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Editors' Picks: Week of May 20–26

By kileyturner
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Six awesome books with stories of teens making the awkward and powerful transition to adulthood.
Aria

Aria

edition:Paperback

This extraordinary, gripping debut is a rags-to-riches-to-revolution tale about an orphan girl's coming of age in Iran.
"Aria is a feminist odyssey, about a girl in a time of intolerance as the revolution in Iran is breaking out . . . a poised and dramatic historical novel with contemporary relevance." --John Irving
"Here comes a sweeping saga about the Iranian revolution as it explodes--told from the ground level and the centre of chaos. A Doctor Zhivago of Iran." --Margaret Atwood (on Twitter) …

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The Empress of Idaho

The Empress of Idaho

edition:Paperback

Bestselling and award-winning author Todd Babiak returns with an immersive and affecting story about a teenager's fascination with an enigmatic new woman in town whose past is catching up with her.

Monument, Colorado, July 1989. Fourteen-year-old Adam Lisinski is mesmerized the moment Beatrice Cyr steps into his life. Adam has a lot going for him: he's hoping to be a starter on his high school football team, he has a fiercely protective mom, a girlfriend, and a part-time job at Eugene's Gas Stop, …

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Excerpt

When she looked at me I saw what I had not seen. Our house was little more than a trailer. The blue vinyl siding was faded by the sun and carried years of dust. The front lawn was really a collection of weeds, but still it needed cutting.There was a filthy red chair with broken springs on our front porch. Weeks ago my mother had asked me to carry it to the corner so the garbage men could pick it up.
Now that the woman was looking at me I understood what Marv had said, that a man does not concern himself with gardening. I was too nervous and too ashamed to answer about the sweet williams. It did not matter because she had already turned and walked up his driveway. From a distance she seemed to float over the gravel. Marv raised his eyebrows and pointed in her direction with both his thumbs, took a step closer and whispered at me. He told me her name, Beatrice—like in poetry, he said. What poetry? It would come to him. Then: “Get this. We just got married.”
“You married her?”
“I goddamn married that woman.”
“Did you know her from somewhere before?”
“We met at O’Grady’s three nights ago.” He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his thick, oily leather wallet. “How you set up for cash? I’ll give you a five if you’ll help me unload her things.”
I hopped into the bed of the old truck and lifted the only heavy piece of furniture, a solid wood coffee table with a sticker on the leg that said "$9." Marv grabbed a garbage bag full of clothes. 
"How's your mom?" 
"She's good."
There was no sidewalk on Jefferson Street. We stood on the meeting place of weed and gravel. Marv looked at the front of our house. There was a constellation of wet spots where his breasts had pressed against his shirt. Now that Beatrice was not watching he let himself go crooked.
“I’ll cut the lawn.” The hard edges of the coffee table dug into my palms. “And get rid of that chair.”
“If you get a chance. A lady only gets one first impression.”
Inside, his house smelled of cigarette smoke and chemical peaches. An aerosol can of room deodorant, with an old English orchard on the front, had fallen over on the kitchen counter. The morning sun shone through Marv’s beige curtainsand turned his living room the colour of weak tea. It was tidier than usual.
“Where would you like the table, ma’am?”
She wore big gold rings and bracelets. She was thin like a boy and tanned. The garbage bag of clothes leaked. Marv struggled to contain it. Three panties and a sock fell on the green shag carpet and Marv laughed and cussed as he kneeled to pick them up. Then the bag tipped and a fur coat fell out.
I tried to right the bag. It was hot and melty. Beatrice bent and rushed me like a dainty ram. “Jesus Christ, child. That floor isn’t clean. Pick up that coat.” 
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Now Beatrice, a boy like this never seen one of those before.”
She turned to Marv and he took a step back. Then she brought the coat to her nose and inhaled deeply, closed her eyes. By the time she looked at me again she was smiling. “You are?”
“Adam, ma’am, from next door.”
“Charmed. Beatrice Cyr. Walker-Cyr, I suppose, right, Marv?”
“Damn right.”
“This is a Valentino, Adam. Sable, it’s called.” She enunciated as though I were either six years old or from Honduras. “You can touch it to your face.”
“No, that’s okay, ma’am.”
“Touch it to your face.”
I touched it to my face.
“Soft, isn’t it? Softer than a dream. This coat was ten thousand dollars once. Can you imagine?”
I tried to imagine how a woman with a ten-thousand-dollar coat had a nine-dollar coffee table. When would she wear something like this on Jefferson Street?
There wasn’t so much in the bed of the truck: three more garbage bags of clothes and linens, a suitcase, an old lamp whose dust had survived the trip, two boxes of jewellery, a stuffed bunny with one eye, and a set of books about real estate and sales.
When I was finished unloading I waited in the kitchen. I did not want to go into the living room because everything was quiet and I was worried they might be kissing. The wallpaper had drawings of horses and buggies on it. Marv had found it at an auction in Denver. I had helped paste it up and there were a few bubbles and lines from where I had been hasty. It had been a fun day with Marv. We listened to Led Zep and drank root beer. Whenever I smelled commercial glue I thought of us that day, buzzed on sugar and fumes. A cloud of fruit flies hovered over a bowl of bruised bananas. She had a few cassette tapes: Out of the Cellar by Ratt, W.A.S.P. by W.A.S.P., and Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn by Gustav Mahler. I peeked inside a faded Converse shoebox and I did not understand what was in it apart from a black leather mask and a silver chain. 
"Adam."
I put the broken lid back on the box. "Ma'am." 
"Are you snooping?" 
"No."
She took a step toward me and crossed her bare arms. They had visible muscles and tendons in them. I did not look into her eyes but I could not look at her arms or her chest or her legs either so I looked at the fruit flies and the bananas. 
Marv hobbled in. His shirt was undone and his cheeks were plummy.
"All done?"
"Yes sir." 
Beatrice turned and left us there in the kitchen. Marv watched her go and then he raised his eyebrows at me. "We meet at O'Grady's and next thing you know we got a suite at the Brown Palace." 
"In Denver?" 
"You bet." He fished around in his wallet, which was a wreckage of receipts and scratch tickets and credit cards. 
"But your house is right here." 
"Hotels are for romance, Adam." Marv peeked around the corner. "She's different from other ladies. This one's been all over the world. She's met industrialists, queens, the whole thing."
"What was she doing at O'Grady's?" 
"Tell your mom I'll be there tonight. With my bride." 
Marv did not have kids, and his first marriage had ended like my parents' had ended, with someone running. My dad ran. His wife ran. This is how I imagined the 1970s: people alone in convertibles with pink nylon scarves, crying goodbyes into the wind and driving to Los Angeles.

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The Saturday Night Ghost Club

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE: An infectious and heartbreaking novel from "one of this country's great kinetic writers" (Globe and Mail)--Craig Davidson's first new literary fiction since his bestselling, Giller-shortlisted Cataract City

When neurosurgeon Jake Baker operates, he knows he's handling more than a patient's delicate brain tissue--he's altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When g …

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Excerpt

As a boy, I believed in monsters.

I was convinced that if I said “Bloody Mary” in front of a mirror, a hideous witch-woman would reach through the glass with nails sharp as splinters. I considered it a fact that the Devil lingered at shad­owy crossroads and went to dance halls in disguise, where he’d ask the prettiest girl to dance and reel her across the floor while spectators stood terror-stricken at the sight of the Devil’s goatish shanks, until the girl fainted dead away and the Unclean One vanished in a puff of brimstone.

There was no falsehood I wouldn’t swallow, no quilt of lies you couldn’t drape over my all-too-gullible shoulders. But for a boy like me—chubby, freckled, awkward; growing up in a city where the erection of a new Kmart occasioned our mayor to announce, “This marks a wondrous new chapter in our town’s history”—imagination was my greatest asset. Not to mention my defence against a foe worse than the most fearsome monster: loneliness.

My ally against that foe was my uncle Calvin. If I told him there was a bottomless pit in my basement, he’d say, “Tell me, Jake, is the air denser around the mouth of the pit than in other areas of the basement?” Cocking an eyebrow: “Do ominous growling sounds emanate from this pit of yours?”

Uncle C was the ideal nursemaid for my paranoid fantasies. His knowledge of urban legends and folk­lore was encyclopedic—with the added bonus that he seemed to consider most of it true.
“Hey,” he’d say, “did you know there are crocodiles living in the sewers of our fair city? The poor suckers get smuggled up from Florida by dumb tourists. Sure, they’re cute as a bug’s ear when they’re six inches long.

But when they grow up and get nippy? Ba-whooosh, down the porcelain mistake eraser. They get fat ’n’ sassy down there in the pipes, where there’s plenty to eat if you’re not choosy. Every year a couple of sanita­tion department workers get gobbled up by sewer crocs. The press bottles it up, unscrupulous snakes that they are, but it’s a fact you can set your watch to.”

Uncle C would fiddle with the beads of his brace­let—each an ornate pewter Cthulhu head, mouths and eye sockets sprouting tentacles—and offer a wistful sigh. “And that, Jake, is why owning a pet is a big responsibility.”

Once, when I was six or seven, I became convinced a monster lived in my closet. I told my dad, who did what 99 percent of adults do when their child makes this claim: he flung my closet door open, rattled coat hangers and shoved shoeboxes aside, making a Broadway production of it. “See? No monsters, Jake.”

But monsters make themselves scarce when adults are around, only to slither back after dark. Every kid knew this to be an unshakable fact.

Uncle C arrived for dinner that night, as usual— Mom invited him every Sunday. He got an inkling of my worry as I sat picking at my Salisbury steak.

“What’s the matter, hombre?”

“We have an unwanted visitor in a closet, appar­ently,” Mom informed him.

“But we’ve established that there’s no monster,” my father said. “Right, buddy?”

“Ah,” said Uncle C. “I have some expertise in this area. Sam, with your permission?”

Mom turned to my father and said, “Sam,” in the tone of voice you’d use to calm a jittery horse.

“Of course, Cal, as you like,” my father said.

My uncle pedalled home to his house, returning ten minutes later with a tool box. Once we were in my bed­room he motioned to the closet. “I take it this is its lair?”

I nodded.

“Closets are a favourite haunt of monsters,” my uncle explained. “Most are harmless, even good-tempered, if they have enough dust bunnies and cob­webs to eat. Do you clean your closet?”

I assured him that it was hardly ever tidied unless my mother forced the chore on me.

“Good, let them feast. If they get too hungry they’ll crawl over to your clothes hamper and eat holes in your underwear. No need to check the seat of your drawers for confirmation, as I can see by your expres­sion that yours have indeed met this cruel fate.”

Calvin cracked the tool box and pulled out an instru­ment—one that today I’d recognize as a stud finder.

“It’s a monster tracer,” he said, running it over the closet walls, making exploratory taps with his knuckles. “There are token traces of ectoplasm,” he said in the voice of a veteran contractor.

“Monster slime, in layman’s terms. What does this monster look like?”

“Hairy in some parts, slimy in others.”

“What’s its shape? Like a snake, or a blob?”

“A blob. But it can stretch, too, so it can look like a snake if it wants.”

“We’re dealing with a hairy, slimy blob with uncanny stretching capacities.” He gripped his chin.

“Sounds like a Slurper Slug. They’re common around these parts.”

“A slug?”

“Correct, but we’re not talking your garden-variety slug.” He laughed—actually, he exclaimed ha-ha.

“A little paranormal humour for you, Jake my boy. These peculiar and particularly gross slugs infest closets and crawl spaces. You haven’t been keeping anything tasty in your closet, have you?”

“That’s where I put my Halloween candy.”

“Slurper Slug, then, guaranteed. They’re not dan­gerous, just revolting. They could make a mortician barf his biscuits. If you let one hang around he’ll call his buddies and before long you’ve got an infestation on your hands.”

He rooted through his tool box for a pouch of fine red powder. “This is cochineal, made from the crushed shells of beetles. It’s used in containment spells.”

He laid down a line of powder in the shape of a keyhole 

“This,” he said, pointing to the circle, “is the trap. The Slurper Slug will traipse up this path, see, which gets narrower and narrower until the Slug gets stuck in the Circle of No Return. There it will turn black as night and hard as rock. Now, you’ll have to pull one hair out of your head to bait the slug trap.”

I plucked a single strand, which my uncle laid softly in the trap.

“Go ask your mom if she has any chocolate chips.”

I went down to the kitchen to find my folks engaged in a hushed conversation. My father’s shoulders were vibrating like twin tuning forks.

“Chocolate chips, huh?” Mom said in a Susie- Cheerleader voice. “I’ve only got butterscotch.”
By the time I got back, the closet was shut. My uncle instructed me to lay a trail of butterscotch chips along the door.

“The sweetness will draw that Slug out of hiding. Now listen, Jake, and listen carefully. If you peek inside the closet, the spell will be broken. Under no circumstances can it be opened until tomorrow morn­ing. No matter the sounds you may hear dribbling through this door, you must leave it closed. Do you swear this to me?”

“Yes, I promise.”

“By the Oath of the White Mage, do you swear it?”

When I admitted I didn’t know that oath, he stuck out his little finger. “The pinkie variety will suffice.”

I linked my finger with his and squeezed.

“Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“Stick a needle in my eye,” I said solemnly.

I awoke to sunlight streaming through the window. I crept to the closet and opened it. Just as Uncle C had said, the keyhole was now only a circle and in the middle sat an object that was dark as night and hard as rock.

My uncle was taking off his boots in the front hall when I stormed downstairs.

“The trap worked!” I told him, dragging him up the stairs to show him the blackened slug.

“Pick it up,” he said. “It may still be a little warm but it won’t burn you.”

Queasy warmth pulsed off the slug, or so it felt to me.

“It’s not every day that you can hold a monster in your palm, is it, Jake?”

That lump of obsidian would rest on my nightstand for years. Then one day I noticed it sitting between my Junior Sleuths magnifying glass and a dog-eared reissue of Stephen King’s Carrie, the one with the art deco cover. Opening the drawer, I swept the volcanic rock inside, embarrassed that I’d once been fear-struck by anything so infantile as a snot-ball slug in my closet. . . .

An hour later I took it out and put it back where it belonged.

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Proof I Was Here

Proof I Was Here

edition:Paperback

What's the point of trying to leave a mark when everything disappears? This question is at the heart of Proof I Was Here, a novel that tells the picaresque coming-of-age story of a young thief and aspiring artist who attempts to reboot her life on the streets of Barcelona after an unexpected breakup. Hailing from Toronto, where she has criminal charges waiting, Niki is outside of Canada for the first time. The pickpockets, squatters and graffiti artists she meets challenge her to reassess her id …

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Worst Case, We Get Married

Worst Case, We Get Married

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Aïcha lives with her mother in Montreal's Centre-Sud neighbourhood. She's only thirteen but claims to be older. She has never known her father, and resents her mother for leaving Hakim, her stepfather. Her only friends are Mel and Jo, two local prostitutes, and Baz, a musician in his twenties, who comes to her rescue one day and with whom she proceeds to fall in love. Her impossible love for Baz, her precociousness and her rebellious streak come together into an explosive cocktail. Raw and hear …

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Mamaskatch

Mamaskatch

A Cree Coming of Age
edition:Hardcover

Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family’s history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud o …

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