Barbara's Picks, February 2012, Pt. 3: Five Break-Out Novels and Nonfiction from MacArthur Genius Katherine Boo

Baggott, Julianna. Pure. Grand Central. Feb. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781455503063. $25.99; eISBN 9781455503049. Downloadable: Hachette Audio. DYSTOPIAN FICTION
Triple-threat Baggott writes quirky, poignant fiction (Girl Talk), forthright poetry (Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees), and children’s works (The Prince of Fenway Park), often under the pseudonym N.E. Bode. Here she offers the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy being compared to Justin Cronin’s The Passage and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (and having YA crossover potential). After the Detonations, the burned and scarred survivors must turn themselves over to the authorities at age 16, to become either soldiers or live targets. Now 16 and (understandably) on the run, Pressia encounters Partridge, one of the Pures‚ so-called because they were inside the Dome during the Detonations and hence are undamaged. Partridge has just left the Dome’s safety, having learned that his mother might be outside, still alive. This book is really building (film rights went to the Twilight producers); don’t miss.

Duffy, Erin. Bond Girl. Morrow. Feb. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780062065896. $24.99; eISBN 9780062065919. POP FICTION
No, not a James Bond girl. Alex Garrett wants to make it big in bond sales at Wall Street’s estimable Cromwell Pierce, but for now she’s learning the basics from a forbidding boss while running low-level errands (like buying $1000 wheels of Parmesan cheese) and shrugging off the nickname Girlie. Then she becomes an associate, her former tormentors become her buddies (there’s even boyfriend material there), and all’s reasonably well until the 2008 recession hits and Alex must decide what really matters. This debut novel is reportedly sparkly and hilarious, as is the author, who has worked on Wall Street herself. Lots of in-house enthusiasm and a 75,000-copy first printing to boot; this girl could be good company.

Funder, Anna. All That I Am. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780062077561. $25.99; eISBN 9780062077585. HISTORICAL FICTION
Inspired by the story of Ruth Koplowitz, a German-Jewish activist during World War II who subsequently moved to Sydney and befriended the author late in life, this novel portrays a group of German left-wingers who battle Hitler from exile in London. While visiting her cousin Dora in Munich, teenaged Ruth falls for charismatic journalist Hans Wesemann, and the three enjoy the heady atmosphere of the Weimar Republic while trying to get war hero Ernst Toller released from prison. Then Hitler comes to power, Ernst is forced out of the country, and the four friends end up in London, trying to persuade the British that the danger Hitler poses is very, very real. This book isn’t getting the biggest first printing‚ only 30,000 copies‚ but the buzz is starting to build, rights have been sold to over a dozen countries, and Funder’s writing must be good. Her first book, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, appearing here as an original trade paperback in September 2011, won Britain’s Samuel Johnson Prize.

Ivey, Eowyn. The Snow Child. Reagan Arthur Bks: Little, Brown. Feb. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780316175678. $24.99; eISBN ISBN 9780316192958. LITERARY FICTION
I was already intrigued by this book after learning that galleys would be available at BEA and ALA‚ pretty impressive for a first novel that’s not a slash-and-dash thriller. Then I chatted with the publicist, who reported that it’s fresh and magical and the reason why we all in our various ways go into this book business. In 1920s Alaska, newcomers Jack and Mabel struggle against despair, finally building a snow child to distract themselves. The next morning, their creation is gone, but they spot a blonde-haired girl running in the forest and soon come to regard her as the daughter they never had. Sounds like a real fairytale, but we all know that such tales have their bitter edge. The Alaskan-based author should make this bracing and real.

Romano-Lax, Andromeda. The Detour. Soho. Feb. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781616950491. $25.
It’s 1938, and already the Sonderprojekte is at work, bringing the great art of Europe to Germany for the Führer. Young Ernst Vogler, reeling from the news that his mentor has been marched off in the night, is sent to Rome to collect a valuable statue, The Discus Thrower. He expects to head straight for the border, but Italian escorts Cosimo and Enzo have other ideas, taking him on a wild ride that sets quirky and lively humanity against the grinding, impersonal forces of war, history, and power. A good look at the manuscript confirms that the book is no (inappropriately) jolly picaresque; Romano-Lax, author of the well-received The Spanish Bow, keeps the palette just dark enough to remind us of the terror that is there‚ and the terror that’s to come. Nicely paced, brisk with dialog, and lyric at the right moment, this would be great for book clubs.

Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random. Feb. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781400067558. $28; eISBN 9780679643951 . CD: Random Audio. SOC SCIENCE
You’ll know Boo from her work at the Washington Post and now as staff writer for The New Yorker, which has brought her any number of honors, including the MacArthur genius award. Her writing has always been marked by a persuasive sense of humanity, never more than in this study of the hopeful and go-getting inhabitants of the slums surrounding the luxury hotels at the Mumbai airport. Teenaged Abdul aims to better his family with finds from the trash rich tourists have discarded, for instance, while Asha works to make her promising daughter the slum’s first female college graduate. Of course, there’s abuse, envy, and political and religious tensions as well. Comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire are inevitable, but this would also match up nicely with fiction from Aravind Adiga (e.g., The White Tiger). Undoubtedly acute, beautiful writing for all informed readers; with a seven-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.


  1. James Ivey says:

    Of course I am the prejudiced father-in-law of the sensitive, insightful, and gorgeous authoress, but I believe Eowyn has written the great Alaska novel. It seems to me, having read her book, that, if James Michener was justified in calling his great novel, “Hawaii,” Eowyn could, if she liked, retitle “The Snow Child” “Alaska.” This book is about life, a massive undertaking and exploration, and Eowyn has succeeded. It is the best book I have ever read, better, for example than “Moby Dick.” “The Old Man and the Sea” comes close. I have never before read a book that I wanted to read again AS SOON AS I FINISHED IT THE FIRST TIME. I wanted to visit again with my new friends, Mabel, Jack, George, Esther, Garret, and Jay, and I wanted meld again with the soul of Faina. Mostly, I didn’t want the experience of reading this masterpiece to be over.