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A group of nonfiction titles that includes something for everyone.
Wes Moore is an advocate for youth, education, and veterans (see the 2014 PBS series Coming Back with Wes Moore). He became well-known in library and school circles with his 2010 debut The Other Wes Moore. Now he’s back with an inspirational book of life lessons, and it wins a starred review from us!
Matt Richtel’s A Deadly Wandering made the Booklist Editors’ Choice: Adult Books for Young Adults, 2014 list. This is a heartbreaking story of a deadly accident caused by texting and driving, and the subsequent investigation and trial. It is both an emotional story of the families involved, and a look at the scientific research around technology and multi-tasking.
Finally, one for the anthropology crowd. Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found is the kind of nonfiction that nearly defies categorization, described as “a serious and seriously entertaining exploration of the varied obsessions that the “civilized West” has had with decapitated heads and skulls.” Frances Larson wanders around the world and across time bringing together diverse information about beheadings from executions past and present, wartime acts, even headhunting. It will be the erudite teen indeed who has the context to appreciate all of the author’s musings, but the curious will definitely find sections of interest. Readers drawn to Mary Roach will like this, and those same readers will be able to handle the more gruesome descriptions. (And don’t you just love that subtitle?)
When reading The Work, the word “humblebrag” comes to mind repeatedly, with emphasis on the “humble” rather than the “brag.” After all, Moore’s previous book (The Other Wes Moore; Spiegel & Grau, 2010) examined the difference between his life and that of the “other” Wes Moore, a young man from similar upbringing who is spending life in prison. So he is aware that his history of military service, a Rhodes scholarship, and a stint on Wall Street is something to appreciate, and that he should be thankful for and humble about his accomplishments. Now, Moore wants to share what he has learned on each step of his journey with those who are about to set out on a journey themselves. Each chapter is a lesson, focused on an aspect of his life: the Student, the Professional, the Soldier, the Public Servant, the Risk Taker, the Worker, the Family. But he doesn’t tell the story alone. Each chapter also includes advice from another successful adult, such as Daniel Lubetzky, CEO of Kind, Inc., or Esther Benjamin, associate director of the Peace Corps. Moore also includes a notable failure, and demonstrates how failure can be a good learning experience as well. The book concludes with a lengthy resource guide listing hundreds of opportunities, both for volunteering and meaningful work. All prospective graduates could find this title to be an inspiration as they begin their own journeys. VERDICT: This book should find a home as widely as Richard Nelson Bolles’s What Color is Your Parachute? in any library serving teens and adults.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD
It’s rare these days to see teens without a smartphone in their hands, constantly reaching out to their friends via text or social media. Many articles talk about how today’s teen brains are wired differently because of this constant “on–ness” and that they can, as a result, multitask at a very high level. A Deadly Wandering shows that while we may have accepted this as truth, the reality is different. In 2006, Reggie Shaw was living at home, having been expelled from the Mormon missionary training program he’d had his heart set on and working in nearby Logan. One day, during a snowstorm, his car swerved into the oncoming lane, causing the car in that lane to spin into the path of a tractor trailer driving behind Shaw; two rocket scientists die in the accident. Why did Reggie swerve? As Trooper Rindlisbacher drives Reggie to the police station after, he notices that Reggie is a “one handed texter” and doesn’t even seem aware he’s doing it. Readers learn about the lives affected by this accident, from Reggie (who now speaks about the dangers of texting and driving) and his girlfriend Briana to Trooper Rindlisbacher and Victim’s Advocate Terryl Warner to the bereaved families of James Furfaro and Keith O’Dell, all linked due to a few moments of inattention. Using the investigation as an anchor, Richtel builds a solid case that debunks assumptions about how well we multitask and how dangerous it can be to assume that either task is being performed effectively. VERDICT More than the usual “true crime” or “scared straight” story, this will interest teens because of the texting element; budding neuroscientists will also learn quite a bit about the brain’s inner workings.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT
From the neck down, people are pretty much the same. It’s the head that grants individuality, that makes people, people. It’s no wonder that the head is an object of fascination and veneration. Severed looks at heads from a variety of angles, including the historical obsession with preservation and the modern efforts to understand how the brain works. For example, the term “headhunter” was usually applied to natives who collected their enemy’s heads, sometimes shrinking them to create a trophy of sorts. Yet to those “savages,” Europeans became the headhunters when their interest in shrunken and tattooed heads created enough demand that the they started skipping traditional rituals in order to keep the supply flowing. (Some even handed over European heads in lieu of native, or tattooed them to order!) Ever wondered how long a head retains consciousness after being severed? There’s a whole chapter of answers. From death masks and revered relics to cryogenically frozen and dissected, Larson’s book will amuse and repel readers. There’s little gore, but the author’s stories of how we’ve treated heads over the centuries can be disturbing (example: the fate of Oliver Cromwell’s head, which gets pride of place in the Prologue). For anyone interested in social history, this is great narrative nonfiction. VERDICT A nonfiction title perfect for fans of Mary Roach, Thomas Cahill, and Mark Kurlansky.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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