Eyeless garter snakes. Pink lightning. A giant countdown clock in the sky.
Some things can’t be explained.
In “The Great Unknowable End” (Simon & Schuster, $19.99), Austinite Kathryn Ormsbee shows how that’s true of the mysterious happenings in a small Kansas town in the ′70s, and of life in general. She’ll showcase her young-adult tale of two teenagers trying to figure out their place in the world at BookPeople on Feb. 27.
When Stella and Galliard first meet, they each have significant challenges to overcome. Stella had hoped to go to the University of Kansas to study engineering and eventually work on a team that launches rockets. But after her mother dies and her brother decamps to the nearby Red Sun community, she has to come home to care for her sister: “I … bought her a new pair of Keds because she is growing too fast and Dad doesn’t notice these things.”
Galliard has lived in Red Sun’s commune his entire life, thinking of the world beyond as the Outside. But after he’s passed over for the plum post of resident artist — a post he believes is rightfully his — he starts wondering more about what the Outside has to offer. It’s the Crossing season, a sort of Rumspringa free pass for teen commune residents to visit the nearby town. Galliard meets Stella at the movie theater where she works and he’s sneaking in with a fellow commune member.
“Unknowable” is atmospheric, character-driven and full of imagination. It’s rooted firmly in the late ‘70s, with music and film references as the backdrop for these two teens’ attempts to forge their paths into adulthood. Ormsbee resists easy answers, which makes this novel all the more beguiling. (Ages 13 and older)
Christopher Paolini’s backstory is almost as fascinating as his best-selling fantasy tales. A home-schooled voracious reader, at age 15 he began writing about a boy who finds a stone that turns into a dragon. His parents self-published the book, which caught the eye of best-selling novelist Carl Hiaasen after he noticed his stepson reading it.
“Eragon” was eventually republished by Knopf and grew into a quartet of titles known as the “Inheritance” series — all of which topped the New York Times best-sellers list. Though the books were sometimes dinged by critics for harkening to familiar inspirations like “Star Wars” and Middle Earth, at one point they were outselling Harry Potter titles.
Paolini, now 35, has returned to Eragon’s world of Alagaësia with “The Fork, the Witch and the Worm” (Knopf, $16.99), a new series of interlinked but stand-alone tales. One is authored by Paolini’s sister Angela, who is the inspiration for the herbalist of the same name in the story itself. He will be in Austin at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Austin Public Library’s Central Branch. The reading is free; tickets for the signing line are available with purchase of the book from BookPeople. (Ages 12-15)
Unfamiliar situations can spark anxiety in the hardiest of young souls. “This Book Is Spineless” (Page Street Kids, $17.99) aims to validate and demystify scary situations with an inventive format. Austinite Lindsay Leslie breaks the fourth wall by having the book itself act as narrator, asking right from the cover, “Yes. Yes I am. Can you help me be brave and face my fears?” As the picture book progresses, the book overcomes nerves about the dark, the vastness of space, ghosts and more.
All five senses and multiple genres are explored, with the book (and, one suspects, its readers) growing less afraid at each page turn and new challenge. This interactive title, illustrated by Alice Brereton, begs to be read aloud and could be a springboard to discussions of deep-seated fears and how to ask for help.
Leslie will be at BookPeople at 2 p.m. Feb. 23. (Ages 4-8)
Austin author wins Coretta Scott King award
Congratulations to Austin’s Varian Johnson, whose middle-grade mystery “The Parker Inheritance” became a Coretta Scott King honoree this week. The honors recognize African-American authors and illustrators for young people and are part of the prestigious American Library Association awards announced at its midwinter conference that also include the Newbery and Caldecott medals.