by Bill Strickland
The Fox Cities Reads committee couldn't pick just one in 2011, so we picked two by Luis Alberto Urrea. Something for everyone!
Into the Beautiful North (fiction)
Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US when she was young. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn't the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village--they've all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men--her own "Siete Magnificos"--to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over.
The Devil's Highway (nonfiction)
In this work of grave beauty and searing power - one of the most widely praised pieces of investigative reporting to appear in recent years - we follow twenty-six men who in May 2001 attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadly region known as the Devil's Highway, a desert so harsh and desolate that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it, a place that for hundreds of years has stolen men's souls and swallowed their blood. Only twelve of the men made it out.
Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen
It was the summer on Vliet Street we all started locking our doors...
Sally O'Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died. She swore she'd look after her sister, Troo. Keep her safe. But like her Granny always said—actions speak louder than words. Sally would have to agree with her. Because during the summer of 1959, the girls' mother is hospitalized, their stepfather has abandoned them for a six pack, and their big sister, Nell, who was left strict instructions to take care of the girls, is too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that her charges are on the loose. And so is a murderer and molester.
Highly imaginative Sally is pretty sure of two things. Who the killer is. And that she's next on his list. If nobody will believe her, she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can, relying on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors.
Funny, wise and uplifting, Whistling in the Dark is the story of two tough and endearing little girls...and of a time not so long ago, when life was not as innocent as it appeared.
Off Main Street, Population: 485, and Truck by Michael Perry
Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets, and Gatemouth's Gator
Thirty-three previously published essays ruminating on the author's childhood and painting word portraits of unique people he's met.
Some of the pieces appeared in the two collections Perry self-published before HarperCollins released his memoir of life as a volunteer fireman in his Wisconsin hometown (Population 485, 2002); others appeared in various, generally very-small-circulation periodicals. They deserve wider release: Perry has a real talent for mining quirky humor from even the most mundane situations, and humor isn't his only strength. He may write about Mrs. Oregon's eyebrows looking as if they'd been applied with motor oil, but he also poignantly depicts such memorable figures as Mack Most, a meat-market worker whose six-year-old daughter experiences kidney failure. Perry's description of the grinning slaughterhouse veteran, who has killed untold numbers of animals, leaves a lasting impression, as does his funny tale of dismantling Big Boy, the grinning, chubby-cheeked statue that adorned the front of many a Big Boy restaurant. This little vignette quite naturally leads to a discussion of other outsized restaurant creations, such as the 50-foot-tall Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Meanwhile, lying somewhere in tone between the gritty realism of the story on Mack Most and the shaggy-dog absurdity of the Big Boy piece is a perceptive profile of Aaron Tippin, a country singer obsessed with trucks who has quite an extensive collection of them. Aaron's recollections of how he acquired each truck are warm and funny, and Perry perfectly conveys the singer's character.
A delightful mix of humor and pathos, touching the heart and tickling the funny bone.
Being a volunteer EMT is no small challenge, even in a town as small as New Auburn, Wisconsin. Perry mixes his tales of heroic rescues with his stories of small-town life. His book opens with his team attempting to rescue a teenage girl from a disastrous car wreck on a dangerous bend of road. As part of the volunteer fire department, Perry--along with his brother and mother--pulls people from mangled cars and answers 911 calls from critically ill people. He also relates how New Auburn got its name (after going through three others), and shares the lives of his fellow volunteers, such as Beagle, a man who can't use the town's only gas station because both of his ex-wives work there. He details the technicalities of being a volunteer--the many terminologies one needs to memorize, and also crucial, life-saving techniques, such as CPR and controlling a house fire by puncturing a hole in its roof. Tragic at times, funny at others, Perry's memoir will appeal to anyone curious about small-town life.
A year in the life of a man and his truck.
The vehicle used by country chronicler Perry (Off Main Street, 2005, etc.) is his 1951 L-120 International Harvester pickup, altogether rusted and busted. The best repair, he's told, "would be to jack up the radiator cap and drive a new truck in under it!" But Perry resurrects the handsome old L-120. In this vivid Wisconsin Book of Days, the truck is put to work hauling plywood, paint and feed sacks. Perry portrays himself as a flannel-shirt-wearing prairie bachelor who eats his lunch in a sagging armchair. Among the topics he covers here are cooking, bad weather and good women. It's artful Americana, Homeboy Style. He owns three rifles, two shotguns and one revolver. He's a member of the New Auburn Volunteer Fire Department and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (Ean Claire) School of Nursing. He doesn't drink, he makes bruschetta for lunch and he appreciates the work of Raymond Loewy. He knows when to grow a deer-hunting beard and how to appreciate a painting. And he writes for a living. He can offer a fine set piece on such matters as dirt-track racing and the fire-department barbecue, as well as his growing relationship with the fetching Anneliese, a woman who also knows a bit about the fabric of a good life.
A reminder, by a talent of the hinterlands, to celebrate small-town life and to treasure human relationships.
Blackbird House and Green Angel by Alice Hoffman
With "incantatory prose" that "sweeps over the reader like a dream," ("Philadelphia Inquirer"), Hoffman follows her celebrated bestseller "The Probable Future" with an evocative work that traces the lives of the various occupants of an old Massachusetts house over a span of 200 years.
Haunted by a tragic loss, 15-year-old Green struggles to survive physically and emotionally. But in destroying her feelings, Green also begins to destroy herself. Only through a series of mysterious encounters will she learn the lessons of love and begin to heal.
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
A bestseller in hardcover, "Nickel and Dimed" reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way the nation perceives its working poor.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.