Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson; 272 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
This lovely novel, of learning to love again after unspeakable loss, delicately interweaves the stories of three teenage girls across a 150-year sweep of history. Anderson, author of critically acclaimed "Tiger Lily" and "The Vanishing Season," brings to vivid life three vastly different time periods, starting with Adri in the year 2065 in Miami (much of it underwater, being reclaimed by the ocean) and Kansas (Wichita, now the nation's capital). Orphaned by a cyclone and sent to live in a group home, Adri has never known – and thus doesn't care much about – human connection, and her hard work and discipline have prepared her for the honor of selection as a colonist on Mars.
In the weeks of preparation before departure, she is sent to live with her only "DNA match," a distant cousin in Canaan, Kansas, where she finds frail 107-year-old Lily Ortiz slowly fading into dementia. An old journal in the house leads to the story of Catherine, a 16-year-old girl who will give up her home, even the boy she loves, to save her little sister from dying of dust pneumonia in 1934 at the height of the Dust Bowl.
A bundle of postcards and letters Catherine saved in turn take us back to England in 1919 and the dark aftermath of World War I, where a shattered 17-year-old Lenore is grieving the loss of her brother Teddy, rejecting the pathetic parade of suitors her parents have found for her and planning to escape to America to reunite with childhood friend Beth.
As old family secrets – and their connections to each other and to Adri – come to light, some mysteries remain, and Adri desperately searches old newspapers and archives for answers before she has to leave Earth – and the cousin she has become increasingly fond of – forever. The title "Midnight at the Electric" refers to a Kansas pasture at midnight and a carnival barker's promise of healing and eternal life through an electrical jolt.
The vivid backdrops of war-shattered Britain and desolate Kansas in the Dust Bowl years (she cites Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time" in notes at the end) add a gritty realism and poignancy to the novel, as people ponder whether they can successfully build a new world on another planet after the mess they have made of this one. Anderson's use of one particularly long-lived creature to link all three stories is a stroke of genius.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton; illustrated by Alexandra Boiger; Philomel; $17.99. Ages 4 to 8.
Journalist Nellie Bly, labor activist Clara Lemlich, prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, Helen Keller and astronaut Sally Ride are among the 13 women "who persisted" in this fine picture book inspired by Sen. Elizabeth Warren's refusal to be silenced in the Senate earlier this year. The list was thoughtfully chosen and includes a wonderful diversity of names including pioneering female U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Olympic athlete Florence Griffith Joyner, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and less familiar names such as pioneering anesthesiologist Virgina Apgar and Ruby Bridges, who was only in kindergarten when she walked past angry white protesters to integrate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Clinton nimbly sketches out her portraits, using a minimum of words and including a well-chosen quote from each person. Boiger's dramatic watercolor illustrations are compelling.