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Books in Brief: More-igami by Dori Kleber; Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin

picture books

More-igami by Dori Kleber; illustrated by Brian Karas; Candlewick Press, $15.99.

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Joey loved things that folded – a taco, maps, the accordion, a foldaway bed – so he is blown away when a classmate’s mother folds a crane from paper at school one day. Joey becomes obsessed with becoming an origami master, driving his family mad as he practices on everything he can find to fold – his homework, his sister’s violin sheet music, the gift wrap, the bills in his mother’s purse. Then he finds the perfect outlet for his new obsession. This charming story, Kleber’s picture book debut, finds the perfect pairing with the expressive, often droll illustrations by veteran Brian Karas.

– Jean Westmoore

CHILDREN’s

Nine, Ten: A September 11 story by Nora Raleigh Baskin; Simon & Schuster, 188 pages $16.99 Ages 8 to 12.

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The readers in the target age group for this book were born after the attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001, but the author of “Anything But Typical” gives them a sense of what an earth-shaking, world-changing event it was as she weaves together the stories of four middle schoolers in the immediate days before. Sergo, a math whiz, lives with his grandmother in Brooklyn and is struggling to come to terms with the father he hates when he finds a new father figure in a chance meeting on the subway. Will lives in Shanksville, Pa., and his father’s recent death in a traffic accident has devastated his family. Naheed, the daughter of two doctors, lives in Columbus, Ohio, and has just started middle school, where she gets strange looks because of her head scarf. Aimee is also struggling with being a newcomer after her family’s move to Los Angeles, and misses her mother who had to fly to New York on business. Their stories all intersect at the end in an unexpected, and very moving way.

– Jean Westmoore

FICTION

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn; Liveright (336 pages, $26.95)

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Nicole Dennis-Benn’s striking first novel bears a vivid cover and a jaunty title, but its subject matter is anything but superficial. Set in Jamaica in 1994, during a crippling drought and the creeping encroachment of high-end hotels along the shores of Montego Bay, “Here Comes the Sun” takes a hard look at difficult subjects – class, poverty, identity, racism, homophobia, colorism.

Dennis-Benn, who grew up in Jamaica and now lives in Brooklyn, uses this landscape – not the sunny image on a tourism poster but a rockier terrain of need and want, sacrifice and betrayal – to create a haunting portrait of an exploited community on the verge of irrevocable change. We view this precipice through the eyes of four women who understand the truth about the sun, sky and beaches. “This is no paradise,” one says bitterly. “At least, not for us.”

The speaker is Margot, who holds a coveted position at a high-end hotel so removed from the island’s realities that “tourists now have to leave the lobby and drive half a mile to be reminded where they are.”

Dennis-Benn fleshes out the characters confidently, shaping them as complicated and often contradictory. They are fascinating, maddening, brave, unforgettable. Some speak in a patois that lends a poetic air to the novel; others use a more traditional English that marks them as outsiders.

Either way, Dennis-Benn doesn’t judge them.

Also remarkable is “Here Comes the Sun’s” unflinching view of the economics of morality. Quite simply, these women do what they feel they must to survive in a culture that values them less for being female, for being dark-skinned or for their sexuality. “What will set yuh free is money,” Delores tells Thandi, imploring her daughter to be practical.

“Here Comes the Sun” arrives in the season of the beach read, but with eloquent prose and unsentimental clarity, Dennis-Benn offers an excellent reason to look beyond the surface beauty of paradise. This novel is as bracing as a cold shower on a hot day, a reminder that sometimes we need to see things as they are, not as we wish they would be.

– Connie Ogle, Miami Herald