“The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” by Kelly Barnhill. (Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95.)
Minneapolis writer Kelly Barnhill’s new novel returns us to a fantasy world very close to “The Witch’s Boy,” where magic is unpredictable, witches are fallible and dark forces hold sway.
In the world of the Protectorate, a group of Elders sacrifices a baby each year to a witch, but unknown to them, the witch rescues the children and delivers them to loving families in the distant Free Cities. When she accidentally enmagicks one of her charges, it sets in motion events that shift the balance of power.
“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” is a story of love, curiosity and the magic of the everyday world. With its crowded cast of characters, including a poetry-spouting monster and a tiny dragon with an enormous heart, this is a novel about the journey, not the destination — one filled with wisdom and heart.
Barnhill will launch her book at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Red Balloon, 891 Grand Av., St. Paul. She will also read with Brian Farrey at 6 p.m. Sept. 21 at Wild Rumpus, 2720 W. 43rd St., Mpls.
“Makoons,” by Louise Erdrich. (HarperCollins, $16.99)
Book 5 of Louise Erdrich’s frontier series finds her Ojibwe family in Dakota Territory, where horses have replaced canoes and lives revolve around the buffalo hunt.
Makoons, or “Bear Cub,” is the twin brother of Chickadee, whose kidnapping formed the core of the previous book. Here, the twins are reunited, but the story opens with Makoons’ dream of more hardships before his family reaches its final home.
This slim story is crowded with a large cast, and many characters are sketched rather than fully developed. But readers will appreciate the return of familiar faces, including the independent Two Strike and the warmhearted grandma Nokomis.
In a 2012 interview, Erdrich described this story as “very personal for me because for the first time I will be writing from the living memory of my relatives.” At the end of the book, the wandering family reaches the Turtle Mountains and settles into a cabin, where they once again build a new life.
“Property of the State,” by Bill Cameron. (Poisoned Pen Press, $10.95.)
All Joey wants is to keep his head down until he can graduate from his alternative school and escape his sadistic foster home. He keeps busy with his job cleaning the house of a wealthy classmate and cultivates a low-key crush on a classmate and fellow foster teen.
His habit of silence gets him into trouble when he’s punished for his foster dad’s porn addiction and becomes a suspect in the murder of a fellow chess club student.
Mystery writer Bill Cameron ratchets up the tension in every scene. He’s created an antihero with a refreshing voice and a smart eye for the psychobabble of his Portland alternative school and the limits of the system set up to protect him.
Solidly drawn characters — teen and adult — give this thriller meat, even as events spin wildly out of control.
“Towers Falling,” by Jewell Parker Rhodes. (Little, Brown & Co. $16.99.)
How do you make the 9/11 attacks relevant for kids who weren’t yet born when it happened? “Towers Falling” takes up this challenge and gives us a determined voice in fifth-grader Deja Barnes, whose daily struggles to survive in a Brooklyn homeless shelter make history lessons a distant priority.
Deja, “the one and only,” is a fierce protector of her overworked mom, her paralyzed Pop and her two younger siblings. But when she starts classes at a progressive Brooklyn school, she glimpses a world outside her struggle for survival and develops friendships with fellow newcomer Ben and warmhearted immigrant Sabeen.
Much of the tension revolves around what adults haven’t yet told her: Why her Pop spends days in bed. Why Sabeen cries whenever the twin towers are mentioned. Why nobody will answer her questions.
While this novel sometimes reads as a classroom lesson, it doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of growing up in a homeless shelter, and offers a primer on how to discuss history’s darker chapters.
“Ice-Out,” by Mary Casanova. (University of Minnesota Press, $16.95, on sale Sept. 1)
Owen Jensen has big dreams growing up in tiny Ranier, Minn., near the Canadian border. He wants to open the town’s first Studebaker dealership, support his mom and younger siblings and win the hand of his girlfriend, Sadie Rose.
But in the lawless 1920s, few paths are open to young men in his town, other than farming, fishing and bootlegging. When Owen is drawn into a deal with the local saloon owner, he finds himself in over his head, with debts too big to repay.
Mary Casanova has a sure touch when she describes the laconic exchanges between neighbors, the skin-burning cold of a Minnesota winter or the deadly consequences of misjudging an icy road. In one haunting passage, she describes a wolf pack: “A single melancholy voice threaded through the air. Then another wolf joined in, deep as a cello.”
Readers will be rooting for Owen to find a path forward at a time when the police were sometimes as dangerous as the criminals they chased down.
Casanova will read at 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at Common Good Books in St. Paul and at noon Oct. 8 at Valley Bookseller, Stillwater.
Trisha Collopy is a copy editor for the Star Tribune.