James McBride, who won the National Book Award for his 2013 novel, The Good Lord Bird, is unique among contemporary writers of fiction for the singular humanity he brings to his characters. In this newest novel, built around Sportcoat, a beloved figure in a New York City housing project, McBride tours a landscape of race, politics, class, ethnicity, and social change with such acute sensibility that the reader feels thoroughly absorbed in the complications and contradictions inherent in the story’s place and time. Just as comedians are often the best truth-tellers, McBride edges close to farce in Deacon King Kong, using humor as he often does to expose deeper, painful realities about a world in transition. Bottom line: McBride does not disappoint.
As a native of the Bay Area and having once covered Baltimore politics as a journalist, I thought I knew everything about Nancy Pelosi, from her political roots in Charm City to her political ascent in San Francisco. But reading Ball’s excellent biography, I realized quickly that I knew less than I thought. Ball’s dispassionate reporting (which includes interviews with Pelosi) left me even more admiring of Pelosi’s extraordinary rise from housewife in the Mad Men era to the nation’s first woman Speaker of the House. Ball explores and explains the discipline, energy, tenacity, and sheer political skill required on Pelosi’s part, especially as she constantly confronted double standards as a woman. As flattering as the portrait is, it is not a whitewash but a rich portrait of an historic figure in American politics.
Wes Moore’s third book brings him back to Baltimore, where he spent part of his childhood and resides now, to explore the undercurrents of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of police in April 2015. Moore, currently head of The Robin Hood Foundation, focuses on the five days from Gray’s arrest for allegedly possessing an illegal knife to his death in a coma in a local hospital. Gray’s case made national news and ushered in a period of reckoning for a city on edge. Through interviews with eight Baltimoreans directly affected by the news coverage and protests that followed Gray’s death, Moore details the roots of injustice that led to this cataclysmic moment for the city—and that may yet augur a glimmer of hope for the future.