News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The title appears against a painting of a green landscape and blue sky with white clouds, with a silhouette of a girl leading a horse and cart in the bottom left

By Jean B.

I love a book with a map, so News of the World captured me even before page one. Throughout my reading, I pored over the sepia endpaper map of Texas circa 1870, with its bright red line tracing a path from Wichita Falls along the northern border with Indian territory, all the way down to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. As you might guess, given the map, this is a book about a journey – across both rough territory and psychological barriers. As the characters made their way along the bright red line, Giles’ beautiful prose transported me into this time and place and into the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, age 71, and Johanna Leonberger, age 10.  

It’s the Reconstruction era in Texas, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, random violence and unexpected kindness, across an incredibly varied landscape. Captain Kidd, a survivor of three wars, has dedicated his life to connecting people through information. He is alone, having lost his wife and his printing business in the Civil War. Kidd now makes his living by traveling through small towns, performing live readings of newspapers from around the country and the world to isolated residents hungry for stories of faraway places and remarkable events. Suddenly, his nomadic routine is disrupted by an unsought responsibility – he must deliver Johanna, a traumatized orphan who has lived as a captive of the Kiowa tribe for six years and knows no other family, back to her relatives near San Antonio. Traversing that 400 mile path, the characters must overcome challenges small and large and, in the process, build mutual trust and companionship.

I would not call myself a fan of Westerns, in either novels or movies, but Paulette Jiles’ exquisite descriptions of the plants, weather, and settlements of this landscape drew me in. Her writing made me want to ride a horse through the hills, canyons, and prairies of Texas (minus the deadly threats along the way). Maybe I’ll do that someday, but in the meantime, luckily, we can get the visual experience by watching the 2020 movie based on the book! Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, the movie garnered four Oscar nominations, and you borrow the DVD from HCLS.  

While both the book and the movie open a window into a beautiful yet treacherous moment in Texan history, News of the World goes much deeper than a travelogue. Across the miles, the tragic characters discover the power of empathy to leap differences in age, language, experience and loss. Although the book is barely 200 pages, it paints a picture of great historical and personal complexity. If you’re looking for some armchair traveling this summer, News of the World is a journey worth taking – and it comes with a map!

Available in print, large print,audio CD,  ebook, and eaudio, as well as DVD.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. A fan of historical fiction and nonfiction, she also enjoys exploring the natural world through books and on foot.

Just Mercy

Michael B Jordan stands tall in a gray suit and blue shirt and tie, looking off into the distance.  Behind him, in muted yellow are scenes from the movie. Just Mercy is written in white, along with names of actors, Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson

Let me be clear… Just Mercy is a hard and emotionally draining movie to watch. And it needs to be seen. This film tells the true story of a civil-rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), who works to defend wrongfully convicted death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).

In this deeply affecting movie, the repressed and palpable fury that Bryan Stevenson feels sits uneasy with me. Jordan portrays the complexities of emotion in a stirring and emotive way. Stevenson conducts himself professionally at all times, even when the behavior he endures made me want to scream.  My indignation and anger at Stevenson’s mistreatment pales in comparison to the outrage at the injustices that are perpetrated against his clients. This film is honest and frank about sharp truths, and it had an impact on me.

In the United States, we proclaim, “Liberty and justice for all,” but this movie shines light on the harsh reality of systemic injustice. Our system is broken: for every nine people executed by the state since 1973, one person has been exonerated and released. It is an untenable rate of error. I felt uncomfortable after watching this movie and investigating further. However, I think it is important not to shy away from that response.

Sit in that discomfort.

Ask hard questions.

Have the conversations.

Advocate for change.

“Always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing.”

– Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is available as an eBook and eAudiobook on CloudLibrary and OverdriveJust Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults) is also available on eAudiobook on Overdrive.

During the month of June, Warner Bros. has made Just Mercy free to watch through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayMicrosoft, the PlayStation Store, RedboxVudu,  and YouTube.

Just Mercy is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets.

Click here to learn more about Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.