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The Literary Hill

As schools begin to let out, it’s time to stack up a few riveting reads for the long and lazy days of summer. This month’s column focuses on three books for young adults (YA). But as any avid reader of recent releases knows, YA has gained currency with readers of all ages. The three books reviewed this month are no exception. Suitable for all ages. Stylistically varied. Rich with storytelling. Perfect for a hot summer’s day in the hammock or by the pool.

Why Fathers Cry at Night: A Memoir in Love Poems, Letters, Recipes, and Remembrances

Readers already familiar with Kwame Alexander’s critically acclaimed work will know him as the author of an enormous range of books for children and young adults, particularly “The Crossover,” a book about two teen brothers who are gifted basketball players, which won the Newberry and climbed the NYTimes bestsellers list.

Kwame Alexander. Photo: Harlin Miller.

In his most recent release, Alexander offers a genre-bending memoir—part love letter to his father, mother, and daughters, part reflection on the struggle to know our inner selves. Why Fathers also includes poetry, prose reminiscences and portraits, recipes, and family stories. These snippets are straightforward and brave, if at times, in isolation, a bit simple. Collectively, however, they are anything but—offering a sense of what it means to love, to be in relationship with family histories, to be loved, to fail at love, to regret, to grieve, and to let go. Alexander’s memoir is nothing less than a love letter to the process of learning to be our most human, fallible, and resilient selves. Along the way, he reminds us to enjoy our favorite music, the magic of a beer with a friend, and some excellent fried chicken with a home baked roll and Caesar salad on the side.

Why Fathers Cry at Night and other titles by Kwame Alexander can be found at local booksellers. While intended for adults, this excellent read is suitable for mature teens. For more information on Alexander’s books, appearances, and the Why Father’s Cry at Night Podcast visit: kwamealexander.com

Survive the Dome

Kosoko Jackson’s dystopian thriller will have readers on the edge of their seats, even as it confronts the unrelenting realities of police brutality, government control, and the everyday politics of race. The story unfolds in a Baltimore that has been locked down under a safety protocol called “The Dome”—not just a metaphor for the panoptic police state and systemic racism, but a physical barrier that encloses the unruly city. No one can get in or out.

Kosoko Jackson

Aspiring journalist Jamal is trapped inside, having been drawn to a protest over another Black man’s murder by police. He must join forces with Marco, a hacker, and Catherine, an out of place basic-training-graduate, to take on the corruption of the police force, the chief of police, and the ever-present powers that be. Terrific characters, tight plotting, and the sparks of romance provide terrific counterpoints to the novel’s scathing commentary on the ruthlessness of authoritarian force.

Kosoko Jackson is a digital media specialist and activist for LGBTQ youth whose writings have been published in Medium, Thought Catalog, and The Advocate. For more info about Kosoko Jackson and his work, see: kosokojackson.com.

The Poet X

Will The Poet X perform at the New York Citywide Slam? A provocative and engrossing novel in free verse, The Poet X gives inner life to the coming of age story of Dominican-American Xiomara Batista. Pouring poems about her family, the church, her mother’s strict Catholicism, her family and friends, the changes in her body, and growing up in Harlem into her notebook, “Xio” comes to know her strength as she learns that a poem can be “A lantern glowing in the dark.”

Passionate, aching, and confiding, Xiomara’s poems recount the rollercoaster of a first love (“Catching Feelings”), the excitement of preparing for a local poetry slam, conversations with teachers and classmates and, too, conflict with her mother, unanswered questions in catechism class, male harassment on the streets, bullying at school, and knowing her mother will not understand her desire to write poetry or allow her feelings for Aman. Xiomara joins her school’s poetry club and finds voice, purpose, and a sense of herself in her growing collection of poems.

Elizabeth Acevedo

Fans of Acevedo’s work will be delighted to hear that her first novel for adults, Family Lore, will be released in August 2023. The story of a Dominican-American family and their historical journey from Santo Domingo to New York City that unfolds over the three days they prepare for a “living” wake, to celebrate Flor, one of three sisters gifted with the ability to see when others will die.

Elizabeth Acevedo’s website can be found at acevedowrites.com

OutWrite 2023

Readers will want to mark their calendars for OutWrite 2023, coming up August 11-13th, this summer. Part of DC Center Arts, OutWrite is an annual LGBTQ+ literary festival, free and open to the public. This year’s festival will host in-person and virtual offerings.  For more info: thedccenter.org/outwrite

Library of Congress National Book Festival

Saturday, August 12th, from 9am to 8pm, the 23rd annual Library of Congress National Book Festival will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. As in previous years, this festival is free and open to the public, featuring both virtual, in person, and video recorded programing. Please note: This year’s festival includes enhanced safety and security measures for those entering the Convention Center.

Summer Book Clubs

For readers who are looking to talk books and reading, what could be better than a book club?

Folger Virtual

Book Club

The Folger’s Virtual Book club will discuss The Daughter of Time in June 2023. To sign up: www.folger.edu/whats-on/programs/book-club-words-words-words/

East City Book Clubs

From social justice, to kids books, to queer, to romance, to a book club for folks in their 20’s and 30’s, East City Books has a book club for you. Meetings in person, in store, and online. More info: https://eastcitybookshop.com/book-clubs

Solid State Book Clubs

Offering a 10% discount before a book club meeting on the featured books, Solid State hosts books clubs for readers of all types: a “Books on Hands” club (focusing on deaf-centered literature), a Sapphic Book club, Bad Books (“books you love to hate”), and a “Lit on H Street” club (on people of color in fiction) among others. Click here to find out more: www.solidstatebooksdc.com/book-clubs

DC Public Library Book Clubs

A wide range of genres and book club leaders – discuss new and old releases in travel, mystery, and Black studies among others. More info: www.dclibrary.org/attend-event/book-clubs

Michelle LaFrance is Associate Professor of English at George Mason University. She teaches creative nonfiction, life writing, and civic writing at the Hill Center and can often be found in the company of a cranky chihuahua. She blogs about writing, announces her upcoming classes and events, and offers coaching services at writinglostriver.com.  

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