Hamline News

Summer Reading

If you’re looking for a good book this summer, you won’t need to look further than Hamline’s Graduate School of Liberal Studies, whose faculty, alumni, and students have churned out enough titles to please the pickiest of readers. From children’s literature to adult, historical fiction to poetry, there’s something for everyone in their latest crop of books. Find a hammock, grab a snack, and dig in!


Falling Boy
Professor Alison McGhee
(also suitable for young adults)
March 2007 Talking Volumes feature

“Did you really rescue your mother from a fate worse than death on a cliff overlooking the sea?”

After a mysterious accident left him paralyzed, sixteen-year-old Joseph finds himself living with his father in Minneapolis and working hot summer days in a bakery. What happened to the life he used to live? How did he come to be here? Although they approach the mystery in different ways, two people in Joseph’s new life—seventeen-year-old Zap, who also works in the bakery, and Enzo, a fierce and funny nine-year-old girl—both want to find out.

“Are you really a superhero?” whispers Enzo, who secretly longs for her world to be transformed. “Please be a superhero.” Stoically quiet, Joseph has never thought of himself as a superhero, especially now that he is in a wheelchair and can’t feel his legs. But others disagree. Who is the hero? Who is the enemy? Is redemption possible, and if so, where is it to be found? In Alison McGhee’s strange and powerful Falling Boy, a small band of tough kids turn the myth of the superhero inside out as they face down the shadows of childhood.

The Floor of the Sky
Pam Carter Joern MFA ’00
University of Nebraska
2007 Alex Award
2006 Holiday Barnes and Noble
Discover Great New Writers selection

In the Nebraska Sandhills, nothing is more sacred than the bond of family and land—and nothing is more capable of causing deep wounds. In Pamela Carter Joern’s riveting novel The Floor of the Sky, Toby Jenkins, an aging widow, is on the verge of losing her family’s ranch when her granddaughter Lila—a city girl, sixteen and pregnant—shows up for the summer. While facing painful decisions about her future, Lila uncovers festering secrets about her grandmother’s past—discoveries that spur Toby to reconsider the ambiguous ties she holds to her embittered sister Gertie, her loyal ranch hand George, her not-so-sympathetic daughter Nola Jean, and ultimately, herself.

Propelled by stark realism in breakneck prose, The Floor of the Sky reveals the inner worlds of characters isolated by geography and habit. Set against the sweeping changes in rural America—from the onslaught of corporate agribusiness to the pressures exerted by superstores on small towns—Joern’s compelling story bears witness to the fortitude and hard-won wisdom of people whose lives have been forged by devotion to the land.

Patti Frazee MFA ’02

In this astonishing debut novel, enchantment and illusion casually commingle with reality as the Borefsky Brothers Circus makes its way across the American Midwest in the summer of 1900. Mariana, the fortune teller, makes herself invisible and drifts through the nighttime circus, listening in on conversations and watching over her beloved Shanghai, a fire-breathing dwarf who closely guards his secrets, even from Mariana’s second sight. Conjoined twins Atasha and Anna cling to each other and weep for their home and for their mother and father who sold them to the circus. Jakub, the circus manager and husband to Mariana, fears his wife’s gifts, grieves his own failures, and drinks to forget it all. The stories and closely guarded histories of the troupe of performers dance around each other until a love affair between Shanghai and Atasha destroys the delicate balance.

As secrets are revealed and old wounds are opened, the consequences are unbearable to some and liberating to others. Cirkus is a haunting novel of devastating heartbreak and exquisite loveliness.

When CharlotteComes Home
Maureen Millea Smith
MFA ’00
2007 Minnesota Book Award

Unspoken and unrequited love, loss of life and loss of innocence, facing change and changing times—these are the elements of this subtle and beautifully written novel of regret and redemption.

Looking back over the past thirty years of his life, Fred Holly recounts the loss of his younger sister Charlotte during his senior year in high school. Simultaneously, his circle of friends is now beginning to go their separate ways. The direction of Fred’s life changes course over the years to deliver him to where and who he is today, but the regret of all this loss still haunts him.

Through the subtle telling of his story, Fred finds the strength to let go of regret and seek happiness with his life as it is today.


Someone Named Eva
Joan Wolf MFA ’01

On the night Nazi soldiers come to her home in Czechoslovakia, Milada’s grandmother says, “Remember, Milada. Remember who you are. Always.” Milada promises, but she doesn’t understand her grandmother’s words. After all, she is Milada, who lives with her mama and papa, her brother and sister, and her beloved Babichka. Milada, eleven years old, the fastest runner in school. How could she ever forget?

Then the Nazis take Milada away from her family and send her to a Lebensborn center in Poland. There, she is told she fits the Aryan ideal: her blond hair and blue eyes are the right color; her head and nose, the right size. She is given a new name, Eva, and trained to become the perfect German citizen, to be the hope of Germany’s future—and to forget she was ever a Czech girl named Milada. Inspired by real events, this fascinating novel sheds light on a little-known aspect of the Nazi agenda and movingly portrays a young girl’s struggle to hold on to her identity and her hope in the face of a regime intent on destroying both.

Professor Ron Koertge

Sixteen-year-old Ted O’Connor’s parents just died in a fiery car crash, and now he’s stuck with a set of semi-psycho foster parents, two foster brothers—Astin, the cocky gearhead, and C.W., the sometimes gangsta—and an inner-city high school full of delinquents. He’s having pretty much the worst year of his miserable life. Or so he thinks. Is it possible that becoming an orphan is not the worst thing that could have happened to him?

Master novelist Ron Koertge brings his best work yet, a smart, surprising story full of trademark wit and sharp insight about a boy learning to run with a new pack. Could life as a foster kid lead to unexpected benefits? A teenager’s link to animals gives way to human connection in a smart, incisive new novel.

Tomorrow the River
Dianne Gray MALS ’96
Houghton Mifflin

With a long list of her mother’s dos and don’ts swirling in her head, and with a ticket that will get her only halfway home at the end of the summer, fourteen-year old Megan Barnett boards the eastbound train. Her destination, the Mississippi River at Burlington, Iowa, is twenty-four hours and a host of unfamiliar seatmates away. The most pleasant of these characters is Horace, an engineering student whose passion for newspapers, as well as a sharp curve of the tracks, lands him nearly in Megan’s lap. The parade of interesting strangers—some of whom are not what they seem—doesn’t end with Megan’s arrival in Burlington, where she joins her sister’s family on the riverboat the Oh My. River travel, as Megan quickly learns, is fraught with danger, both on the water and off. A keen eye for seeing beneath the surface of things can make all the difference. Leaving a trail of discarded rules and newspaper headlines in her wake, Megan takes on the river and reaps its rewards.

In Search of Mockingbird
Loretta Ellsworth, student
Henry Holt and Co.

Sometimes the things that need to be discovered aren’t so easily found at home.

Erin is certain that this is true in her case. A book is all that connects Erin to her mother, who died when she was a baby. But how much can Erin really learn about her mother from a tattered copy of To Kill a Mockingbird ? On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, Erin decides it’s finally time to find out. And so begins her bus journey from Minnesota to Alabama in search of Harper Lee, the reclusive author of Mockingbird.

In a novel full of quirky characters, strange coincidences, and on-the-road adventures, Loretta Ellsworth deftly traces a unique voyage of self-discovery.


Professor Alison McGhee

What parents wish for their child is a chance to live life at its fullest—to experience great joys, to stretch, to grow, to understand sorrow, to have a future…to have a someday. Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds have taken this idea and turned it into something so poignant yet so simple and pure that it will deeply touch readers of every age.


Willow Room, Green Door:New and Selected Poems
Professor Deborah Keenan
Milkweed Editions

Written over the course of three decades, this extraordinary collection of new and selected poems presents a body of work from Deborah Keenan that is expressive variously of love and rage, vulnerability and authority, distraction and focus, and perhaps above all, a sharply empathetic sense of observation. Deborah Keenan’s work balances holding on to what is dear with letting go of what she cannot change.

From a Minneapolis Star Tribune review of the book: “This collection is full of the author’s earthy lyricism and strong maternal love. ‘Willow Room,’ for example, recounts the storied childhoods of two girls exploring the Twin Cities—from Lake of the Isles to St. Kate’s campus—in canoes, kayaks, and buses. After a storm, in language so evocative that readers will smell the rained-soaked earth, the ‘two beauties’ gather fallen willow boughs and fashion their own paradise indoors.”