Book review: Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown

Brown, Box. Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman. First Second, 2018. $19.99. 260p. ISBN 978-1-626-72316-0. Ages 16+. P5Q6

Best known as Lafka in the television sitcom Taxi, Andy Kaufman also made his name as a stand-up comedian. His obsession with wrestling combined with his need to make people dislike him led to fame during his short life. Kaufman’s pretense as a lounge singer Tony Clifton and his practical jokes caused people to boycott his real funeral because they thought he was pulling another joke on them. As in Andre the Giant, Brown laboriously tracks his career and detailed conversations between Kaufman and Jerry Lawler in following the Memphis (TN) professional wrestling scene.

Verdict: Filled with trivia, this graphic biography for adults becomes tedious and Kaufman is not a likable subject.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories, edited by Sarah Lerner

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Ed. by Sarah Lerner. Crown, 2019. $17.99. 192p. ISBN 978-1-9848-5000-3. Ages 14+. P8Q8

Forty-three surviving students from the Florida school where 17 of their colleagues and teachers were shot and killed by a lone gunman on February 14, 2018—Valentine’s Day—relate their experiences of the day and the people through essays, journal entries, letters, poems, photos, and artwork. The writings, some of them obviously from teenagers, portray their terror on a day that should represented love and the following emotional impacts of loss, betrayal, and activist hope. The editor, an English teacher and yearbook advisor at the school, sheltered 15 students during the terrifying episode.

Verdict: Poignant writings will evoke anger, tears, and concerns for the future. Random House will donate part of the proceeds to Shine MSD that supports victims’ families. Hopefully, the book will keep the memory of this tragedy alive for young people. Highly recommended.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, by Nadya Okamoto

Okamoto, Nadya. Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement. Simon & Schuster. 2018. $19.99. 354p. ISBN 978-1-5344-3021-1. Ages 13+. P7Q9

When Okamoto was 16, she started PERIOD, the largest youth-run, non-profit in women’s health as well as one of the fastest-growing U.S. non-profits. At 20, the author of this book inspires young people with Period Power providing background from scientific information about the process of menstruation and related health concerns to the discrimination against menstruators who cannot afford products during their periods which caused her to found the organization that distributes menstruation products to the homeless, the poor, prisoners, and others who cannot afford them. Okamoto connects her issues to her past when her family, “experiencing housing and financial instability,” lived in Portland (OR). Chapters in her book also track the history of attitudes toward menstruation that was once considered “unclean,” the developing treatment of the formerly taboo subject on the media such as television sit-coms, and feminist equality concerns such as menstruation products being considered “luxury” items compared to the necessity of male products for hair replacement and correction of impotence.

Verdict: Okamoto has thoroughly researched her subject (though the book lacks mention of PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome) and writes in an accessible fashion. Her non-gendered language with terms such as “menstruators” and “people who menstruate” makes her message inclusive and intersectional through gender identity, race, religion, and class. She is a superb example of a young person who followed her passion and made it into an international movement.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Unpunished Murder: Massacre at Colfax and the Quest for Justice, by Lawrence Goldstone

Goldstone, Lawrence. Unpunished Murder: Massacre at Colfax and the Quest for Justice. Scholastic Focus, 2018. $17.99. 262p. ISBN 978-1-338-23945-4. Ages 13+. P4Q10

Eight years after the Civil War ended, white supremacists murdered between 65 and 400 blacks in Louisiana’s Grant Parish, driving them into a makeshift courthouse, setting it on fire, and shooting anyone who tried to escape the burning building. Despite charges and witnesses, no one was convicted of their crimes, and racist members of the U.S. Supreme Court not only exonerated the killers but also established U.S. law to oppress blacks and deny them human rights. These practices continued for almost 100 years until the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s. Laced with photographs, cartoons, and other illustrations, the book tracks government, including its racial prejudice, from the early days of the United States for over a century to the late 1800s, including the development of the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott decision, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Jim Crow South.

Verdict: Young readers looking for an exciting, gory read as promised by the title and cover will be disappointed because less than one-fourth of the history covers that specific event. But the author presents a fine description of constitutional history and how racist presidents such as Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson perverted the intent for democracy. The explanation of Johnson’s impeachment is also well done, as is the overview of slave states’ acceptance to the Union. One flaw is the positive perspective of the Homestead Act that drove Native Americans from their lands, but the clarity of language and organization makes this book a valuable part of social studies for youth in tracking the injustices suffered by U.S. citizens. RichiesPicks has an excellent overview of the book:

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump, by Martha Brockenbrough

Brockenbrough, Martha. Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump. Feiwel & Friends, 2018. $19.99. 416p. ISBN 978-1-250-30803-0. Ages 13+. P5Q9

Two years ago, Donald Trump mistakenly used the word “unpresidented” for “unprecedented”; now the mistake is enshrined in the first book about  his term is enshrined in the first biography about Trump for teenagers. Using media reports and books published for adults, the author of popular novels and non-fiction traces the patterns throughout Trump’s life to identify personality traits and characteristics such as his history of fact distortion and his self-aggrandizement as background for his current behavior. Also detailed in the book is the pattern of fraud displayed by his grandfather, who left Bavaria to avoid the draft, and his father as they used deceit to acquire their wealth. The book finishes in the middle of 2018, calling for a sequel.

Verdict: Information is extensively and carefully researched and chronicled in the 52 pages of small-print endnotes. Highly useful are the “Milestones,” “Presidency Timelines,” “Campaign Team Players” and “Legal Team” brief bio-sketches, and “Russian Connections.” The blue ink throughout the book can be distracting as are the boxes of quotes from the text. Younger readers may get lost in the details of lawsuits, settlements, malfeasance, etc., but this book would also be vital reading for adults. In her introduction, Brockborough pointed out that being “both accurate and fair” is not always defined as “a balance of positive and negative information. . . . But this is a bit like saying you can create balance by putting ten elephants on one side of the scale and ten babies on the other.” The book is broader than ones such as Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward’s Fear because it is not one person’s insider view from interviews. An advantage of this chronicle is that information is revealed in chronological fashion, not as the news came out months and years later. Missing from the biography is information about his siblings. One reviewer rated it “R” because of the language from Trump and his ten-day communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Untold History of the United States: Young Readers Edition 1945-1962, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, adapted by Eric S. Singer

Stone, Oliver and Peter Kuznick. Adapt. By Eric S. Singer. The Untold History of the United States: Young Readers Edition 1945-1962. Atheneum, 2019. $19.99. 305p. ISBN 9781481421768. Ages 13-16. P7Q9

This second volume of Stone’s progressive perspective on U.S. history, published almost four years after the first volume of Untold: Young Readers Edition, begins where the first volume left off, with the atomic bombings in Japan by President Harry Truman, and finishes with the Cuban missile crisis. Following the nuclear attack on Japan, the narration describes the nuclear threats throughout the 1950s and 1960s during the terms of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as the U.S. experimented with the hydrogen bomb that destroyed the Japanese fishing industry. To provide background for the U.S. destructive replacement of leaders, the book goes back in history to fill in information about U.S. business control of the oil interest in Iran, the banana industry in Guatemala and the U.S. attempt to take over Cuba to protect Hersey’s interest in sugarcane.

Verdict: This highly accessible adaption of an adult reader, although by a different person from the first volume, is equally successful. At this time, the information is also timely because of the immigration issue, the threatened U.S. coup in Venezuela and the danger from nuclear war from Russia, after the U.S. departure from a nuclear arms reduction treaty, and North Korea. Again, Stone’s book should be required reading for both teenagers and adults to give additional information to the standard history taught in schools. Stone’s book for adults was a lead to Stone’s 2012 documentary film. (Review of Volume 1: )

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History, by Deborah Hopkinson

Hopkinson, Deborah. D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History. Scholastic. 2018. $16.99. 372p. ISBN 978-0-545-68248-0. Ages 12+. P7Q9

Black and white photographs, maps, documents, biographical vignettes, eyewitness accounts, and personal remembrances accompany the details of June 6, 1944, and the events that led up to the largest military endeavor in history to drive the Germans out of France and back into their home ground where they were vanquished. Hopkinson describes how world leaders preserved total secrecy to send soldiers, sailors, paratroopers, and others including journalists and nurses into the danger that killed approximately 2,500 people. The book finishes with a World War II timeline, glossary, key people, and online resources that contribute to the endnotes, bibliography, and index.

Verdict: The excitement infused into the narratives accompany the factual accounts, carefully researched, that together make this history a compelling read. This book tells the important story of how Europe—and possibly the United States—might have fallen to the Germans in World War II without Operation Overlord, the intricate plan that culminated in one day of victory.

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.