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Books in Brief: Running Girl by Simon Mason, Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan

YOUNG ADULT

Running Girl by Simon Mason; David Fickling Books, $18.99. Ages 14 and up.

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This nifty murder mystery featuring 16-year-old Garvie Smith, known to his friends as Sherlock for his ability to solve any puzzle, comes from a British author whose previous book for children, “Moon Pie,” was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Garvie is the smartest and most famously underachieving student at Marsh Academy. His long-suffering mother threatens to move him back to her native Barbados if he doesn’t stop skipping school and hanging around with ne’er-do-wells. But when Garvie’s former girlfriend disappears while out jogging and then is found murdered, Garvie decides to investigate. Intricate plotting, pulse-pounding suspense and a cast of colorful, interesting characters make this one a winner.

– Jean Westmoore

CHILDREN’s

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life by Ashley Bryan; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99. Ages 6 to 10.

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Africans, stolen from their homes, sold into bondage and shipped under the most gruesome conditions across the ocean to labor in a strange land, were robbed of their freedom, their families, their language, their names, their stories. Ashley Bryan, a poet and artist and three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner, puts a face on slavery and gives a voice to the lost in this powerful book which takes its title from the spiritual “Oh, Freedom” and its inspiration from the actual 1828 will of a plantation owner listing 11 slaves for sale along with the cows, hogs and cotton. The document lists only name, gender and selling price (Peggy, woman, $150; Qush, man, $100). Around these minimal descriptions Bryan creates an age and work assignment, along with two stories, in poetry, for each, of life as a slave mastering a trade on the estate, followed by each person’s memories of home and dreams of freedom. For example, he imagines Jane as a seamstress dreaming of life with Stephen, a carpenter, remembering her childhood in West Africa and looking back on her abduction by slave raiders. This powerful and important book should be assigned reading to every American schoolchild.

– Jean Westmoore

SCI-FI

Death’s End by Cixin Liu; Tor Books (608 pages, $26.99)

In Cixin Liu’s novel “Death’s End,” the only human embedded in a hostile alien culture tells the woman he has long adored a fairy tale about an ancient kingdom where an artist does away with people by imprisoning them in his exquisite paintings.

Later, the brightest minds of the woman’s world study the story from every angle, looking within it for the secrets that will allow them to save humanity, maybe even the entire universe, from annihilation. They find remarkable things, including the possibility of changing the speed of light. But they never exhaust the story’s gifts.

Like those scientists, I can pull many marvels out of “Death’s End,” the final book in Liu’s mind-blowing science-fiction trilogy: space cities orbiting Jupiter, an unexpected view of our reality from inside the fourth dimension, the deliberate bursting of a star – and the tender regard of a man for a woman (and vice versa) that carries each through centuries of struggle. But, unlike the malevolent artist of the tale, I’ll never be able to contain Liu’s riches in a simple document.

Instead, I’ll simply gape in amazement at a trilogy that belongs in the pantheon with the greatest works of Arthur C. Clarke, one of Liu’s self-declared precursors. Liu offers brain-busting thrills for the reader who thrives on hard-science speculation, but has plenty of love for the troubled human conscience, too.

– Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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