Reading Human Rights

You’re invited! Reading Human Rights is a monthly book discussion hosted by the Howard County Office of Human Rights & Equity and Howard County Library System. We read books that promote cultural awareness, diversity, and equity.
Tuesdays at 6:30 pm in person at the Miller Branch

The title appears in large, all caps with fire illustrating the letters. The author's name appears below in cool blue.

May 24: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Register at bit.ly/minorfeelingshcls

Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world.

Available as a book, eBook, and eAudiobook.

A stark cover with a faded map has the title in red shadowed letters and a small gold star.

Jun 23: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
Register at bit.ly/juneteenthdiscuss

The essential, sweeping story of Juneteenth’s integral importance to American history, the book is told by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and Texas native. Combining personal anecdotes with poignant facts gleaned from the annals of American history, Gordon-Reed shows how, from the earliest presence of Black people in Texas to the day in Galveston on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in the state, African-Americans played an integral role in the Texas story.

Available as a book, eBook, and eAudiobook.

Author Works: Sarah Gailey

Black and white photo of the author, with short hair and one hand tucked inside her jacket, sits next to a cover of The Echo Wife. The cover shows an engagement ring and its reflection in gold with blue highlights, the title appears in blue inside the rings.

Tue, May 17 at 7 pm online
Register at bit.ly/echowife.

by Kristen B.

Author Sarah Gailey discusses their acclaimed novel The Echo Wife (also eBook and eAudiobook) in conversation with Maggie Tokuda-Hall, author of Also an Octopus (reviewed here). Gailey’s most recent novel, The Echo Wife, and first original comic book series with BOOM! Studios, Eat the Rich, are available now. Other shorter works and essays have been published in Mashable, The Boston Globe, Vice, Tor.com, and The Atlantic, and their work has been translated into seven languages and published around the world.

Publisher’s Weekly review of The Echo Wife:

This creepy, exhilarating science fiction outing from Gailey (Magic for Liars) dissects an unconventional affair that violates both a couple’s marriage vows and scientific integrity. Dr. Evelyn Caldwell is startled to discover that her husband, Nathan, has been seeing another woman—and even more shocked to learn that the other woman is a clone of Evelyn herself. Nathan created Martine to be everything Evelyn isn’t: attentive, submissive, and family-oriented. Adding insult to injury, Nathan used Evelyn’s own research to do so. An explosive confrontation among the three ends in Nathan’s murder, leaving Evelyn and Martine forced to work together to cover up the crime. It’s a situation that is not entirely unfamiliar for Evelyn, whose troubled past is teased out bit by bit. The women slowly discover that Nathan was hiding more secrets than either of them knew, forcing Martine and Evelyn to think on their feet in order to save themselves and the odd little family they create along the way. Gailey’s story unspools as a series of dark reveals that leave both the characters and the audience reeling. Readers won’t want to put this one down. (Feb.)

Gailey is a Hugo Award winning and bestselling author of speculative fiction, short stories, and essays. They have been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for multiple years, and their bestselling adult novel debut, Magic for Liars, was published by Tor Books in 2019.

A bright pink cover shows a black hand upside down with its fingers crossed and a mystical eye on the wrist. the title of the book frames it in large yellow layers.

My book club (Books on Tap) read Magic for Liars for our May meeting. As with many other of Gailey’s books, it doesn’t fit neatly into one category. Yes, it’s a murder mystery complete with clues, red herrings, multiple suspects, and gory details. The book also tackles grief, illness, and how families deal with both. These weightier topics rather sneak around the edges of the crime scene. Our protagonist and Private Investigator, Ivy Gamble, is hired to solve the death of a teacher at the school for magical students where her sister teaches. She tells us up-front that she’s a liar, that she resents the living daylights out of her magical sister, and that she’s not proud of how the situation resolved. To say they are estranged doesn’t begin to cover the levels of distrust and bitterness that separate these twin sisters – one magical, one not. Do you trust that sort of narrator? It’s a terrifically entertaining read that nonetheless leaves you thinking about what you might do in a similar situation.

Magic for Liars is available in print, as an eBook and an eAudiobook.

You’re Invited! Evening in the Stacks: Across Africa

Event Logo incorporates a textile pattern in blue, orang, and cream along with the title "Across Africa" in script next to a silhouette of the continent.

Join us on Saturday, May 14 at 7 pm for this year’s gala fundraiser! Taking place at our East Columbia Branch, Evening in the Stacks features authentic cuisine, an African marketplace, an open bar, a DJ and dancing, and so much more. We will celebrate the continent of Africa – from the Mediterranean coast and the Nile in the north to the cities, grasslands, and deserts in Central Africa to the rainforests of the south.

Tickets at a new price are on sale now.

Black tie is optional for all guests and formal African attire is welcomed for those who are part of or identify with an African culture. Evening in the Stacks is a fun party that raises money for Library initiatives. This year, our goal is to raise $150,000 to benefit the creation of welcoming and inviting teen spaces in the Library’s six branches. 

We are also highlighting two spectacular authors, who are participating in a virtual author panel in conversation with Elsa M. on Tuesday, May 10 at 7 pm.

Young Black man dressed in dark blue pants and a grey sweater show seated in a park, leaning against a memorial black. He is bald and wears glasses.
Tope Folarin by Justin Gellerson

“I think the most important message in the novel is about Identity Construction,” says Tope Folarin discussing his debut book A Particular Kind of a Black Man. “All of us have that option in the 21st century. Tunde, the protagonist in my novel is forced to construct a persona because the persona he inherits from his father and society doesn’t match who he actually is.” (Simon & Schuster Books)  

Living in small-town Utah has always been an uneasy fit for Tunde Akinola’s family, especially for his Nigeria-born parents. Though Tunde speaks English with a Midwestern accent, he can’t escape the children who rub his skin and ask why the black won’t come off. He spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood searching for connection—to the wary stepmother and stepbrothers he gains when his father remarries; to the Utah residents who mock his father’s accent; to evangelical religion; to his Texas middle school’s crowd of African-Americans; to the fraternity brothers of his historically black college. In so doing, he discovers something that sends him on a journey away from everything he has known. 

Winner of the Whiting Award for Fiction, A Particular Kind of Black Man is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the meaning of memory, manhood, home, and identity as seen through the eyes of a first-generation Nigerian-American. 

Based in Washington D.C., Tope Folarin is the Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Lannan Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Georgetown University. He also serves as a board member of the Avalon Theater in Washington DC, the Vice President of the Board of the Pen/Faulkner Foundation, and as a member of the President’s Council of Pathfinder. He was educated at Morehouse College and the University of Oxford, where he earned two Masters degrees as a Rhodes Scholar. 

Headshot of author against a grey background, where the author wears a vivid pattern in green and dark pink. She is looking off to the left.
NoViolet Bulawayo by NyeLynTho

Glory was inspired by the unexpected coup, in November 2017, of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president who took office in 1980 and never let go the reins of government. The rhythms and pace of the novel are enthralling and extraordinary, narrated by a chorus of animal voices. As the book begins, Old Horse stands in for Mugabe, with an entire host of donkeys, pigs, and other creatures forming the political court around him, each one wanting to maintain their own power at the expense of others. Inevitable echoes of George Orwell’s Animal Farm occur throughout Bulawayo’s novel, but the voice is purely her own. She gives us characters with names such as Marvellous and Destiny, and allows us to (re)discover the delight of breathtaking political satire.

A review in The Guardian explains, “even the stylistic use of the refrain “Tholukuthi”, meaning “only to discover” (as in, “you thought you were getting a novel as good as We Need New Names, tholukuthi Bulawayo’s second is even more dazzling”), nods to a social media moment. Around the time of the Zimbabwe coup, the song Tholukuthi Hey! was released, and once it went viral, the refrain became a meme. “Tholukuthi” serves both as incantation and a form of punctuation in a novel that will appeal across generations.”

NoViolet Bulawayo is the author of two novels, including the most recently published Glory and the PEN/Hemingway (among others) award-winning We Need New Names. Her first book was also shortlisted for the International Literature Award, the Man Booker Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award. NoViolet earned her MFA at Cornell University and has taught fiction writing at Cornell and Stanford Universities. She grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and is currently writing full-time from the wherevers.

Raffle Tickets & Flower Baskets

Faded image of Glenwodd Branch's teen area with text overlayed, "2022 Spring Fundraiser! Glorious flower baskets, branch raffles featuring amazing local prizes, chances to win tickets to Evening in the Stacks or a Microsoft tablet, a wine pull - all to benefit Teen Spaces at every HCLS branch!"

by Mickey Gomez, President, Friends & Foundation of HCLS

Spring is here, and that means it’s time for Friends & Foundation of Howard County Library System’s Second Annual Spring Fundraiser!

This year, with HCLS’s much anticipated gala event Evening in the Stacks moving to May, we’ve bundled our fundraising efforts together in a single online location.

Our gorgeous flower baskets are back, and already in high demand! Last year they sold out, so if you’d enjoy welcoming May with a 12” hanging basket of cheerful sun-loving flowers while supporting your favorite library system, you’ll want to act fast! Baskets will be available for pickup May 4th, 5th, and 7th at the Miller Branch.

This year’s raffle includes six unique gift baskets individually curated by each HCLS branch, featuring a remarkable array of local gift cards to restaurants, stores, shops, and markets, tickets to local events, tours, and museums, unique collectables, and more! The baskets range in value from $500 to $1,000, and you’ll definitely want to check them all out before deciding which to try for – or you can try for them all!

We’ll also have drawings for two tickets to Evening in the Stacks: Across Africa along with our Grand Prize: a Microsoft Surface Go 3 tablet.

And for our wine connoisseurs, we’re once again offering a Wine Pull available exclusively at Evening in the Stacks. Your ticket will get you a randomly selected bottle of fabulous wine, each valued at an estimated $20+.

All proceeds this year go to support teen spaces, safe and welcoming locations in each HCLS branch that allow teens to gather without paying for a membership or having to buy something. They’ll have access to interest-driven learning along with resources promoting empowerment, mental wellness, digital and tech fluency, and more!

You can also donate directly to support STEM tools for teens who have expressed an interest in engaging with coding or digital media creation such as 3D modeling, music-making, graphic design, video production, and social and educational gaming – all in a fun, inclusive, and positive environment.

I could not be any more excited about any of this, which is saying a lot considering how much I love our local library system. On behalf of Friends & Foundation of HCLS, we hope you’ll join in the fun while supporting Teen Spaces and HCLS. Thank you!

#FriendsMakeItHappen

Mysteries and Spices!

Thursday, March 17 @ 6:30 pm REGISTER

Conversation and Parsi Cuisine Demo with Authors Sujata Massey and Niloufer Mavalvala.

Navroze Mubarak!

Navroze or “New Day” in Farsi (Parsi) marks the first day of the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere, which falls on March 20/21 each year. It reminds us that the cold is coming to an end, and it’s time to cleanse our homes that have remained closed over the wintry days – a new year to start afresh. The occasion is celebrated with friends, families, and neighbors, sharing what we are fortunate enough to have with others. (Mubarak means congratulations.)

On March 17, we bring you a specially curated and deliciously crafted evening where we discuss the richly detailed and intricately plotted Perveen Mistry mystery series with Author Sujata Massey. Sujata’s immensely popular book The Widows of Malabar Hill seamlessly weaves together historical, political and social layers–suffocating colonialism, societal systems more concerned with appearance than equity, racial and gender disparities. Through Perveen Mistry, Sujata brings to life Bombay in the 1920’s and captures the fine details of Parsi culture

The cover of The Bonbay Prince shows two women in saris ascending a staircase with a decorative banister, looking up as two men in suits appear to be fighting on a balcony above them.  A potted palm tree is visible through a window on the landing.

“Graceful prose and mastery of period detail . . . [The Bombay Prince] propels a rich story of female empowerment during a pivotal era.” -Kirkus Reviews

A favorite with our book groups, Perveen Mistry, the spunky, sari-clad lawyer, tackles mysteries with wit and a shrewd intelligence. Reviewing The Bombay Prince, Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code says, “Perveen’s investigation into the mysterious death of a young university student coincides with the imperial visit of the future Edward VIII, and the resulting trail of breadcrumbs through royal receptions, street riots, squalid jails, and lavish hotels makes for a deliciously satisfying read!”

In conversation with Sujata is Parsi culinary expert and author Niloufer Mavalvala. Niloufer has written two lavishly illustrated cookbooks with a treasure trove of authentic Parsi recipes. The Art of Parsi Cooking: Reviving an Ancient Cuisine and The World of Parsi Cooking: Food Across Borders are great for beginners as well as experienced cooks. 

The cover of The World of Parsi Cooking shows a pomegranate with a bowl of dip, and various spices and seeds including cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods, against a bright pink tablecover.

Niloufer was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan and her love for food combined with extensive world travel from a young age inspired her to experiment with world cuisines. She has written articles published in a variety of magazines, journals, and newspapers, and she has been a guest chef at Le Cordon Bleu in London and on the television show for The Cooks Cook in New Hampshire and, more recently, on Voice of Canada.

Niloufer warmly invites us into her home and kitchen as she demonstrates her favorite quick-n-easy recipe and details the unique history and culture of the Parsi community.

The photograph is of a Haftseen table, with tulips and lilacs, an apple and colored eggs, salt and pepper shakers and candlesticks, and a crystal goblet with a beverage, all on a lace tablecover on an ornate wooden table.

The Haftseen table is a symbolic tribute to the seven creations of the universe; fire, water, air, earth, metal, and the plant and animal kingdoms. It thanks the universe for what we have and pray for continuity in the days to come. It is called Haftsheen or Haftseen, where seven items that start with the sound ‘S’ or ‘Sh’ are placed on the table alongside other symbols. 

Join us for Mysteries and Spices on Thursday, March 17 @ 6:30 pm. REGISTER

Weaving Our Way to the Moon 

An older woman works with computer guidance parts for the Apollo space program.
image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Register for class: https://howardcounty.librarycalendar.com/events/weaving-our-way-moon 
Saturday, March 19; 3 – 4 pm
HCLS Glenwood Branch
Ages 11 and up. Allow 20 minutes. 

by Lori C.

Learn the fascinating forgotten history of the LOLs – the Little Old Ladies of NASA’s Apollo Missions – with a hands-on STEM activity that celebrates the women who “wove our way to the moon.” Discover how core rope memory powered spaceflight, then create a simple beaded message using binary code. 

When you hear the word, “weaving” and the phrase, “little old ladies,” what image comes to mind? Most likely the mental picture is not one of making a sophisticated computer program designed to send the Apollo spacecraft to the moon! For Women’s History Month, we are going to celebrate the women who, using ferrite core beads and copper wire, literally wove the components that made up software programs for the Apollo Guidance Computer.  

The “little old ladies” or LOLs moniker certainly was not the most progressive way of referring to these highly skilled factory workers who crafted the core rope memory for NASA. Their precise weaving and manufacturing skills were crucial to the success of the Apollo program and to the astronauts arriving safely on the Moon.  

The NASA Apollo Guidance Computer used read-only, core rope memory to store its programs. The weaving was complicated: “The cores are arranged in ropes of 1024 cores each. 10 inhibit pairs (20 wires) provide the address-decoder weave as 2^10=1024. Although the memory words are 16 bits wide, each core has up to 64 sense wires woven through it.”* Remarkably, this guidance system used only 72k of memory, which is equivalent to the memory of a simple calculator. 

Want to try your hand at making a simple version of core rope memory in the tradition of the LOLs? Join us at the Glenwood Branch for a brief history overview of the contributions of these amazing women who “wove our way to the moon” and then craft a single word-weaving project using binary code, thread, and beads.   

Lori, the Teens’ Instructor & Research Specialist at the Glenwood Branch, idolizes Sally Ride and in an alternate life would have trained to be an astronaut. She also loves baseball, knitting, and reading dystopian novels. 

*Core Rope & Woven-Wire Memory Systems by B. Hilpert, April 2015
https://web.archive.org/web/20160822041959/http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~hilpert/e/corerope/index.html 

I Am Spoken Courage

The artist stands in a formal red and black gown against wall painted with graffiti that reads, "Speak."

Howard County Library System invites you to an exceptional series of four poetry slam workshops with Lady Brion this February and March. 

Slam poetry is a spoken-word form of poetry meant to be performed live, with topics that tend to be political and provocative. It has an energy to it that is mesmerizing, and slam poets strive to elicit cheers, laughs, or gasps from their audience. Slam poets evoke strong feelings and the power of everyday language and delivery with their enthusiasm and voice, versus more formal or academic poetry techniques. 

Poetry slams started in Chicago in 1984. The first slam competition originated to move poetry recitals from academia to a popular audience. American poet Marc Smith, finding the poetry scene at the time to be “too structured and stuffy,” began experimenting by attending open microphone poetry readings, then turning them into slams by introducing the element of competition. 

Lady Brion has said, “Poetry creates a unique opportunity to galvanize and unify people. It shows us the universality of the human experience by allowing us to see similarities more than differences as we share stories and frustrations…a poet and their work can reflect the audience in which it is being read before. That is affirming because as an audience member it means that we are seen, we are recognized, and we are not alone. Poetry can evoke the voices and the emotions of those society consistently silences and marginalizes and there is real power in that.” 

Lady Brion is an international spoken-word artist, poetry coach, activist, organizer, and educator, and  she has performed since the age of twelve across the world, including London, Ghana, Zanzibar and many US states. She is a recipient of the Open Society Institute Fellowship, centered around her project facilitating poetry workshops in prisons and group homes throughout Maryland. During her time as a competitor in slam competitions, Lady Brion became the 2016 National Poetry Slam Champion and the 2017 Southern Fried Regional Slam Champion. 

She received her B.A. in Communications from Howard University and her MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore.  

The University of Baltimore’s Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences calls Lady Brion, “bold, dedicated and inspirational,” fitting in perfectly with slam poetry’s power to trigger emotional responses from a live audience. “I will speak for those you forgot to listen to yelling blindside from jaded views. I am courage passed down. I am the dismantling of power structures on surround-sound.” To see and hear Lady Brion perform is to truly witness the power and beauty of slam poetry. 

Brion uses her poetry—focused on the Black struggle, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and religious themes—to merge the space between art and activism. 

The Anthem – February 16. Explore writing celebratory unapologetic anthems about themselves, especially in the midst of an oppressive society that rarely gives space for anyone to express their fullest and truest identity. REGISTER.

Picketed – March 9. Discuss the history of social movements and the way that radical demonstrations and protests can lead to change. This context will be used to have students create their own picket signs and craft a poem from it.  REGISTER. 

If these streets could talk – March 16. Explore a social justice issue that is important to them by personifying a space, place, or object connected to their chosen social ill. REGISTER. 

Open Mic – March 23. Participants are encouraged to share poems created in one of the previous workshops or any other work that they have created. Host Lady Brion performs some of her social justice-related works. REGISTER. 

For more detailed information on class sessions and to register, please visit here:  https://live-howardcounty.pantheonsite.io/events/lady-brion-anthem-poetry-slam-workshop-1 

To see Lady Brion perform click here: https://www.ladybrion.com/reels-1 and here: https://tinyurl.com/mphdpcc2 

Supported by Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo).

Lunar New Year Celebrations

The cartoon image says "Year of the Tiger" in a variety of languages, with a smiling tiger extending his paw towards the viewer, with three gold lanterns hanging above him against a red backdrop.

Welcome to the Year of the Tiger! The Lunar New Year is the most important social and economic holiday for billions of people around the world. Tied to the lunar-solar Chinese calendar, the holiday was originally observed as a time to honor household and heavenly deities and ancestors. Today, Lunar New Year brings friends and family together for feasting and festivities in China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Mongolia, and other countries all over the world.

This website, recommended by our presenters, offers a helpful guide where you can discover more about everything from food and drink to clothing and decorations for Lunar New Year celebrations. In addition, we have an assortment of books and other materials available at HCLS to help families learn and celebrate.

In recognition of this significant holiday, HCLS is celebrating with an online class, Learn About the Lunar New Year Celebration, in partnership with Howard County Chinese School. A panel of middle and high school students and parents share the histories and traditions of the Lunar New Year celebration in a variety of Asian American Pacific Islander sub-communities. Join us on Saturday, Feb 5 for a combination of short presentations, Q&A, and interactive educational games with prizes.

Additional upcoming children’s classes with Lunar New Year-themed sessions include:

Please join us!

Book Discussion: Night by Elie Wiesel

The cover of the book shows a hazy, abstract blue-grey background, with the author's name and "Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize" on a beige field in the middle, with a strand of barbed wire running between.

by Rabbi Fuller

Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor in addition to a prolific author and Nobel laureate. Reading Night for the second time (I first read it many moons ago when I was in college) reminded me both of the horrific things he and his fellow prisoners suffered at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, and of that lesson from The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. How much of Wiesel’s memoir could I trust? I learned from reading The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe that everyone’s memory of events is imperfect. How does that help or hinder us from learning about a Nobel Prize winner and human rights advocate’s experience when we read his first book, Night

As we just recently passed the 80th anniversary of America’s entrance into that war on December 7, 1941, we are closer and closer to the time when no eyewitnesses to the Holocaust will be alive anymore. Thankfully, there is now an entire genre of books detailing and remembering the experiences of many survivors of the Holocaust. Though the stories are all different, the one theme that comes through almost all of them is the incomprehensible brutality and inhumanity the Germans perpetrated on 6 million Jews simply because they were Jewish, and countless others for being gay, Roma, communists, or anything else the Nazis didn’t like. 

Night is a symbol of all the darkness that the victims of the Holocaust felt. The fear, the hunger, the horrid conditions, the not knowing what any minute or hour or day might bring. The lack of hope, and the lack of trust even in your fellow prisoners. In some ways, it’s amazing that any of them survived. 

But in Wiesel’s life, I think that Night represents something else as well – his doubt of his faith. Wiesel makes it clear that he grew up as a religious Jew in Sighet, Romania, and that family and religion were two of the most important things to him. Yet as he witnessed the Holocaust, his faith began to leave him. Those who are avid fans of his writings will find these struggles throughout many of his books, and how he resolves it as well. But in Night, he makes clear how his faith is failing in a particularly gruesome scene. The Nazis have just hanged three victims, one of them just a boy (for those of you who wonder why, does it matter? That’s the kind of “night” all the prisoners had to deal with). The two older men die quickly from asphyxiation, but the boy, who doesn’t weigh much, dangles from his noose for a while before finally succumbing. Wiesel reports, “Behind me, I heard the same man asking “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where is He? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…” 

After working through his theological crisis, Wiesel went on to become a professor, a father, and a strong voice and advocate for human rights everywhere. That’s what earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, “for being a messenger to mankind: his message is one of peace, atonement and dignity.” The lesson we should all take from this is that no matter the hardships we may face, or how palpable the darkness we feel may seem, we can overcome and do great things with our lives. 

Holocaust Remembrance Day Book Group is discussing Night by Elie Wiesel, with the conversation led by Rabbi Fuller. Join us online January 27 at 6:30 pm. Register.

Rabbi Gordon Fuller is an independently ordained rabbi who grew up in Detroit but has lived in many other places. He moved to Columbia, MD in 2015 to be near children and grandchildren.

Rabbi Gordy worked in Jewish education for 20+ years before being ordained and has co-authored two books. He is as passionate about pluralism and the environment as he is about his family and the Jewish peoplehood.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown

A regal young Black woman with long braids stands in front of a patterned wallwith swaths of green fabric swirling around her.

by Eliana, teen volunteer at HCLS Savage Branch

In true Eliana fashion, I started to blitz through this title as an audiobook. I had to ask my librarian friend, Sarah, “Is it just me or are these characters just the most emotionally stunted dolts I have ever not actually come across?” I love them so much, they make me want to tear my hair out.

Along with the engaging characters, Roseanne A. Brown does an excellent job incorporating African culture into this novel, described on the book jacket as, “The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.” The setting has quiet elements of West African culture, the furnishings, the clothes, the streets, even the characters’ hair.

My favorite part was the hair routine Karina’s maid does with her. Shea butter and the other oils along with twisting are, in fact, accurate to curly hair. It’s part of why I haven’t been braiding my hair so often. My curls look much lovelier when out of their braids. My family is Puerto Rican, and although Puerto Rico takes a fair amount of influence from African cultures, there are also Taino and Spanish influences there as well.

Back to the book: Karina has all the qualities of a good queen, she just needs time to heal and properly grieve her mother (the previous queen). Outside of the eyes of the courtiers, Karina is surrounded by the love of her family and friends, but she’s closed herself off from them. With the way Karina’s trajectory is headed, Karina may completely alienate everyone around her before something happens to shatter her worldview and push her into regaining allies. There is a notable difference between the Karina who does whatever she can to avoid hosting the Solstacia Festival and the Karina who fights tooth and nail to fulfill her duties as a new queen.

Karina is something of a tempest. For much of the novel, she is insecure, grieving, and constantly worried about whether she’s a good enough ruler. She *worries* about her fitness to lead and actively tries to remove the person she deems to be an unfit ruler (herself) from succession. Heck! The whole reason she even gets into reviving her deceased mother is that she believes her kingdom would be better with her mother’s leadership!

Her opposite in the story is Malik, a child who has seen the absolute worst humanity has to offer. His own family and village were horrible to him. The world sees him and his people as awful. And yet he cares. He cares *so much.* He worries about both of his sisters. He pays attention to the servants and even worries for Karina, a person who he is actively trying to kill, when he overhears how the court lambasts her for needing a day to recover from an attempt on her life.

I’m still listening to the book, so I wonder if there is a reason Malik’s people are oppressed like they are. I know that in the real world, oppression often has no tangible reason. In most fantasy media I have interacted with, the oppression is typically caused by some ancient bad-blood event. I appreciate the author’s sensitive and visceral depiction of anxiety and panic attacks, which didn’t trigger one of my own. I like that she included coping strategies. Somewhere out there, a reader will see Malik thinking of his lemon tree and adopt a similar strategy.

One last note to my friend Sarah: I feel like am a parent now. I want to wrap Malik and Karina up in my arms, tell them that everything is okay. I wanna whack them upside the head and ask them, “What were you thinking?!” (affectionately) Are you happy, Sarah? You have ruined me. Everyone should read this book.

Meet the author Roseanne Brown at HCLS Savage Branch (or attend online) on Tuesday, January 25 at 6 pm. Register here. Thirty attendees will be randomly selected to receive a free copy of A Song of Wraiths and Ruins.