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A powerful debut novel; youthful voices in Maine; and a look at the global movement of ecological rehabilitation

Author and educator Jennifer De Leon.Alonso Nichols/Photo by {photog)

Growing pains

In “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From” (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster), Jennifer De Leon’s powerful and poignant debut novel, 15-year-old Liliana Cruz shifts schools through the METCO program, from an inner-city Boston school to a fancy majority white spot in the suburbs. She sits through painful discussions on immigration in class, wonders about where her father is and when he’s coming back, worries about her mom slipping into a darkness she won’t explain, and tries to find her way in the new world in which she finds herself. De Leon, an assistant professor of creative writing at Framingham State, and an instructor at Grub Street, offers a timely look at the failings the Trump-era is helping expose, and how a teenager is negotiating the complexities of code-switching and learning how to raise her voice and succeed. Liliana asks her friend Genesis how she’s able to “go back and forth. You, like, cruise around, acting like yourself, but also, at the same time, kinda white — and then what? You go home and eat arroz con gandules and platanos fritos and call it a day?” Genesis offers her wisdom: “Make the system work for you.” De Leon will discuss the book in conversation with Celeste Ng on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. through Porter Square Books. And book buyers are invited to donate copies to 826 Boston, which is trying to get 365 copies so the entire ninth-grade class at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science in Roxbury will be able to read it. For more information, visit


Earth works

Award-winning Vermont-based environmental journalist Judith D. Schwartz’s new book, “The Reindeer Chronicles: And Other Inspiring Stories of Working With Nature to Heal the Earth” (Chelsea Green), is a lucid and compelling look at the global movement of ecological rehabilitation. The book is, in her words, “a global tour of eco-restoration” and Schwartz moves from her Vermont yard to the Middle Eastern desert, to the Loess Plateau in China, to Norway and Maui and New Mexico looking at the way people are working toward not just preservation and conservation but regeneration, learning from nature the way it heals itself. Schwartz pays attention to “the connections and synergies among living things,” and introduces us to the farmers, scientists, ecologists, environmentalists, reindeer herders, and cowgirls working to cooperate with the natural world to return it to health. Beyond thorough research and intelligent reporting, Schwartz’s book is also philosophical, asking what happens if we’re motivated not by fear but “if we make our hopes and aspirations foremost?” And she makes a strong case for “bringing loving attention to a piece of the earth.”


Youthful voices

The Telling Room, a youth writing organization in Portland, Maine, which works with writers ages 6 to 18, has recently released a new best of 2020 anthology. “See Beyond” gathers a number of poems and stories by Telling Room writers, exploring the specifics and universals of being a young person right now, from dealing with addiction, to grappling with global warming, to the experience of electricity when writer’s block gives way to an idea. The anthology as a whole shows us new ways of seeing. The Telling Room has suspended operations as a result of the pandemic, but the book is available through Print Bookstore in Portland.


Coming out

The Discomfort of Eveningby Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchinson (Graywolf)

An Inventory of Lossesby Judith Schalansky, translated from the German by Jackie Smith (New Directions)

The Last Great Road Bumby Héctor Tobar (MCD)

Pick of the week

Jacob TK at Hello Hello Books in Rockland, Maine, recommends When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoirby Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele (St. Martin’s): “Lyrical, painful, honest, and elementally eloquent. A coming-of-age and gathering-to-action story whose facts sing from the page, told by someone who has an honorary PhD in love. If you want more of ‘Between the World and Me,’ except written by someone who started one of the most important national movements of our age, this is your book.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at