Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden; Abrams Books for Young Readers, $21.95. 53 pages.
Tonya Bolden is the acclaimed author of many excellent nonfiction books about African-American history for young readers, some exploring little-known or overlooked subjects including Coretta Scott King Honor book “Maritcha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl” and “Cause,” a riveting exploration of the shameful Reconstruction years after the Civil War. Here she tackles a fascinating footnote of history, playing off a 1914 Chicago Defender headline “Where is Sarah Rector?,” a front-page story raising the possibility that the “wealthiest colored girl in America” might have been kidnapped. Bolden painstakingly uses court and census records and interviews with family members to piece together the fascinating story of a girl born in 1902 in Indian Territory (in a town that would become the 46th state, Oklahoma, in 1907) into a family of “Creek freedmen,” black members of the Indian nation called the Creeks. Moving backward and forward in time, Bolden tells the history of the removal of the Cherokee, Chikcawa, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations from their ancestral lands in the South, the Civil War years, and then the “wildcat” oil boom in Oklahoma that would make Sarah Rector rich. While Sarah left nothing of her voice behind, Bolden’s painstaking research and storytelling gifts, along with a wealth of photographs, maps and reprinted newspaper articles, bring to life a little-known chapter of American history.
– Jean Westmoore
My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel; Alfred A. Knopf, 400 pages ($27.95)
Some 40 million Americans suffer from the gnawing unease of anxiety in its many forms. More people seek treatment for anxiety, through drugs and therapy, than for back pain.
Scott Stossel is one of those sufferers. In his brutally frank new book, he lays it all out there as he fathoms the contours of his affliction. “My Age of Anxiety” is a brave – and quite possibly perverse – book, one that will leave you squirming and fascinated in equal measure. Stossel has lots of hang-ups: He’s afraid of flying, terrified of public speaking and pathologically averse to vomiting. There isn’t the space to list all his phobias.
How the devil did he get this way? On the one hand, Stossel is living proof that anxiety can be controlled. After all, the man is the editor of The Atlantic magazine and a successful author. Still, it’s been a struggle. He’s been in therapy for decades and is a walking A-Z of psychiatric drugs – Xanax, Zoloft, Prozac. In these pages, Stossel conducts a forensic examination of his own psyche, trawling through philosophy, theology, literature, case studies and scientific papers. He writes with unsparing intensity about his experiences, as well as his family’s psychological history – which, he admits, has not sat well with the extended Stossel clan. He details his father’s alcoholism, his mother’s overprotective parenting.
Without meaning to, Stossel has written a self-help manual. There is no miracle cure for anxiety, he suggests – we can manage our fears and worries, even if we can never quite tame them.
— Matt Price, Newsday
North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo; Pamela Dorman Books, 400 pages ($27.95) Publishes Jan. 23.
A complex plot, colorful characters, gritty setting and fascinating narrative voice mark this impressive debut by Boston author Elisabeth Elo. Pirio Kasparov, the tough, Boston-born daughter of Russian emigres, miraculously survives four hours in frigid waters of Boston Harbor after a freighter appears out of nowhere in a fog and smashes into a small lobster boat, killing her friend Ned. The U.S. Navy is interested in her seemingly miraculous survival; Pirio is interested in the circumstances of the accident and also in a mysterious man who shows up at Ned’s funeral asking questions. Is the freighter that hit their boat connected to Ocean Catch, the fishing company Ned had recently quit working for? Pirio’s search for answers takes her far north of Boston, to the whaling grounds of Cumberland Sound on a dangerous mission that will unlock the mystery of the collision and also unlock a mystery of her mother’s past.
Among the portrait gallery of characters are Pirio’s brilliant, difficult father Milosa; a crusading journalist; Pirio’s schoolmate, the alcoholic Thomasina; and Thomasina’s young son Noah. Elo brilliantly crafts her mystery; she is already working on a sequel.
– Jean Westmoore