Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci; Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.99, paperback) Ages 12 and up.
Through cartoons, collages and text, Ozge Samanci offers a fascinating exploration of her journey of self-discovery growing up in Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s. The daughter of two teachers, she longed to attend school like her older sister Pelin, adored her first-grade teacher and recalls the nationalistic lessons drilled into schoolchildren about the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the student oath “I am a Turk…” was recited by every child 800 times before graduating primary school). Among other interesting recollections, she notes the military coup in 1980 and the accompanying ban on imported goods and her parents’ purchase of a smuggled box of American Corn Flakes, later limits on television shows and Turks’ communal obsession with “Dallas.” While her friends liked pop music, she loved Jacques Cousteau, and convinced her father to let her buy a snorkeling mask. The election in 1983 of a prime minister who began directing the nation toward the free market brought big changes – some Turks got very wealthy while government workers suffered from stagnated wages and her family had to move to a modest neighborhood. Most fascinating is her navigation of the school system in pursuit of her parents’ wishes that she study engineering or medicine. She ended at the boarding school, Istanbul Ataturk Science High School, with a polarized student body of boys from conservative families who were practicing Muslims (and who referred to their liberal female classmates as “infidel exhibitionists” and worse). Samanci ended up pursing her dream of being an artist, or “daring to disappoint.”
– Jean Westmoore
Merry Merry Holly Holly by Dori Chaconas; illustrated by Lisa McCue; Viking ($17.99)
Cork the muskrat and his best friend, the possum Fuzz, are worthy heirs to Arnold Lobel’s beloved “Frog and Toad” Easy-Reader series. In their first picture book appearance, the friends search for a little “piece of quiet” (referring to birds as “tweeters”) to figure out what’s so special about the day, making for a charming, funny and understated lesson about the true meaning of Christmas: “Being together makes a day special. We don’t know why but we can feel it.”
– Jean Westmoore
Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas; Random House (288 pages, $16)
It took a complete outsider to pierce the National Football League’s institutional denial about the traumatic brain injuries of its former players.
Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian immigrant, barely knew what American football was. In “Concussion,” Jeanne Marie Laskas describes the game-changing discovery that Omalu made about the brains of former NFL players – and how the NFL tried to marginalize and discredit him. Her book builds on “Game Brain,” a 2014 article she wrote for GQ about Omalu’s work. Will Smith portrays Omalu in “Concussion,” a film also based on that article.
Omalu was the pathologist on duty when the body of Mike Webster arrived at the Pittsburgh morgue in 2002. A native of Tomahawk, Wis., Webster was a star lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and an NFL Hall of Famer.
When he looked at tissue samples from Webster’s lobes, Omalu found the kind of damage found in brains with Alzheimer’s. His scientific paper “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player” named the syndrome – and plunged him into unwelcome conflict with the damage-control apparatus of the NFL.
– Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel