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Books in Brief: City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson; XO, OX: A Love Story by Adam Rex


City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson; G.P. Putnam's Sons; 401 pages ($18.99) Ages 12 and up.

Debut author Natalie C. Anderson used her background as a relief worker in Africa in crafting this pulse-pounding thriller of refugees, street gangs, murder, corruption, sacrifice and resilience set against the vivid backdrop of the fictional city of Sangui City, Kenya, and the jungles of the Congo. In the four years since her mother was shot dead in a rich white man's house, 16-year-old Congo refugee Tina has become an accomplished thief and a pivotal member of the Goonda street gang of refugee kids led by the frightening Omoko. With her younger half-sister Kiki safe in the convent school, Tina, or Tiny Girl as the Goondas call her, is determined to get revenge against the white man she believes killed her mother by breaking into his estate and hacking into his computer with the help of her friend Boyboy. But when things go wrong during the break-in, Tina is forced to question everything she thought she knew, about her mother's life back in the Congo, the motive behind her mother's slaying, and the identity of the father she never knew. The investigation takes her and her friends back into her childhood home in the Congo, setting up a violent confrontation in the novel's action-packed finale. Anderson has carefully crafted the complicated plot, but the real strength of her novel lies in the vivid setting, of people, especially women and girls, caught in a devastating and soul-killing web of violence and abuse and struggling to retain their humanity in the face of unspeakable horror.


Xo, Ox a Love Story by Adam Rex; illustrated by Scott Campbell; Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press ($17.99.)

An unlikely romance between ox and gazelle unfolds through correspondence in this hilarious picture book from the author of "The True Meaning of Smekday" and several other novels for middle-grade readers. Campbell's watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are marvelous, starting with the cover image of the lovestruck ox, pencil in hand, composing a letter, heart-shaped cartoon balloon of movie-star gorgeous Ms. Gazelle overhead. Ox pours out his heart: "You are so graceful and fine. Even when you are running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers." Gazelle, admiring herself in a mirror, lounging in a room hung with portraits of herself, a bin of fan mail at her side, replies with form letters. A true original, just in time for Valentine's Day.

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