What we're reading: Due, Paulsen and Armfield
Each week our wonderful staff share the books and music they've been enjoying
Jason Austin is reading The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
The last couple of weeks I have been loving Tananarive Due's amazing ghost story, The Reformatory, which is loosely based on experiences endured by the author's great uncle who died at the Dozier School for Boys in Florida in the 1930s.
With their mother deceased and their father having to flee town after being accused of raping a white woman, siblings Gloria and Robbie Stephens are left to fend for themselves in the Jim Crow South. When twelve-year-old Robbie has a minor altercation with a white boy, he is tried and unjustly committed to the notorious Gracetown Reformatory for Boys, known as a place of horror and abuse for those admitted. With help from her elderly Godmother Miz Lottie and white employer Miss Anne, Gloria tries everything to free her brother.
Meanwhile, Robbie has come to the unwanted attention of the sadistic Warden Haddock. Robbie has a gift. He has the exceptional ability to commune with the ghosts (or "haints") of the boys who have died within the walls of the institution.
The Reformatory builds on the tradition of Southern Gothic and has been likened to Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys and Toni Morrison's Beloved. This is a wonderful historical novel about a shameful moment in US history, but for all its horror, there is a beauty in this as Due gives her uncle the ending he deserved. I think this is an overlooked gem of 2023.
Katey Bellew from Readings Kids is reading Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen
I have a new favourite graphic novel series to stand proudly along side The Tea Dragon Society! This is one of those graphic novels that fills your heart to bursting with how sweet and wholesome it is. Garlic is an anxious little vegetable, but when a vampire moves into a nearby castle, it's she who must knock on his door and uncover his intentions to ensure the safety of all her veggie friends. What she uncovers is delightfully unexpected. A must-read for fans of Kay O'Neill.
Aurelia Orr is reading Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
If my heart had tear ducts, it would cry an ocean of tears for this achingly gorgeous, emotional, and haunting pearl of a novel. Our Wives Under the Sea is a tragic love story and sapphic horror about Mirra who mourns who her wife used to be before she returned from a catastrophic deep-sea mission a changed person. With lyrical prose as seductive as a siren's song, and a suspense that creeps beneath your skin, Armfield eerily unearths what horrors lurk within the depths of the ocean and the human mind.
This is a lamentation to love and loneliness, to missing our past selves before a traumatic event, and to ultimately learning to let go. A Greek tragedy for the modern age, Julia Armfield is a new Euripides or Shakespeare.