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Yes, We Can! !Si, Se Puede!

by Diana Cohn (Cinco Puntos Press, 2002)

Social activist Diana Cohn has published a children’s book — but it isn’t your usual children’s book. Written in both English and Spanish, this story of social revolution is told by a young boy, Carlitos, whose mother is a janitor in Los Angeles. The author, herself a social activist and former school teacher, based the book on the 8,000-member janitors’ strike that happened in L.A. in April 2000, winning union workers a new contract and a living wage.

Carlitos reflects on his mother’s job — how he sleeps at night while she’s away at work, how they eat breakfast together before he is sent off to school and she then sleeps. One night, Mama announces that she doesn’t make enough money to take care of both Carlitos and his grandmother. She’s decided to join the strike — thereby risking everything.

Yes, We Can! is, I suppose, a lesson in humility and humanity. It’s a nice effort — and personally, I think it wouldn’t hurt to have more books that let kids in on their parents’ struggles. How well such a book will resonate among the typical kids’-books buyers and their wee audiences remains to be seen. The book is illustrated by Francisco Delgado with an essay and poems by Luis Rodriguez.

Diana Cohn appears at Malaprop’s Bookstore (55 Haywood St.) on Sunday, Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. for a bilingual event with Virginia Rodriguez reading portions of the book in Spanish. For more information, call 254-6734.

East Toward Dawn, A Woman’s Solo Journey Around the World

by Nan Watkins (Seal Press, 2002)

Having survived the death of her 22-year-old son and divorce after a 30-year marriage, Nan Watkins, approaching her 60th birthday, decides to take a solo trip around the world.

Mirroring the rather simplistic but solid writing that turned Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence into a bestseller, Watkins attempts to reveal what it was like to set in motion a life-long dream. She decides to head in one direction — East — after what one might consider a lifetime of moving in circles.

“I am on the road again and it feels exciting to be starting my travels in this intense metropolis [New York City] that has served as a destination for countless people from all over the globe.” And thus begins Watkins’ journey — back to old friends, forward to new ones, and inward toward herself.

Watkins is neither a new world-explorer nor a new writer — she’s published numerous travel essays. The course of East Toward Dawn is woven through with reminiscences about her marriage and son’s death, and musings on what makes a woman evolve from a young girl into a discoverer of the world.

This isn’t a great book. But I think some readers — women and men alike — will find enough inspiration in it to pull themselves out of their rooted lives. Nan Watkins proves it’s never too late.

Nan Watkins appears at Malaprop’s on Friday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. to read from and sign copies of her book.

Shadow Puppets

by Orson Scott Card (Tor, 2002)

The only writer to win science fiction’s Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novel of the Year two years running, Orson Scott Card has just published his latest book, Shadow Puppets, in what his legions of fans call the “Ender” series.

New readers, beware: If you’ve not read the previous novels in this series — Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow — you may get lost in Shadow Puppets land.

Bean — one of the genetically altered children created in the first book to become genius soldiers to combat alien invaders — returns as the protagonist. Also returning from a previous work is arch villain Achilles. Like the devil, Achilles can never quite be killed off — perhaps because it’s too difficult to create a worse devil than the one you’re replacing.

First, a little background: The once-good leader Andrew Ender’s brother, Peter (there is always a good brother and a bad one), is now the hegemon of an Earth deep in chaos. Peter gains Achilles’ release from his Chinese captors, thus forcing Bean and his love interest, Petra, into hiding. (Peter, Petra! By this point it starts to read like a Russian novel.)

Science fiction generally requires readers to learn a whole new language and set of rules — in this case, add a hefty dose of geo-politics to the maelstrom. Bean, via various complex plot threads, learns that Achilles wants to get rid of Peter and become hegemon. Somewhere in all this, Bean and Petra plan to become parents through in vitro fertilization, thus hoping to end the cycle of genetic tampering that produced Bean.

Gene-altering is one of many moral issues Card raises in his novels — and the raising of moral issues seems to be the mainstay of most sci-fi authors. In this case, however, it also furthers the plot line: Bean’s quest to go back to the au natural way of doing things gives Achilles an opportunity to steal some of the embryos, which in turn sets up a final clash between the two.

Card’s particular genius is his ability to weave complex plot threads while setting a fast pace that includes lots of action and danger. Perhaps most importantly, he leaves room at the end for more books to come.

Orson Scott Card appears at Malaprop’s on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. to sign copies of his novel.

[Bill Brooks teaches creative writing. He is the author of 11 novels. For a complete list of local author events, see Xpress’ weekly arts & entertainment calendar.]

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