Everything Is Teeth by Evie Wyld, illustrated by Joe Sumner; Pantheon, 128 pages, $24.95.
Novelist Evie Wyld (“All the Birds Singing,” “After the Fire”) offers an unsettling, moving exploration of the anxieties of childhood in this extraordinary graphic novel memoir of her summers spent with family in coastal New South Wales, Australia. In spare, poetic prose, Wyld paints a vivid picture of the sultry heat, the muddy river, her six-year-old self obsessed with stories from visiting farmers and fishermen, of sharks, sea snakes, “something that lurks beneath the surface.” Any outing to the beach, a seemingly happy scene of swimmers waving is a waking nightmare for young Evie, her childish perception adding “fins that flash bronze in the sun, “a weight beneath the water.” A particular object of fascination, is “a freshly preserved bronze whaler’s jaw,” a gift from Father Christmas to her brother. Its sharp teeth “pierce my gloves.” She becomes obsessed with Rodney Fox, survivor of a shark attack. (“I solemnly understand you to be the greatest living man.”) Back in England, her older brother is being bullied and beaten up and turns to Evie for grisly shark stories for comfort. (“A mako, found with a pair of expensive stilletos in its stomach.”) The artist uses photorealistic color images of sharks amid black and white line drawings to great effect.
– Jean Westmoore
Clara: The Mostly True Story of the Rhinocerous Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone…While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent by Emily Arnold McCully; Schwartz & Wade Books, 48 pages $17.99. Ages 4 to 8.
Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully, one of those amazing people equally gifted at storytelling and illustration, has crafted a fascinating picture book from an extraordinary true story, of a Dutch sea captain in the 18th century who created a sensation touring Europe with his pet rhinoceros. A map on the opening page shows Clara’s journey by sea (her original journey from her home in Calcutta, India, to Rotterdam, Holland) and in a horse-drawn wagon across Europe. (Posters advertising her visits proclaimed: “She eats 100 pounds of hay and 30 loaves of bread a day and drinks 14 buckets of water and beer”). McCully’s marvelous story draws the reader in from the first sentence: “Nearly 300 years ago, when half the world was still a mystery to the other half, a Dutch sea captain arrived in India and called on an old friend.” There was a visit to Berlin to meet Frederick the Great, where Clara was treated with “oil of sardine,” to Vienna and a visit with Empress Maria Theresa, to Germany, where Clara modeled for paintings, to France and the court of Louis XV, where the French went wild with “Rhinomania.” Along with the picturesque immersion in the Europe of the 18th century, the story explores the special bond between the captain and his rhinoceros.
- Jean Westmoore
LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich; Harper, 384 pages, $27.99.
Louise Erdrich waits less than two pages to pierce us with the terrible event that sets “LaRose” in motion.
Landreaux Iron is hunting, as he has done all his life, along the border of the Ojibwe reservation where he lives when he spots a deer. “Landreaux took the shot with fluid confidence. When the buck popped away he realized he’d hit something else – there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate and looked down did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son.”
The dead boy, 5-year-old Dusty, is the best friend of Landreaux’s youngest son, LaRose. Dusty’s father, Peter Ravich, is one of Landreaux’s closest friends; his mother, Nola, is the half sister of Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline.
All of those interlocking, intimate relationships, and more, will be strained and scarred by Dusty’s death. In a stunning gesture of atonement inspired by the “old way” of their Ojibwe ancestors, Landreaux and Emmaline will give their son LaRose to the Raviches to raise in Dusty’s place, with complex results.
LaRose fits like a carefully cut quilt piece into the world of Erdrich’s fiction. She is the author of 14 previous novels; the first, “Love Medicine,” won the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the 14th, “The Round House,” won the 2012 National Book Award. In all of them, the settings arc across the Upper Midwest, from Michigan to North Dakota, and across as much as two centuries. Many of the characters are people of the Ojibwe tribe (also called Chippewa or Anishinaabe) or of mixed Ojibwe and white heritage, like Erdrich herself.
Erdrich’s fiction is woven from some of the darkest, bloodiest threads of the history of the collision of indigenous and European cultures – and from the bright beauty of the bonds of tradition, family and friendship that the survivors share.
In LaRose, those bonds are severely tested. Erdrich weaves the stories of the Iron and Ravich families at the turn of the 20th century (the book begins in 1999) together with those of their forebears, notably all the women who have borne the name LaRose.
As the novel moves forward in the present, the younger characters grow in importanceNone of them will emerge unscarred, but healing will come.
– Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times