Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers: The Things She's Seen by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Sing to It: New Stories

Amy Hempel (Reasons to Live) delivers a wildly exploratory short story collection. The 15 pieces in Sing to It include a nice mix of flash fiction and longer entries. The titular first story sets an ever-mysterious tone: "At the end, he said, No metaphors! Nothing is like anything else." Of course metaphors abound, bizarre spectacles, but also a sense of specificity that could rightly be called the opposite of cliché. The same story also hints at what unites it with the others: "When danger approaches, sing to it." Hempel carves out distinctive characters in the crook of exceptional circumstances. They are imperiled people, all facing something ominous in their lives, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible. It's as if Hempel has a secret guide to her own creations, knowing the point of inflection for each.

In "A Full-Service Shelter," a volunteer at an animal shelter that euthanizes dangerous dogs explains how the animals see the humans: "They knew me as the one who loved in them what I recoiled from in people: the patent need, the clinging, the appetite." But the narrator seems to need the dogs just as much, as if caring for them makes the world more sensible. Some of the stories reach the realms of surrealism, such as the "The Doll Tornado," which includes a storm of dolls touching down in an old factory in Greensboro, N.C.

Sing to It fascinates. It pulses with absurdist glee, but has enough humanity to ground its characters in the hard work of looking forward. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset