51C+Vo2AZbL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_     First graders huddled in a closet listening to the pop, pop, pop of gunfire in the hall is the stuff of nightmares. It is also the beginning of Rhiannon Navin’s novel Only Child. Navin’s first book is a heart-wrenching tale of trauma and loss told through the mind and heart of a child.

Six-year-old Zach Taylor, his classmates and teacher, Miss Russell, have been in the closet before during a lockdown drill. They weren’t in there long before Charlie, the security guard, came to unlock the hall door and tell them to come out. This time though Charlie doesn’t come and the pops keep going and getting louder.

When the door finally opens it’s the police. The class is led through the bloody scene in the hall out into the rain to a nearby church. When Zach’s mom, Melissa, is finally let in to find him, the first thing she asks is “Zach, where’s your brother?”

Andy is not in the church nor at the hospital when they go there. Finding Andy is Melissa’s singular focus and when she learns that Andy is one of the 19 fatalities she collapses and is hospitalized.

His mom has always been Zach’s main caregiver. They did projects together, she made his meals and put him to bed. They read together each night then sang a special song together before he slept. All of that goes away with Andy’s death. As Zach sees it his mommy got changed into another person at the hospital.

His family was strained before this tragedy. Andy had oppositional defiant disorder and his behavioral problems caused dissension between his parents who also had other issues. Instead of coming together as a family Zach’s parents isolate themselves with their grief and he is mostly left to deal with his fear, confusion and grief alone.

He doesn’t understand why people bring food and have a party when Andy has just died. He worries about what happened to Andy – where is his body and is his soul safe in heaven? Zach’s nightmares start the very first night but the adults seem almost dismissive of his fears and questions.

Zach is drawn into Andy’s room and each day he checks the top bunk to see if Andy is there and maybe he just had a bad dream. He first goes into Andy’s closet to hide but finds he can quiet himself in there and make bad thoughts go into his ’brain safe’ so he won’t be afraid.

Andy’s closet becomes his safe haven and secret hideaway.  It is there that he realizes that the red he just painted on a page is like the red his face gets when people look at him and he is embarrassed. He decides to give each of his feelings a color so they won’t be all mixed up inside him.

He brings a picture of himself with Andy to the hideaway and he starts to talk to Andy. He doesn’t let Andy off the hook because he died and lets him know he was a jerk to Zach. But as life outside the closet worsens and Zach has to deal with his own uncontrollable feelings he begins to see Andy in a new light and remembers the good.

He reads aloud to Andy from the Magic Tree House books. The books were Andy’s but became Zach’s when Andy outgrew them. The main characters are brother and sister Jack and Annie which sounds like Zach and Andy. When he reads it’s like all 4 of them go on the adventure together.

But the comfort Andy feels in his hideaway is lost outside the closet. He doesn’t understand why he has started wetting the bed or why he suddenly gets so angry and can’t make it stop. His mom has become determined to make the parents of the gunman pay and has little time or patience for Zach. His dad, Zach’s only real support, has gone back to work and his parents fighting grows worse. Zach has gone from a family of 4 to feeling like he is alone. Can Zach find a way to help his family heal or is the loss of Andy too much to overcome?

Navin has written a gripping novel and stayed true to Zach’s voice. But the raw emotion and subject matter makes this a very tough read – I almost quit after the first few chapters. But Zach drew me back and I’m glad. The library has this title in regular, large print, and ebook editions.

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begone I don’t usually read true-crime books. The genre has never really appealed to me. The ways in which human beings can be awful leaves me lying awake at night as it is. But, as the internet makes the world ever more connected, it seems like these sorts of stories pop up on every form of social media I use. So, of course I heard about Michelle McNamara’s book. With rave reviews from the likes of Stephen King and an introduction written by Gillian Flynn, I decided to brave I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK.

There are two stories in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. One is the story of the Golden State Killer. The second, the story of Michelle McNamara. When she was a teenager, a girl in her neighborhood was killed. The murder went unsolved and McNamara was troubled by the idea that the killer was somewhere out there, unpunished. McNamara became a crime blogger, using TrueCrimeDiary.com to explore cold cases alongside other online amateur sleuths. When she came upon the story of the Golden State Killer, an obsession was born.

From 1974 through 1986, the Golden State Killer (GSK; the term was coined by McNamara) terrorized neighborhoods in Northern California, primarily Sacramento county. For years, law enforcement believed that there were three distinct criminals operating in the area: the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker (not to be confused with Night Stalker Richard Ramirez). The truth, however, was that these were all the crimes of one man: the Golden State Killer.

The connection between these crimes would not be discovered until the invention of DNA testing. When samples from the seemingly unconnected offenses were entered into CODIS, the federal DNA database, the full range of GSK’s crimes became apparent. A particular genetic peculiarity made the DNA samples easy to connect. His offenses had, over the years, escalated from mere break-ins to rape and murder.

The Golden State Killer was meticulous in his planning. He would survey not just individuals, but entire neighborhoods for weeks at a time before striking. Often, he would call potential victims in what were assumed to be prank calls. He operated on terror, often taking hours to complete his intrusions. Even years later, he would call his living victims and whisper threats to them. Police had very few clues to go on.

I don’t want to write too much about the individual events described in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. In many ways, the actions of the Golden State Killer aren’t the focus of the story that McNamara tells. McNamara’s writing breathes life into the places and people associated with GSK. She spends more time discussing the lives of the victims than the actual crimes, which makes them feel less like characters in a gruesome play and more like the people they were.

While McNamara doesn’t go into extreme detail about the offenses committed by GSK, the overall tone of the book is haunting. In fact, one night after I had gone to bed, one of my cats shoved open the bedroom door to join me. A fairly common occurrence, to be sure, but this time I had to choke back a scream. For an instant, I was sure that the Golden State Killer had burst into the room. I laid awake for a long while.

McNamara shares the histories of the places and people involved, building the world of Northern California so that it almost becomes a character on its own. As with many true-crime books, there are pictures included. But these are not grisly procedural shots. Instead, McNamara included pictures of some of the GSK victims and law enforcement professionals associated with the case. These portraits help preserve the dignity of those affected by these horrific crimes.

On April 24, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department arrested Joseph James DeAngelo for the GSK CRIMEs. You can find plenty of news stories about him with a quick Internet search. The most shocking aspect of DeAngelo’s arrest? He had worked as a police officer. More details will surely be forthcoming, but it seems likely that GSK has in fact been caught.

Sadly, McNamara passed away before her book was published, but her husband, actor Patton Oswalt, helped see her dream come true. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is masterfully written, tying together the author’s life and the series of horrific crimes committed by the Golden State Killer. Gripping but not gruesome, McNamara’s book is one I would recommend for true-crime lightweights like myself.

Recently, the Joplin Public Library Board allowed me to attend the Public Library Association’s conference. Held every two years, this is the largest conference that specializes in public libraries. It has well-known keynote speakers and a host of workshops, all geared to those who serve in public libraries. It’s a wonderful week, even when it’s held in the winter in Philadelphia during its fourth major winter storm within a three-week timespan.

As much as I enjoy the sessions, however, the exhibit hall is a bibliophile’s wonderland. It is a paradise with all the major players and most of the minor players in publishing today. Then there are vendors with anything you can imagine related to libraries, library technologies and buildings. It’s a veritable paradise. (Ask me about scoring “Pete the Cat” socks!)

Exhibitors give away the usual convention swag — candy, pens, sticky notes, etc. But more importantly, vendors give away lots and lots of books! There are best-selling authors there signing their newest books; there are advanced reader’s copies of books yet to be published; and there are other books just being sold dirt cheap. Did I mention this is a bibliophile’s wonderland?

I received an advanced reader’s copy of today’s book. It will not be available until June 12, so Joplin Public Library does not have it — yet. “THE BOOK OF ESSIE” is a debut novel from MEGHAN MACLEAN WEIR, and the opening paragraph grabbed my attention: “On the day I turn 17, there is a meeting to decide whether I should have the baby or if sneaking me to a clinic for an abortion is worth the PR risk. I am not invited, which is just as well, since my being there might imply that I have some choice in the matter, and I know that I have none.”

Esther Anne Hicks — Essie — is the youngest child of an Evangelical preacher who has become a reality TV star. Her family is the star of “Six for Hicks,” a show that has followed every aspect of the family’s life for more than a decade. Every moment in life is scripted by the show producers and Celia Hicks, Essie’s mother, and shown for the world to see.

Essie’s pregnancy presents a problem to the family’s television empire. The show is popular and followed by thousands. This type of revelation could endanger the empire.

What should the family do about Essie? Should they sneak her away somewhere for a private abortion? Should they pretend and pass off a new baby as the seventh Hicks child belonging to Celia, Essie’s mother? Or do they decide to boost their ratings even more with a blockbuster wedding?

While the family is making decisions about Essie’s life, she is quietly making plans of her own by pairing up with a student she knows only slightly, Roark Richards. Roark is a senior at her high school, and Essie knows about a secret he is trying to protect.

“The Book of Essie” is told by three viewpoints — that of Essie, that of Roark and that of Liberty Bell, an ultra-conservative reporter whom Essie has contacted for help.

The characters in the story are created layer by layer, and the story is revealed ever so slowly by peeling back the layers of the characters like onion skins, one thin revelation at a time.

There are tough topics dealt with in this book, and because of that, some who have read advance copies don’t care for it. They were fascinated and captivated, but they were upset by sensitive topics.

It covers reality TV and a fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone preacher with a secret-filled family, but to tell you more would be a spoiler, so I will withhold that information.

Reading the book will answer your questions just as Essie finds answers to her own questions. Why did her older sister leave home and never come back? Who can be trusted with the truth? Can she win her freedom? At what price will her freedom come?

This book is on order and should arrive shortly. In the meantime, Joplin Public Library has thousands of other page-turners that will keep you entertained or informed.

Jacque Gage is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

Although I don’t read a lot of children’s storybooks, one occasionally catches my eye with its use of artwork or subject. The latter was the case with “Pride: the Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag,” written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno.

This slim volume opens with some brief background of then-unknown Harvey Milk, relating his hopes and the crux of “Pride”: “Harvey dreamed that everyone – even gay people – would have equality. He dreamed that he and his friends would be treated like everyone else. He dreamed that one day, people would be able to live and love as they pleased.”

Harvey goes on to find success as a politician, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and becoming one of the United States’ first openly gay people elected to public office.

He and his friends plan protests to highlight inequality and unfair laws. Before one such march, Harvey has an idea. Deciding that the gay community needs a symbol, he talks to artist and Chanute, Kan., native Gilbert Baker, who suggests a flag. Gilbert’s vision culminates in the creation of a flag with eight colorful stripes, a rainbow flag.

The flag was first unfurled on June 25, 1978, at the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco. It was “A rainbow, as bright and unique as the men and women who walked behind it.”

Sadly, five months later, on November 27, 1978, five months after the debut of the rainbow flag, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are assassinated by former city supervisor Dan White. That night, there is no flag, no protests, only thousands of silent, grieving people marching with burning candles and mourning the loss of two lives.

Harvey’s death didn’t slow the momentum of the rainbow flag, however.

After a couple alterations – hot pink and turquoise are removed, leaving six stripes, and indigo is changed to royal blue – the flag is mass produced and begins to appear everywhere. “It was a flag of equality,” author Rob Sanders writes. “More and more people began to think of the flag as their flag. And they began to feel pride. They began to have hope.”

A 30-foot wide, mile-long rainbow flag is even carried by 10, 000 people during a New York City Pride celebration in 1994. And on June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court rules that gay and lesbian couples have the constitutional right to marry, the White House is lit with the colors of the rainbow flag.

“Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” moved me. Like many children’s books these days, it doesn’t shy away from tough, potentially divisive topics such as gay rights and death. The writing is as vibrant and inspiring as the colors of the rainbow flag, with strong action verbs and alliteration. It is poignant, as well. The illustrations are colorful and realistic.

By the way, if you’re looking for more information on Harvey Milk, you can find in the adult DVD collection the fine documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” or the motion picture “Milk,” for which Sean Penn won a Best Actor Academy Award. The Joplin Public Library also has an excellent collection of LGBTQ+ books for all ages, among them Cleve Jones’s memoir “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement.”Pride

hello universeThis is the story of Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, and their journey to friendship.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s 2018 Newbery Medal Winner has given a very important voice to diversity while at the same time disproving stereotypes.  This character-driven novel reads like one of the fables, told by Virgil’s grandmother or Lola, interspersed throughout the book.

Virgil is an introvert in a family of extraverts and can’t quite find a way to stand up to bullies, including his own family, who call him by a nickname he despises.  Valencia is feeling the weight of parents who are overprotective, she suspects because of her hearing loss. Kaori, who is on her third life, is the reincarnation of an Egyptian and a freedom fighter from Bangladesh. Chet Bullens is the school bully who hasn’t quite figured out what he’s good at in life and so points out perceived flaws in others.

According to Kaori, and her little sister Gen, the four are in the hands of Destiny during the few days in which the story takes place.  Virgil encounters Chet while on his way to seek fortune telling advice from Kaori and fate is set into motion.  When Virgil falls down an abandoned well he learns to conquer some of his fears.  The author deeply explores the sensory experience of Virgil while in the well, bringing the reader right along into his nightmare.

Virgil’s friends, Kaori and Valencia have to “feel” their way into finding Virgil, whose cell phone fell out of his pocket and shattered during his fall.  We are treated to the eccentric Kaori consulting star charts to divine the fate of Virgil.  Will the friends rescue Virgil or will his fears be realized when his bones are found in the well, beside the bones of his guinea pig, years into the future?

The funny, feel-good tone of this book compliments the pace.  The suspense builds to a climactic, if somewhat predictable ending, which is nonetheless satisfying. What a wonderful breath of fresh air to read about children who are ability diverse as “children” without their differences defining their character.

An important read for children 3rd grade and up.  This book is extensively quotable and would make a great classroom read-aloud.  Perhaps the plot is best summarized with this quote from Valencia, “Meanness always shows on people’s faces.  Sometimes you have to look hard for it.  Sometimes it’s just a part of a person’s features.”

jacket  A. J. Jacobs has amused and informed us by living for a year following the tenets of the Bible, reading the Encyclopedia Britannica to become the smartest person in the world, becoming a human guinea pig, and attempting to become the healthiest person in the world. He now tackles genealogy and what is means to be family in It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree.

What started his quest to help build the World Family Tree was an email from Jules Feldman. Feldman is a dairy farmer in Israel who in his spare time is building a family tree. A huge family tree consisting of 80,000 relatives including Jacobs who is the eighth cousin of Mrs. Feldman.

Skeptical but intrigued Jacobs follows the suggestion of his brother-in-law and contacts Randy Schoenberg. Randy is a lawyer of some repute (see the film Woman in Gold) and a genealogist.  According to Randy genealogy in undergoing two revolutions, DNA and Internet family trees.

He introduces Jacobs to the collaborative genealogy site (Internet family tree) Geni.com. There are others like WikiTree and FamilySearch where you find an ancestor on your tree who is on another family’s tree and soon you are connected to thousands (or more) new relatives. A check of Geni at the time showed over 70 million people in 160+ countries listed on the site.

Geni also has an interesting feature you can use to find your connection to famous people. He describes it as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where everyone is Kevin Bacon. Jacobs finds he has connections to Dr. Ruth, Jackson Pollock, Rachel Weisz and Barack Obama who is his fifth-great aunt’s husband’s father’s wife’s seventh-great nephew.

Geni has his interest; next for Jacobs is DNA testing. His DNA test matches him with 1009 presumed cousins including his wife Julie, his seventh cousin. Julie is less than thrilled but as Jacobs finds marriage between distant cousins is not that unusual.

With all these cousins and the potential to uncover more Jacobs comes up with the idea to hold a family reunion – a worldwide family reunion. Bringing all these people together he can make even more connections plus he might get in the Guinness Book of World Records. Now all he needs is a place, money and plenty of help.

The reunion is the conclusion of the book and its progress is remarked upon at the end of most chapters but most of the book is about family. What family is, all its different forms, and how would your worldview and prejudice’s change if you thought of people of different nationalities and ethnic background or even the guy who cut in front of you in line as your cousins.

The author talks about Y-Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, evolution, and the DNA humans share with animals. Jacobs explores many aspects of genealogical research including privacy, the emphasis on celebrity connections, how some cultures and ethnicities are not represented, and the significance of names. He even includes an appendix with a guide to getting started on your family tree.

He made connections with a lot of people gathering information, promoting his family reunion and lining up speakers for his event. Most had a story to tell and Jacobs does a wonderful job using them to highlight his chapters.

Jacobs also uses a lot of his own family history which is by turns amusing, touching, and surprising. The story of his great grandmother Gertrude Sunstein emphasizes the point that women are not well represented in the historical documents. Gertrude was a suffragist and very active. When she died in her obituary her suffrage work was noted but she was identified only as Mrs. Elias Sunstein, no first name.

As word of the reunion spreads he hears about other reunions.  One is the Hatfield-McCoy event. Yes, the famous feuding Hatfields and McCoys.  He also explores black sheep in your family tree and that for every connection you get to Isaac Newton or Malala Yousafzai you get one for John Wayne Gacy or Joseph Stalin.

The global family reunion does happen, in fact 44 simultaneous reunions were held around the world. As Jacobs points out success or failure depended on point of view and I’ll let you be the judge.

Jacobs is an amusing writer and his style is engaging but he also makes you think. How differently would you react and how would your views change if you think of everyone as family?

Maybe it’s the boost of energy that comes along with Spring, but I’ve really been on a reading kick lately. That probably sounds silly coming from a librarian, but most of us wax and wane in our hobbies. I’ve also found myself reading a few things I wouldn’t normally pick up. And since all of these books have been so entertaining, I decided to share several short reviews covering a range of recent additions to the Library’s collection.

futureFuture Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich — Set in the not too distant future, or maybe just an alternative present, Erdich explores what might happen in a world where humans seem to be devolving. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a Native American who has been adopted by a white family. And she has a secret: she’s pregnant. In an increasingly dystopian world, can she ensure the safety of herself, her child, and her families? I spent a lot of time frightened for Cedar and she journeys between worlds, both literal and spiritual. Erdich’s story is firmly within the realm of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The One by John Marrs — What if, with a simple DNA sample, you could find your genetic soulmate? The one for whom you are literally perfect? In THE ONE, Marrs explores what might happen if this were possible. Six stories unfold as people learn the identities of their perfect genetic matches. Ranging from your everyday businessman to a serial killer, these characters discover that love is complex and can lead to results no one could expect. Though, I did find a couple of the plot points predictable, it was certainly a fun read. Fans of “Black Mirror” will likely enjoy this sordid set of tales.

fridgeThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente — In the world of comic books, there is a term for a select group of characters: Women in Refrigerators. This refers to the disproportionate amount of female characters that are killed in the name of furthering storylines. Valente tells the stories of a series of women characters — no one directly from comics, but recognizable if you’re familiar with many of the big name series — who have been written out of the comics world and spend their time in the afterworld. The characters cover the gamut of emotions associated with such deaths, but also speak to the strength of female friendships. A quick read for anyone who wants a different perspective on the world of comics.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas — In Zumas’ story, only married, heterosexual couples can adopt children. Abortion is flat out illegal. And in this world, women are dealing with what these regulations mean for their everyday lives. Each woman copes in her own way, with longing, fear, or even rebellion. These characters are very real, and likely will remind you of someone you know. And some women, like a fictional explorer named Eivør Minervudottir, are out of place in their own time. This is another work that is spiritually and topically akin to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

mojo.jpgTotal Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy — Let’s be honest: I’m a crazy cat lady. I grew up a dog person, but years ago, my husband introduced me to cats and it’s been all downhill from there. Like any responsible pet owner, I want to make sure my cats are living their best lives. And that means Jackson Galaxy. He’s pretty much the go-to guy for cat people. And TOTAL CAT MOJO is a wonderful resource for all stages of a cat’s life. Plus, he gives great advice for troubleshooting common cat problems like litter box struggles, dealing with stressed kitties, and introducing new family members – from feline to human.

Though there are some common themes in these books, I think they’ll speak to a variety of readers. We add hundreds of items every month; be sure to explore the new books and to find something that appeals to you!