigration, journalist Lauren Markham follows the Flores twins as they make their way across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of immigration authorities, and from there to their estranged older brother in Oakland, Calif. Soon these unaccompanied minors are navigating school in a new language, working to pay down their mounting “coyote” debt, and facing their day in immigration court, while also encountering the triumphs and pitfalls of teenage life with only each other for support.
With intimate access and breathtaking range, Markham offers an unforgettable testament to the migrant experience. A highly readable work of nonfiction, “The Far Away Brothers” was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, Winner of the Ridenhour Book Prize, Silver Winner of the California Book Award, and Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
The New York Times writes, “’The Far Away Brothers’ is impeccably timed, intimately reported and beautifully expressed. Markham brings people and places to rumbling life; she has that rare ability to recreate elusive, subjective experiences—whether they’re scenes she never witnessed or her characters’ interior psychological states—without taking undue liberties.” Rebecca Solnit, author of “The Mother of All Questions” writes, “This brilliantly reported book goes so deeply into the lives of its protagonists and is so beautifully, movingly written it has some of the pleasures of a novel—but all the force of bitter truth, the truth about the lives of unaccompanied minors in the USA, about poverty, the ricocheting wars here and there, and the caprices and brutalities of immigration policy. Anyone who wants to understand more deeply how we got here and why we need to keep going until we get someplace better should dive into this book.”
Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
Full of great big heart and unexpected humor, Ludwig’s debut novel introduces the lovable, wholly original Ginny Moon, who discovers a new meaning of family on her unconventional journey home.
Ginny Moon is exceptional. Everyone knows it—her friends at school, teammates on the basketball team, and especially her new adoptive parents. They all love her, even if they don’t quite understand her. They want her to feel like she belongs. What they don’t know is that Ginny has no intention of belonging. She’s found her birth mother on Facebook, and is determined to get back to her—even if it means going back to a place that was extremely dangerous. Because Ginny left something behind and she’s desperate to get it back, to make things right. But no one listens. No one understands. So Ginny takes matters into her own hands…
Library Journal’s starred review states, “Ludwig’s triumphant achievement is borne from his own experience as the adoptive parent of a teen with autism, and his gorgeous, wrenching portrayal of Ginny’s ability to communicate what she needs is – perfection.” The Toronto Star writes, “At once captivating and heart-wrenching…. Ginny’s is a unique and compelling voice…. Ginny Moon is original, revealing and timely. And, with any luck, it will spark much-needed conversations around foster care, adoption and autism.”
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
In their remote mountain village in China [taking place in the late 1980s], Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen. The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people, one of the many minority groups in China. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city. As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.
A powerful work of fiction that explores circumstances, culture, and distance, “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond of family.
The Washington Post writes, “The hardships that confront Li-yan in her life are as compelling as the fog-shrouded secret groves where she and her mother cultivate a special healing tea. I could have hung out here in remote China forever, but See has wider ground to cover, including Chinese adoption, the international fine tea market and modern Chinese migration to the United States… A lush tale infused with clear-eyed compassion, this novel will inspire reflection, discussion and an overwhelming desire to drink rare Chinese tea.”
Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel
At age 23, Andrew Forsthoefel walked out the back door of his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, with a backpack, an audio recorder, his poetry books of Whitman and Rilke, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” He had just graduated from Middlebury College and was ready to begin his adult life, but he didn’t know how. So he decided he’d walk. And listen. It would be a cross-country quest for guidance, and everyone he met would be his guide.
Walking toward the Pacific, he faced an Appalachian winter and a Mojave summer. He met beasts inside: fear, loneliness, doubt. But he also encountered incredible kindness from strangers. Thousands shared their stories with him, sometimes confiding their prejudices, too. Often he didn’t know how to respond. How to find unity in diversity? How to stay connected, even as fear works to tear us apart? He listened for answers to these questions, and to the existential questions every human must face, and began to find that the answer might be in listening itself.
Ultimately, it’s the stories of others living all along the roads of America that carry this journey and sing out in a hopeful, heartfelt book about how a life is made, and how our nation defines itself at the most human level. Jay Allison, producer of The Moth Radio Hour writes, ”If you look at Andrew Forsthoefel’s journey on a map, it’s a tiny thread, an infinitesimal crack, yet it’s enough to break loose America’s stories: The open hearts and closed minds, the love and the fear, the beauty and danger, the wisdom.” Publishers Weekly writes, ”In this moving and deeply introspective memoir, Forsthoefel writes about the uncertainties, melodramas, ambiguities, and loneliness of youth . . . [his] conversation with America is fascinating, terrifying, mundane, and at times heartbreaking, but ultimately transformative and wise.”
The committee will be considering these selections throughout September before deciding on the final pick. All are invited to send thoughts and comments to email@example.com.
For more information about Malden Reads: One City, One Book, visit maldenreads.org.
Note of interest—here’s a list of other titles that were in the Top 9 but didn’t make the final cut: “The Astonishing Color of After” by Emily X. R. Pan, “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman; “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond; “Farewell to Manzanar” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston; and “Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok.