Alexievich, Dolan-Leach, Stradal, Whitehead: Barbara's Picks, Jul. 2019, Pt. 1 | Prepub Alert

Good news: Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich and Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead have new books. As do Caite Dolan-Leach and J. Ryan Stradal, returning after triumphant debut novels.

Alexievich, Svetlana. Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II. Random. Jul. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780399588754. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780399588778. Downloadable. HISTORY

Nobel Prize winner Alexievich, whose oral histories of World War II (e.g., the multi-best-booked The Unwomanly Face of War) have given us a whole new understanding of that cataclysm, especially in the Soviet Union, now focuses on the wartime lives of children. The men and women interviewed for this book recall their youthful experiences as both witnesses to and participants in the fighting, clarifying the suffering that shaped a generation—and a nation. With rights sold in 47 countries.

Dolan-Leach, Caite. We Went to the Woods. Random. Jul. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780399588884. $27; ebk. ISBN 978039958889. CD/downloadable. LITERARY FICTION

Having boldly caught our attention when she debuted with the LJ-starred Dead Letters, Dolan-Leach visits five idealistic young people who set up a commune of sorts on an abandoned farm in upstate New York. They include upper-crust Louisa, whose family owns the land; charismatic sleep-around Beau; charming musician Chloe; Jack, smartest of the lot and with farm experience to boot; and Mack, who’s convinced she can write their story. Interpersonal tensions (not the least being sexual) soon sour the camaraderie—and then the winter snows come knocking.

Stradal, J. Ryan. The Lager Queen of Minnesota. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Jul. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780399563058. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399563072. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable. LITERARY FICTION

Author of the best-selling debut Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a No. 1 LibraryReads pick that got best-book attention, Stradal returns to the homey, heartfelt Midwest with a story inspired by family events. Once upon a time, Helen Blotz inherited the family farm, alienating sister Edith, but Helen uses the proceeds to transform husband Orval’s family soda business into the hottest brewery in Minnesota. Even as Edith’s granddaughter Diana launches her own brewpub, Helen’s business stars sledding downhill (she doesn’t believe in IPAs), but there’s a chance that Edith’s Rhubarb Pie in a Bottle Ale might save the day.

Whitehead, Colson. The Nickel Boys. Doubleday. Jul. 2019. 224p. ISBN 9780385537070. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385537087. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable. LITERARY FICTION

Having claimed multiple awards (including the Pulitzer) and over a million in sales across formats for The Underground Railroad, his ripped-gut portrait of American slavery, Whitehead now assays segregation through the experiences of ambitious young Tallahassee resident Elwood Curtis. In the 1960s, Elwood is college-bound until he makes a mistake that lands him at a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose staff profess to shape inmates into upstanding young men but who routinely deliver vicious beatings and sexual abuse, steal provisions, and make sure resisters disappear forever. The shocked Elwood takes Martin Luther King’s pacifist approach to events, but friend Turner has other ideas. Before writing, Whitehead researched the Florida Industrial School for Boys (later the Dozier Academy), where a secret mass grave was found after its 2011 closure.

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Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Book Review; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president of the National Book Critics Circle, to which she has just been reelected.

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