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Books in Brief: Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis; Zero Local, Next Stop: Kindness


Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis; Katherine Tegen Books, 231 pages ($18.99) Ages 14 and up.


Mindy McGinnis, author of "The Female of the Species" and Edgar-winning "A Madness so Discreet," has written a gritty, thrilling page-turner of a survival story told in the unique voice of tough-as-nails 17-year-old Ashley Hawkins.

Ashley begins the tale thus: "The world is not tame. People forget that. The glossy brochures for state parks show nature at its most photogenic, like a senior picture  with all the pores airbrushed away. They never feature a coyote muzzle-deep in the belly of a still-living deer or a chipmunk punctured by an eagle's talons, squirming as it perishes in midair."

Ashley has grown up poor, living in a trailer with just her dad after her mom walked out on them. Ashley knows hunger, knows the struggle to pay bills, of wearing clothes from Goodwill, of turning to duct tape rather than the E.R. to mend a bloody gash. She learned to hunt and fish from dire necessity and learned wilderness survival skills in a course as a charity case at a church camp.  Now it's the start of summer before senior year and she's  been promised a full college scholarship for cross-country. She doesn't take any guff from anyone, and when she catches her boyfriend with another girl during a drunken party in the Smoky Mountains, she breaks his nose and takes off running, shoeless, in the dark, smashes her foot falling into a ravine and wakes up lost.

McGinnis offers a fascinating Wilderness Survival 101 course here. Ashley knows how to find water, how to get your bearings and walk in one direction, how to make a shelter from branches, how to kill and skin and gut an animal. She creates a sling for her injured foot from the sleeve of her baseball jersey, braids strands of her own hair into cordage, creates a fireboard and manages to light a fire. She will eat a worm, swallow a live fish or use her own toes as bait if she has to. And if the infection starts to spread, she resolves to cut off her own foot.

All her life experiences have given her the grit to keep on going when all seems lost, whether it was her mother abandoning her, the grueling experience of cross-country competition, the peer shaming of growing up poor, her "job" protecting her uncle's meth lab or the wilderness challenges given her by  Davey Beet, the camp counselor she had a crush on. But Davey disappeared in the wilderness; if he never came out again, how can she find the will to survive?  Ashley's journey of self-discovery, as she reflects on her life and relationships and steels herself to soldier on through the pain, makes for thrilling reading. The book's title comes from Psalm 22.


Zero Local, Next Stop: Kindness by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow; Candlewick Press ($17.99) 


Regular riders on the Zero Local train line may be accustomed to delays but tempers flare until an artistic traveler injects a sense of calm by expressing her thanks to the driver in this charming wordless picture book. After the woman moves on, she leaves a legacy behind her in the form of a child who takes up the cause of spreading kindness. The splashes of yellow are the the only touch of color in the detailed, evocative black and white illustrations. This lovely book was inspired by a true story.


Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim; Kokila, 306 pages ($16.99) Ages 9 to 12.



Jessica Kim, a former elementary school teacher who "writes about Asian American girls finding their way in the world," offers an irresistible heroine in Yumi Chung, an aspiring standup comedian chaffing at the high expectations of her Korea-born parents. They work seven days a week at their struggling Korean barbecue restaurant and want a more secure life for their two daughters. Elder daughter Yuri is a medical student. Yumi is supposed to attend a special test-prep class to win a full scholarship to her private school but ends up accidentally enrolled in a summer comedy camp for kids under someone else's name. As this case of mistaken identity gets ever more complicated, Yumi must face up to the challenge of telling the truth and disappointing her family and her new friends.

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