Category Archives: Book Reviews

An Anthology of [Northside] Poetry
by Daniel Camponovo

BOOK COVER - City of Big ShouldersAbout two months ago my older brother was agonizing over whether to pursue his PhD and spend the next six years of his life in Chicago or New York City. It was, in many ways, a manifestation of the battle Chicago has been fighting for nearly 200 years as the second city, although strictly speaking Los Angeles (where my brother currently beds down) bumped Chicago down to the three-hole somewhere in the ‘80s. My brother’s a poet, and I couldn’t help but think of his decision as a validation of the New York poetry establishment over the ebb-and-flow of Chicago’s lit scene. As an adopted Chicagoan, it hurt, in a you-owe-me-a-beer-when-I’m-staying-on-your-couch-in-Brooklyn kind of way.

As a means of apology, or explanation, or whatever-it-was, he mailed me a copy of City Of The Big Shoulders: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry, edited by Ryan G. Van Cleave, and I smirked a little, knowing we share the pet peeve of the oft-misquoted line. Go ahead and reread Sandburg’s classic right now, I’ll wait: “broad shoulders” is nowhere in the text. It’s like when everyone misremembers “Luke, I am your father” or “Play it again, Sam.” From a pure judging-a-book-by-its-cover standpoint, which as a writer I do quite often, the title won a quick point from the get-go. It was, sadly, one of the few points the book would win.

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Joining the Cult: Why Not to Fault The Fault in Our Stars
by Julia Fine

The Fault in Our Stars

Upcoming YA book-turned-movie phenomenon The Fault in Our Stars has gained a cult teenage following, and in doing so a major marketing campaign. With ten hours of road trip this weekend, I jumped into the audiobook after long having heard it recommended. I was on my way to (and by the end of the book, from) my 5 year college reunion, which gives you an idea of where I stand on the YA spectrum. (Let me just clarify that it hasn’t actually been 5 years since my college graduationit’s been 4; they reunite us in clusters.)

I have a fairly good track record with recent YA hits, enjoying them more often than not, so I came into this novel with high hopes, but also several reservations. These days, much of what “The Man” is feeding teenagers seems designed to grab mom and dad’s money and leave kids with their first early tingles of sexual awakening, but not much else. With its screaming teenage fans, would this book be another Twilight? Even more daunting was the novel’s subject matter: terminally ill teenagers. Is it appropriate to turn tragedy into a multi-million dollar YA juggernaut? Is using the framework of a tragic love story exploitative?  Is this story of teens facing cancer really John Green’s story to tell?

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A Painful, Hopeful World
by Brian Zimmerman

BOOK COVER - Mira CorporaThe front cover of playwright Jeff Jackson’s debut novel Mira Corpora, resembles a gritty art film poster, reminiscent of a Smith’s album. A fuzzy crown stencil hovers above where the rest of the boy’s face should be. The cover screams hurt, emblazoned with the torn image of a sad boy whose eyes are caked with eyeliner. Jackson’s writing is fueled by images. This image, this cover, this is our introduction to the harsh world and haunting images that await—it intimates the terse prose and experimental style to come. This is a unique coming-of-age story about a troubled runaway. An author’s note states that the story is based on Jackson’s childhood notebooks, and the events within are an attempt to reach an emotional honesty regarding Jackson’s youth. As the novel opens, our narrator is coming to the page, pen in hand, ready to settle a score. Mira Corpora explores the invisible yet permanent relationship between memory, truth, and storytelling, all in 186 pages.

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The Science of Understanding
by Alba Machado

a review of Patrick Somerville’s The Universe in Miniature in Miniature

Last July, the Chicago Underground Library hosted its second annual “Science of Obsurity,” a science fair for writers, complete with dioramas, posterboards, and interactive experiments. In it, local writers found playful ways to present their works in terms of science fair projects: a story about a cantankerous crab, for example, was accompanied by an apparatus for determining one’s level of crabbiness. It was a lot of fun, and eye-opening, too. Through an experiment involving handwriting analysis, I discovered that I was in danger of developing an unpleasant foot problem that could only be prevented by reading Mrs. Dalloway and Jaws simultaneously. This is the magic of mixing imaginative writers and science. As entertaining and enlightening as this year’s “Science of Obscurity” may have been, however, something was missing.

The event was sadly lacking in Patrick Somerville.

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The Rigelians are here! (And they are not Jewish)
by Alba Machado

a review of Evan Mandery’s First Contact

Some people have reacted to the cataclysms of the last ten years by reexamining their understanding of international policy, religious fanaticism, nuclear proliferation, global warming, and the depletion of our natural resources. Others have taken refuge in the pages of popular series fiction, especially that involving vampires. The magic of Evan Mandery’s second novel, First Contact: Or, It’s Later Than You Think (Parrot Sketch Excluded), is that it will make you feel like you have gotten far, far away from it all even as it leads you to ponder the most profound and complex questions of the day, all without the benefit of sexy bloodsuckers.

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