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Books in Brief: In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira; The Hugely-Wugely Spider by Ethan Berlin

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira; Farrar Straus Giroux; 399 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.

This extraordinary, poignant, beautiful novel, of love and loss, of family secrets, of mothers and daughters, is told from the alternating perspectives of 17-year-old Marilyn and, 18 years later, of her daughter, 17-year-old Angie.

Angie and her mother have always been close, a family of two, living a quiet life in Albuquerque, N.M., where Marilyn works as a bank teller. Angie is biracial and knows very little about her father who, according to Marilyn, died in a car accident before Angie was born. The discovery of some family photos sends Angie on a search for answers about her father, an odyssey that takes her to Los Angeles on a road trip with her former boyfriend, Sam.

Shift to 1999 and 17-year-old Marilyn, whose blond beauty is viewed by her mother as a valuable commodity – a ticket out of poverty, if only Marilyn can beat the competition at auditions for commercials. Marilyn and her mom are low on cash and forced to move in with Marilyn's volatile uncle, an abusive alcoholic. But then Marilyn falls in love with 17-year-old James, the handsome downstairs neighbor, who lives with his grandparents and little brother and shares her dreams of going to a good college but who shows her how to appreciate a day at the beach, the simple joys of a holiday meal at home, the sense of belonging in a warm family circle. It is James who buys Marilyn the camera that opens her eyes to the artist she might someday become.

Dellaira breathes her characters into vivid life, Marilyn with her yearning and her loneliness, James with his dreams. The story of their romance, their discovery of each other is beautifully told. The parallel stories of Marilyn and James and Angie and Sam are skillfully woven together, the suspense building as Angie moves toward uncovering the secret Marilyn has kept all these years. The heart-rending tragedy at the center of the novel is revealed only toward the end - a life-changing moment frozen in amber, with a haunting and terrible resonance for readers in the year 2018.

Terribly sad as it may be, "In Search of Us" is ultimately a life-affirming and hopeful book. Dellair wrote the best-selling "Love Letters to the Dead" and was an associate producer of Stephen Chobsky's film adaptation of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."

The Hugely-Wugely Spider by Ethan T. Berlin, illustrated by Karl Newsom Edwards; Farrar Straux Giroux, $17.99.
in this debut children's book, Ethan T. Berlin, an Emmy Award-nominated comedy writer, mines comic gold from that familiar sing-song rhyme about the Itsy Bitsy Spider who climbed up the water spout. Hugely-Wugely Spider, depicted as a giant green arthropod about 20 times bigger than his Itsby Bitsy friends, narrates the tale in grand, snarky style. (The other spiders "kind of implied that maybe I was too big to climb up said waterspout. Whatever. I could climb up the waterspout if I wanted to! Which I don't!") The plot line follows the song perfectly, complete with the dire threat of rain which brings Hugely-Wugely to the rescue. The droll illustrations by Karl Newsom Edwards are perfect. The story includes a brand-new, even more nonsensical Itsy-Bitsy song ("the Itsby-Bitsy spider realized he'd been bad at sharing spouts") with no discernible rhythm pattern.

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