Short Stories 

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Gossip of the Starlings
Nina de Gramont

Algonquin Books, $22.95/hardcover
The cover of Gossip of the Starlings quotes Jacquelyn Mitchard: "I inhaled this novel in one breath." Impressive words from an equally impressive writer. And in some ways, Nina de Gramont's debut novel is hard to put down. Gossip sucks you in as it tells the tale of two girls attending an exclusive prep school, and the friends, family and teachers who surround them. It's easy to keep turning the pages because Catherine Morrow, the truly lyrical narrator of the story, becomes the girlfriend you want to dish with. Unfortunately, that "gossip" is the highlight of the book. The last page may leave you sad to say goodbye to a new friend, but also glad to put aside that friend's often-tiring escapades of privileged life. Kirsten Akens

The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir

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Sarah Manguso

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22/hardcover
Illness and its treatment have a way of both humanizing and de-humanizing a life, and that is the heart of Sarah Manguso's memoir, written in a blend of prose and poetry. Thirteen years ago, Manguso was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that caused bouts of paralysis. Through hundreds of blood transfusions and debilitating drug regimens, Manguso reached an unsteady remission six years later. She relates the story with brutal honesty, sharing the grimmest of details. Yet the journey wears thin. She ultimately declares bitterly that we can never know what her experience was like. Her candor at times borders on self-pity and self-possession, raising the question: Is that more the nature of illness, or memoir? Edie Adelstein

Cherise the Niece

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J.K. Benton

Plume, $10/hardcover
From the blood-drenched title scrawled across the cover to the final word of lethally funny text, it's clear this is not your typical children's tale. In fact, though its 24-page, picture-book format may scream "bedtime story," the back cover declares it is for "ages 14 and up." Of course, Benton is no stranger to charges of inappropriate content; he created the devilishly narcissistic Happy Bunny character who graces at least one T-shirt in every wise-cracking teen's wardrobe. His humor is in high form as he tells the story of Cherise, a small, grim-faced girl whose family grows smaller as she makes herself an orphan, and then dispenses with each aunt who takes her in. The dark comedy of the tale contrasts hilariously with its sweet, sing-songy text. You'll never look at children the same way again. Jill Thomas


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