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Past and Future: Chicagoist's June Literary Picks

By Maggie Hellwig in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 1, 2012 2:30PM

This month we've got two killer novels from young female writers, both handling the delicate topic of growing up. One novel draws from the past, and the other looks to the future. In between our two slices of life, is wedged a memoir of a boy growing up in Mao's China struggling with a past that looms in his present existence.

The Chaperone
Laura Moriarty

For Louise Brooks, 1922 was the launching point of a career in silent film. The soon-to-be starlet began her journey at the Denishawn School of Dance, leaving behind her small hometown in Kansas. Laura Moriatry's novel, The Chaperone, is based on this pivotal moment in Brooks's profession. The only thing trumping the young lady's style at this juncture is none other than her 36 year-old neighbor Cora Carlisle, sent to keep a watchful eye on Louise. Their personalities and goals conflict one another right from the onset, making for a compelling dynamic that will affect each of their lives. The Chaperone has been selected for the June 2012 Indie Next List, and is definitely worth a closer look later on this month.

The Little Red Guard
Wenguang Huang

Stepping forward in time through this month's round-up, Wenguang Huang has written a powerful memoir reflecting on how events of the past can shape present circumstance. The Little Red Guard tells the story of how Huang's family, during Mao's China, is faced with a dilemma: his grandmother's coffin. In a country that has banned a traditional burial for its deceased, Huang's grandmother wants nothing other than to be buried beside her husband after death. Religious, cultural, and political sectors churn in upheaval, while this integral symbol of the past must be guarded. The Little Red Guard has already had many wonderful reviews from The Tribune, WSJ, Publisher's Weekly, and many more. Without a hitch, this poignant memoir makes our list for the books to be devouring this month.

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker

In the not so distant future, 11 year-old Julia sees on the morning news that the rotation of the Earth is slowing at an alarming pace. This predicament prepares the reader for The Age of Miracles to be a typical end-of-the-world sci-fi book. What Karen Thompson Walker delivers, however, is a coming-of-age novel. Amidst the chaos of animal and plant life dying, clocks becoming a point of controversy, and the ultimate end of human existence, Julia has to cope with awkward pre-adolescence. The point of view choice makes for a tragic, and yet very fresh narrative--a little gem of a novel. Publisher's Weekly has already written a review of The Age of Miracles, and many authors are already singing its praises. Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, says that "Reading The Age of Miracles is like gazing into a sky of constellations and being mezmerized by the strange yet familiar sensation of infinity." Utilizing young eyes to stare into a future that might never come to pass is a powerful advantage for an author, and one of the more intriguing tactics that we'll see this June.