Maven's Fourth Quarter Pick: Finding Ultra
Rich Roll was one day shy of age 40 when he realized his life had become something he had never intended it to be. The former Stanford swimmer had all but given up on the active lifestyle that had defined his youth. As he tiredly climbed the stairs to wish his kids goodnight, he decided to blaze a new trail in his life, one that would taken him to distances few have ever been. Finding Ultra is the true account of Roll’s two-year transformation from an overweight recovering alcoholic to an ultra-distance endurance athlete. Fueled by a plant-based diet, Roll participated in the elite Ultraman competition, a double ironman-distance triathlon consisting of a 320-mile competition of swimming, biking and running. He then went onto complete the EPIC5—five Ironman triathlons on five different Hawaiian islands in under a week—and was later recognized by Men’s Fitness Magazine as one of the “Top 25 Fittest Men.”
Maven's Third Quarter Pick: An Invisible Thread
Laura Schroff remembers her fateful encounter with 11-year-old Maurice on a September day in New York City. “ 'Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change?' […] When I heard him, I didn’t really hear him. His words were part of the clatter, like a horn or someone yelling from a cab. They were, you could say, just noise—the kind of nuisance New Yorkers learn to tune out. So I walked right by him, as if he wasn’t there. But then, just a few yards past him, I stopped. And then—and I’m still not sure why I did this—I came back." That Monday, Laura took Maurice to McDonald’s for lunch. To their surprise, the two would spend the next 150 Mondays together, the successful advertising sales executive and the disadvantaged boy with a tragic upbringing, both changing the other’s life in ways neither could have imagined. Their unlikely friendship has since spanned three decades, Maurice becoming the son Laura never had, and Laura assuming the motherly role that Maurice so desperately needed.
Maven's June Pick: Enrique's Journey
LA Times journalist Sonia Nazario chronicles the story of Enrique, a 16-year-old Honduran immigrant who risks life and limb to reunite with his mother in the United States. Eleven years earlier, living in abject poverty in her native country, Enrique's mother, Lourdes, made the gut-wrenching decision to leave her children to find work, the same decision that thousands of women like her are forced to make ever year. Lourdes eventually settles in North Carolina, finds stable work and sends money home to support her son and daughter. However, money cannot replace affection, and when he is old enough, Enrique sets out in search of his mother. Armed with $57 and his mother's phone number written on a scrap of paper, Enrique begins the harrowing solo journey across Central America and Mexico, traveling atop freight trains while navigating an unknown world riddled with gangsters, bandits and corrupt cops. Four months and seven attempts later, Enrique finally stands in front of his mother's North Carolina home, ready to open the door to a new chapter in his life.
Maven's May Pick: Moon over Manifest
Clare Vanderpool's Moon over Manifest received the 2011 Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature. Abilene Tucker, the novel's adventurous and curious protagonist, is sent away for the summer of 1936 to live with a family friend in Manifest, Kansas, while her father goes to work on the railroad. It's not long before the 12-year-old locates an old cigar box filled with letters and mementos, which sparks an insatiable interest to learn more about her father's ties to the rural mining town. In doing so, Abilene meets Miss Sadie who shares a collection of stories in exchange for household chores, at which time the plot shifts from the present 1936 back to 1918 and a new character named Jinx is introduced. Miss Sadie's recollection of decades past reveals a town on the verge of the Great War during a time when race and labor relations dominated Manifest's changing landscape. As the past and present stories overlap, Abilene's views of the town as well as her own familial history begin a change of their own.
Maven's April Pick: The Alchemist
A classic tale of adventure and discovery, The Alchemist, written by Portuguese author Paulo Coelho in 1988, continues to captivate the imagination of readers by addressing universal themes that affect the lives of all people. Main character Santiago is an Andalusian shepherd who, due to a recurring, seemingly prophetic dream, decides to leave his flock and pursue a treasure revealed to him in his nocturnal visions. During his journey, he crosses paths with several unassuming characters who turn out to be disguised messengers. Each messenger helps shape Santiago's character, his fortune and his destiny, including an old king who tells the young shepherd, "When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it." Santiago eventually meets the wisest of his mentors, an alchemist, who helps him untangle wisdom from fantasy while encouraging him to follow his dreams. What remains is a personal journey of self discovery as Santiago unearths a treasure far more valuable than anything he could have imagined.
Maven's March Pick: The Dew Breaker
Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker is an emotionally charged story that gives readers a front row view of Haiti's political unrest during the 1960s. The book begins present day on a trip to Florida, where a young woman named Ka is set to deliver a sculpture to a prominent buyer. But the artwork never makes it to its final destination because Ka's father, the inspiration for the piece, disposes of his daughter's sculpture, careful to keep his image as well as his past hidden from view. The truth emerges when Ka's father reveals that the scar running down the length of his face was not the result of torture in a Haitian prison as his daughter had grown up to believe. Rather, who he is and who he was are intertwined through the memories of his victims, those who knew him years earlier as a brutal regional chief under the Duvalier dictatorship. The book's title is a translation of the Creole expression, choukèt laroze, or "breaker" of the dew, referring to the political henchmen like Ka's father who would arrive at dawn to arrest, torture or kill their victims.
Maven's February Pick: Breakfast at Tiffany's
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an enduring work whose main character, Holiday “Holly” Golightly, has captured readers’ imaginations since author Truman Capote first introduced her in 1958. Set in Manhattan’s Upper East Side during the late 1940s, the narrator of the story, whom Holly calls “Fred,” recounts an unlikely friendship with his eccentric neighbor. Armed with glamorous beauty and an audacious personality, the 18-year-old New York socialite is no stranger to the limelight. She relishes the attention she receives, which is often ignited by her own ability to draw others into the fanciful lifestyle she has created for herself. But when a stranger from Holly’s past approaches Fred unexpectedly, he starts to realize that there is much more to Holly than meets the eye. Disguised behind her calling card black glasses and makeup painted face lies the person Holly doesn’t want anyone to see, the person who has been running from her past since the age of 14, traveling on the winds of a whim, searching for the place where she belongs.
Maven's January Pick: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
Winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice, The Girl who Fell from the Sky tells the story of Rachel Morse, a biracial girl who must learn to navigate her past and present as the sole survivor of a family tragedy. Author Heidi Durrow draws inspiration from her own background as the daughter of a white Danish woman and an African-American serviceman growing up in the 1980s. The emotions that Durrow transfers to her main character help create an intriguing narrative where themes of identity and race are on full display. It’s not until Rachel moves from Chicago to Portland to live with her grandmother in a predominantly black neighborhood that she begins to realize the importance that society places on color. Her golden-brown skin and blue eyes help her stand out from the crowd, but the same beauty that helps define who she is also contributes to her feelings of rejection. Told from various perspectives, as Rachel’s story begins to unfold, the truths of what happened one summer day atop a Chicago rooftop come into focus.