Family Stories, Twins, Con Artists, and Gatsby Love | What We’re Reading

The LJ/School Library Journal staff is getting comfy in our new location near Wall St. and the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, now that we’re (mostly) unpacked and moved in, we’re ready to share our reading experiences with you!

Ghost StoryMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
Last weekend, I saw Bart Layton’s gripping documentary The Imposter (2012), an account of how in 1997, con artist Frédéric Bourdin (then 23) managed to pass himself off—briefly—as Nicholas Barclay, a missing teenager from Texas. That, in turn, compelled me to seek out a New Yorker piece from 2008, which lays out the story in frightening detail. From the piece:

The U.S. State Department warned that he was an “exceedingly clever” man who posed as a desperate child in order to “win sympathy,” and a French prosecutor called him “an incredible illusionist whose perversity is matched only by his intelligence.” Bourdin himself has said, “I am a manipulator….My job is to manipulate.”
In Pau, the authorities launched an investigation to determine why a thirty-year-old man would pose as a teen-age orphan. They found no evidence of sexual deviance or pedophilia; they did not uncover any financial motive, either. “In my twenty-two years on the job, I’ve never seen a case like it,” Eric Maurel, the prosecutor, told me. “Usually people con for money. His profit seems to have been purely emotional.”

Keeping it light, I’m also reading Peter Straub’s Ghost Story (1979, Putnam), a tale of horror and suspense.

I'll Give You the SunShelley M. Diaz, Senior Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I just finished Jandy Nelson’s second novel, I’ll Give You the Sun (Dial), and I can’t stop pushing it on people. It focuses on two artistic fraternal twins who have gone from being inseparable to not even on speaking terms. Told in alternating chapters, Noah’s sections recount their tale from when they are 13 years old. Jude’s perspective tackles their story from when they are 16. Readers understand that something cataclysmic has occurred to rend their family apart, and Nelson slowly reveals the details of that tragedy in lyrical prose and heartache. First love, grief, betrayal—all are wrapped up in this one-of-a-kind work.
Burgeoning artist Noah sees the world through a painter’s eyes and imagines portraits to help him cope with daily events. Below are his thoughts on his sister’s recent boy-crazy pursuits:

Mom says Jude acts the way she does now on account of hormones, but I know it’s on account of her hating me. She stopped going to museums with us ages ago, which is probably a good thing, because when she did, her shadow kept trying to strangle mine. I’d see it happening on the walls or on the floor, Sometimes lately, I catch her shadow creeping around my bed at night trying to pull the dreams out of my head. I have a good idea what she does instead of coming to the museum, though. Three times now, I’ve seen hickeys on her neck. Bug bites, she said. Sure. I heard while spying that she and Courtney Barrett have been riding bikes down to the boardwalk on weekends, where they see who can kiss more boys. (PORTRAIT: Jude Braiding Boy After Boy into Her Hair)”

No Safe HouseLiz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
I’m still on a ThrillerFest high after attending the ninth annual meeting of the thrill-meisters earlier this month and asking quite a few of them what they’re reading (here is Part I of my “What They’re Reading: report; here’s Part II). Usually I find at least one new (to me) author to read at ThrillerFest: this year it’s Linwood Barclay. Barclay’s August 2014 thriller No Safe House (NAL) opens spectacularly with a scene that will blow you away, and it continues at a breathtaking pace—as a good domestic thriller should. The family-in-peril story switches point of view and from first- to third-person seamlessly—that’s not easy to pull off but Barclay does it well. He’s also pretty darn good with plot twists and withholding info for those “aha” moments. This book is a sequel of sorts, revisiting the characters from Barclay’s 2007 novel, No Time for Goodbye (Bantam). Although the Archer family’s past is alluded to in No Safe House, you won’t feel left out if you haven’t read Goodbye—but I’m betting you’ll want to after reading Safe House. I sure do.

So We Read OnBarbara Genco, Special Projects Manager, LJ
It is summer. I think I first read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby the summer I was 17 when I saw it on some “best books for the college bound” list somewhere. No, I did not read it in high school English class; we read no 20th-century fiction at all in my Catholic high school! Since then I have reread it and seen two film versions. I vividly remember one summer that the New York Times published it in tabloid-sized sheets as part of its Great Summer Read effort. It was then that I really fell in love with the book and have reread it since. I remember standing at a bus stop and crying, really crying, as I read the last line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I have just started Maureen Corrigan’s popular lit-crit book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures (Little, Brown).
I was predisposed to love this book. Corrigan is one of my favorite NPR smarty-pants reviewers on Fresh Air, which I listen to in podcast. She is also a prof at Georgetown and has taught the book and read it 50-plus times.

Here’s a taste of her thoughtful exegesis/appreciation:

I say The Great Gatsby is just about prefect despite the fact that it goes against every expectation of what a Great American Novel should be. As the eminent literary scholar Morris Dickstein has observed, the novel “violates the first commandment of all writing programs—show don’t tell.”

I agree with Corrigan. It is in the telling, the exquisite flow of language that makes us love this heart-wrenching book. I am loving the book all over again as I read her wonderful, humane, and keen observations. When I finish Corrigan’s work I am going to reread Gatsby. If I can wait that long.

The Dead Will TellHenrietta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
I’ve been reading a lot, both for work and not. On the “not” side, I’m becoming better at observing Nancy Pearl’s 50-page rule (I’m still required to read 50 pages, by the way). There are too many books in the world—especially my world—to continue with something I don’t like. One book I stuck with was Linda Castillo’s latest mystery, The Dead Will Tell: A Kate Burkholder Novel (Minotaur: St. Martin’s), about the cold-case murder of an Amish family. I became weary when the story’s twist seemed obvious a little way in, but boy was I wrong!
For work, but it didn’t seem like work, I recently read Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster (Scribner, Oct.) a sober tale of a newly widowed woman who’s struggling to support her children in their grief while reeling from her own. It has its moments of levity—anyone who’s ever worked with someone who can’t be pleased will cheer Nora when she stands up to the office bully—and the most astounding dream scene I’ve ever read. Also on my desk lately was Abby Sher’s searing Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery (Barron’s). I had no idea of the prevalence of this problem; from the book I also learned about what people are doing to help and how to contribute to the fight against this scourge.

Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email:, Twitter: @lizefrench