REVIEW: “The Family Recipe” by Alexandra Grunberg

Review of Alexandra Grunberg, “The Family Recipe”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Though the title of this story talks of the family “recipe”, in truth, it’s recipes: The star of the story is a cookbook collated and then handed down from generation to generation. Some recipes get lost through sticky mishaps; others are written down and added; the entire life of the cookbook a repetition of losses and additions. I liked the cyclic structure this forced onto the story, which was otherwise remarkably devoid of plot in a way that did not make the story feel deficient. My only complaint is that I found the ending weak; I would probably have stopped with simply “Everyone knew that it was never just a cookbook.”

REVIEW: “Deep in the Drift, Spinning” by Lisa L. Hannett

Review of Lisa L. Hannett, “Deep in the Drift, Spinning”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 312 (September 10, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

I found this to be a rather frustrating read. Though the story is certainly well written—Hannett has won four Aurealis awards, so that’s no surprise—I find it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for it. Mostly that’s because I don’t find the point-of-view character, Winnifletch, very engaging. She’s a witch, of sorts, living a solitary, regret-filled life outside the sea town of Baradoon, whipping up magical broths to help her neighbors-in-need. Her daughter Shales is, or perhaps fancies herself, a harpy, while her mother pictures her more as a sailor on a galleon crewed by mermaids. Unfortunately, we don’t actually meet Shales; we learn about her and her desires only from her mother’s somewhat meandering perspective. That’s too bad. I would have liked to learn more about the lives of harpies and mermaids in the world of Baradoon, and what tugs a person more in one direction than the other. 

REVIEW: “A Worship” by Andrea Goyan

Review of Andrea Goyan, “A Worship”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Detective Angie Ferguson has been assigned to investigate the death of Henry Van Patten, a case in which “nothing in the account, detailed by an Officer Benton, appeared abnormal.” Except, of course, that would be too easy…

And so what we have here is a fun little mystery/SF story as Angie solves the farmer’s mysterious death. Goyan captured perfectly the way a mind can flit from one subject to another, seeing strange patterns, identifying connections (even if those connections aren’t really there) — it’s not often I read a character and think “oh, she thinks like I do”, so I really enjoyed this. But don’t read it if you’re squeamish about graphic descriptions of bugs.

REVIEW: “A Curse, A Kindness” by Corinne Duyvis

Review of Corinne Duyvis, “A Curse, A Kindness”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 276-304 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was the other stand-out story of the volume, sitting alongside of Fox Benwell’s story a cut above the rest. It was so unexpected and charming and an unabashed, straight-up fairy tale, complete with a curse, a wholly unexpected genie, three wishes, and a happy ending. A great story, and a great way to end the anthology. Any misgivings I had reading the first story of the anthology were wholly banished by ending it on this note.

REVIEW: “Mother Nature’s Youngest Daughter” by Keah Brown

Review of Keah Brown, “Mother Nature’s Youngest Daughter”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 260-275 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Mother Nature’s youngest daughter came into her powers early, earlier than any of her siblings. Being able to control snowstorms doesn’t make it any easier for Millie to control her teenage emotions and reactions, especially not when she is being bullied and no one — not the teachers, not the other kids, not even her siblings — will say a word to stop it. If no one else will help her, then Millie has got to help herself — maybe, being the daughter of Mother Nature isn’t the worst thing in the world.

This was an engaging story, but I felt it was a little flat compared to some of the others in the collection, perhaps unfairly because some of the others really sparkled. This one was still a good story, just not one I’m likely to remember strongly.

REVIEW: “Ballad of Weary Daughters” by Kristine Wyllys

Review of Kristine Wyllys, “Ballad of Weary Daughters”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 240-259 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This is a story for anyone whose favorite part of Anne of Green Gables was the idea of kindred spirits — friends whose bond is forged early and will remain forever unbroken, no matter how many stumbling blocks life throws at them. Whether it is River’s father walking out on her family, or the way the doctors have to keep tweaking her bipolar meds, or whether it is Lucy’s younger brother coming home with a bad report card or her older brother disappearing, all of these seems nothing more than window-dressing for the real story, and that is their friendship.

As a teenager, I couldn’t even begin to imagine having a friend like that. Maybe if I had had more stories about teenaged girls being friends, I would have learned better how to do it. More stories like this one, please.

REVIEW: “A Play in Many Parts” by Fox Benwell

Review of Fox Benwell, “A Play in Many Parts”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 205-239 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Take a bunch of misfit teenagers, combine them into a theatre company, and give them Marlowe’s Faustus, and the result is this absolutely smashing story — the best in the volume. Five stars, two thumbs up, would pay to see this story-cum-play turned into an actual stage-production.

REVIEW: “Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing About Love” by Dhonielle Clayton

Review of Dhonielle Clayton, “Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing About Love”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 177-204 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was such a sweet story. Nora James doesn’t date — not interested in dating! (besides, who would want to date someone with IBS, always running to the bathroom?) — but she knows all about love, as her Madame Amour column in the school newspaper clearly illustrates. This story alternated between episodes in Nora’s life and the letters Madame Amour has received and the replies she writes. Thoroughly teenagerish, entirely non-speculative, but still a very good read.

REVIEW: “Captain, My Captain” by Francisco X. Stork

Review of Francisco X. Stork, “Captain, My Captain”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 157-176 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The Captain came to Alberto not long ago, with grand plans to help Alberto escape his servitude to his brother-in-law, and make a new life for himself. The only problem is, Alberto isn’t sure he either trusts the Captain or that he wants to leave!

There was nothing particularly speculative about this story, but I loved it anyway. I found Alberto a deeply sympathetic character, especially as I learned more about his past and his present as he made his decisions about his future. I think he might the right decision in the end, but I won’t spoil anything by saying what.

REVIEW: “The Day the Dragon Came” by Marieke Nijkamp

Review of Marieke Nijkamp, “The Day the Dragon Came”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 132-156 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Alix was sold as a bond-servant as a child, and now must work to earn her freedom, running messages through a city not designed for crippled legs. Delfin’s father always told him “you’ll never see dragons, girl” (p. 134), but he did let that stop him from running away as a ‘prentice and now he’s in Ghent helping build the bellfry, the symbol of hope and strength for the city. Alix, too, is waiting for the bellfry’s completion, for that is the day that the dragon will come.

This was a rich story, full of strongly-drawn, interesting characters, a beautiful setting, and details that kept everything hovering on the border between real and fantasy. I loved it.