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

Naamah

Poet Sarah Blake's (Mr. West) novel Naamah transforms the story of Noah and the ark, creating a haunting tale of female agency. Naamah, Noah's wife, is the focus of this story about the great flood to destroy humanity, and God is noticeably absent from this retelling. "That's what I like to call the flood sometimes. The great abandonment.... Him abandoning us," one character says. Namaah's faith fights with her skepticism about God's plan. She admits she is "humbled by the flood, but how long can someone reasonably be asked to experience humility?" Visitations from angels and intense, erotic dreams interrupt and enrich her drudgery on the ship.

Since the flood story is one of rebirth, Naamah is perfectly suited as the main character. Here she is a sensual, forceful woman who is an equal partner with her husband in what seems like a quixotic command from an angry God. Her experience as a mother and midwife foreshadows the rebirth that happens when the floodwaters recede and humanity has another chance to rise. But finally on land, saved, Naamah still questions God. "I don't think our faith in Him should determine how we live our lives," she tells her daughter-in-law.

Blake's lyrical prose sweeps over the reader as inexorably as the water around the ark, but her genius is in making Naamah's life as relevant as if she were alive today. The reimagining of this patriarchal tale into a feminist allegory is a stunning achievement, sure to intrigue fans of Circe and Home Fire. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.