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Books in Brief: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson; Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Memoir

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson; Viking, 291 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.

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In 1999, years before the #MeToo movement, Laurie Halse Anderson published "Speak," a groundbreaking Young Adult novel about a high school freshman struggling with the emotional aftermath of being raped at a party.

Now, 20 years later comes "Shout," a powerful memoir written in free verse, of her experience as a survivor of sexual assault – she was raped at 13 – and of her battle to reclaim her self and find her voice. In publisher's notes, Halse Anderson says: "I lost my voice for a very long time after I was raped. ... SHOUT is a poetry tapestry that shares the darkness of my silent years and shows how writing helped me speak up."

With a graceful, unsparing realism, she recalls her childhood and her unhappy family and the experiences that made her the writer and the woman she became. ("I thought I was the only kid with a house on fire but I wasn't.") She was the daughter of a preacher, a World War II veteran suffering from PTSD who battled depression and alcoholism and once knocked out his wife's teeth; it was a life of frequent moves and little money. There are vivid memories of her earliest years: her mother washing her mouth out with soap for cursing in front of church ladies (she refers to her three-year-old self as a "potato-shaped, sturdy-legged, parrot-tongued echo chamber"), a terrifying swim lesson, an accident to a friend's sister that killed her joy in pretending her bicycle was a horse. There were the childhood mentors who helped her learn to read and encouraged her love of books.

The imagery is vivid; a chapter titled "Chum," describes "a shiver of slippery boys" grabbing and pinching girls at the city pool who "stay in the shallows after their baptism as bait."

Her family had just moved in the summer before high school when she was raped by a "tobacco-smelling boy, an older, bigger, stronger boy." She told no one but suffered in silence: "I clawed my way through ninth grade, breath by breath, second by second," as her parents, oblivious to her pain, fought their own battles. A year as an exchange student in Denmark offered a spiritual cleansing and a whole new experience of family.

"Speak" came to her in a dream: "the crying girl was lost in my head and she wouldn't let me sleep." The second half of the memoir is a blistering indictment of the epidemic of sexual violence in the U.S., as  post-"Speak" publication she became confessor and champion  for sexual assault victims, a "tsunami" of voices who revealed their torment by email, tweet, letter, scraps of paper handed to her after speeches at high schools. "Speak," which was made into a movie starring Kristen Stewart, was published as a graphic novel last year and in a special 20th anniversary edition this year. Halse Anderson is a brilliant writer, and her fiery memoir is a voice we need to hear.

PICTURE BOOK

Circle by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press, 48 pages ($15.99) Ages 5 to 9

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Inspired collaborators Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen wrap up their clever shape trilogy ("Triangle," "Square") in a most amusing fashion, with a game of hide and seek that ends with a surprise. Bossy Circle dictates the rules for the game, then must rescue Triangle when he breaks the rules.  Using subtle shades of browns, black and gray-blue, Klassen (a native of Niagara Falls, Ont.) paints a wonderfully mysterious backdrop of waterfall, concealing a dark cave behind it. His simple shapes with their stick legs and expressive eyes are full of personality. Barnett's subtle, witty text pokes gentle fun at the friends' foibles and fears in a way sure to appeal to children in the target age group.

 

POETRY

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems, selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones; Candlewick Press ($17.99)

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This delightful collection – starting off with Charles Ghigna's "How to Build a Poem" and including a marvelously diverse group of authors – explores the joy of trying something new, the joy of making something, learning the steps in a process. There's the joy of wonder at a mole's underground life  (Elaine Magliaro's "How to Be a Mole": "Spend your days in a world of unending night"). There's instruction on how how to tell a dromedary from a Bactrian camel (J. Patrick Lewis),  toasting marshmallows (Marilyn Singer), how to ride a new bike (April Halprin Wayland), the joy of swinging (Robert Louis Stevenson), "How to Make a Snow Angel" (Ralph Fletcher).  There's a sense of mystery in Irene Latham's playful "Walking on Mars." There's the heartfelt emotion in Nikki Grimes' "A Lesson from the Deaf" and in Steven Withrow's "How to Read Braille": "Sail your fingertips over a paper sea you cannot see." Richard Jones' delicate illustrations are lovely.

 

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