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Walnut Hill Recommends

Looking for some interesting reading to chew on (or chill out with) this summer? Look no further than this eclectic mix of books that our faculty and staff are recommending as reads right now.

Elyse Banak, Math & Science Faculty
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

It’s winter 1945: four refugees, four stories. Salt to the Sea is a captivating account of these four very different individuals whose paths converge. I was drawn into all of their stories. I was also interested in the important historical event that I had never known about that was told through this book.

Ian Buttermore, Humanities Faculty
The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall

In the fictional city of Garmouth, England, at the height of the German bombing campaign known as “the Blitz,” fourteen-year-old Chas McGill has the second-best collection of war souvenirs in town—but he desperately wants it to be the best. One night, he stumbles across a crashed German bomber and eyes the machine gun that protrudes from the airplane’s back. With the help of his friends, Cem, Clogger, Carrot Juice, Audrey and Nicky, Chas plans his own war effort as the adults of the town desperately try to find the missing gun.

Jay Crawford-Kelly, Humanities Faculty
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

The director of such classic suspense films as Psycho, Vertigo, and The Birds—along with my favorite, Notorious—started making movies in his early 20s in the silent era and created many filmmaking techniques that remain in use today. He was also a mighty weird dude. This is a thorough and thoroughly entertaining biography of a 20th-century icon.

Steve Durning, Humanities Faculty
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

It’s twistfully plotful, it’s realistic, it’s got vivid characters, it’s got scuba diving: it’s epic. It also somehow affords the pleasures of a 19th-century British novel. It’s by Jennifer Egan, who wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Jennifer Elowitch, Director of Music
The Leavers by Lisa Ko

This riveting novel explores personal identity through the lens of a Chinese boy adopted by an American family in New York. I loved Ko’s vivid writing style and never knew what to expect with the many twists and turns of the plot.

Melissa Graves, Database Manager
Mister God, This Is Anna by Fynn

This is the best book I read as a teen. It inspired me and made me cry. Anna is four years old but has the soul of an ancient. She is wise and curious and matter-of-fact. The love she has for nature and art and science and math is amazing. Her relationship with her rescuer and friend is a true loving bond. I know the book has “God” in the title, but this is not a religious book by any stretch. You can’t read this book and not be moved by it.

Natalia Gutierrez-Smith, Executive Assistant to the Head of School
Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

This book allowed me to see a completely new perspective from my own through the history and social structure of the blue-collar, white working class, particularly those in the Rust Belt. This particular class has seen a lot of poverty and struggle separate from their race, yet they are (or were) politically invisible. It compelled me to feel empathy and compassion and, surprisingly to me, a tremendous amount of relatability for me as a Latina woman and a first-generation American.

Tom Keenan, Head of Math & Science and Sophomore Class Dean
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Bryson covers everything from the Big Bang to molecular genetics with great humor and an amazing ability to boil highly complicated science down to language that is fun and easy to read. Great book for the beach!

Marie Longo, Chief Advancement Officer
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

With storytelling that spans three different time periods, this novel follows the “life” of a single Dutch painting of the 17th century, the woman who painted it, and the modern-day woman who decides to make a forgery of it. Intrigue and heartbreak, combined with rich details of the contemporary art world, made it a page-turner for me. I was mesmerized!

Caroline Lowe, Humanities Faculty
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

When asked what this book is about, I balk. How to coherently tie together the lush description, the medical exactitude, and the magically tinged feeling of kismet into a pat phrase? Marion Stone grows up with his (initially conjoined) twin brother, Shiva, on the grounds of a hospital in Ethiopia, and the book traces their paths through operating theaters in Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, the cricket games of NYC, and the internal strengths and struggles of defining one’s self by how others see you. Amid the cultural history, the author, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, deftly weaves in medical terms and procedures that are germane to the plot without becoming boringly technical.

Robyn Mabry, Technology Coordinator
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

A dystopian sci-fi novel that centers on 1980s pop culture, music, and video games? Yes, please! As a child of the ’80s, I felt like Ernest Cline wrote this book specifically for me. Read this if you like sci-fi, you’re into 1980s pop culture, you always wanted to live inside a video game. Skip it if you don’t like sci-fi, puzzles, or fun.

Pat McDougal, Campaign Coordinator
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Do you drink tea and ever wonder about its origins? This engaging and enlightening coming-of-age story, set in a remote region of China, recounts the life of “the tea girl” of the Akha mountain tribe from a child of tea-pickers in the mountains to a prominent tea-seller in Los Angeles. It’s about culture, traditions, family, circumstances, heart-wrenching decisions, and trust. The tea growing, making, tasting, medicinal uses, and trading provides an interesting backdrop to a beautiful story of family and the bond between mothers and daughters. After reading this, sipping your next cup of tea may cause you to pause and appreciate!

Jane Segale, Chief Financial Officer
Beartown by Fredrik Backman

This novel focuses on the fortunes of a shrinking town and its Hockey Club, and the pressures that are put on the children and adults as a result. The characters are well developed and easy to relate to. The author also wrote A Man Called Ove, another book I'd recommend with a totally different storyline but similar character development and a lot of humor.

Jennifer TumSuden, Director of Development
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Told from the alternating perspectives of teenage twins Jude and Noah, I'll Give You the Sun is a complex coming-of-age story that grapples with sexual identity, family secrets, and the struggles of becoming an artist. The twists and turns of the plot are engrossing and the prose so completely beautiful that the book is hard to put down. At its core, this is a novel about love and grief. Fair warning: you may at times need tissues. The stories of Noah and Jude affirm how messy the journey to becoming one’s true self is and remind us to embrace both the joy and the sadness along the way.

Antonio Viva, Head of School
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, edited by Mason Currey

Have you ever wondered about the working process of the world’s greatest creative thinkers? Discussing such luminaries as Agatha Christie, George Balanchine, Leo Tolstoy, and Pablo Picasso, this book outlines the daily rituals of some of the most noted artists of the past and present. This revealing and inspiring volume is wonderfully compiled and edited to create small snapshots of 161 novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians.


Compiled by Jason Stumpf, Humanities Department Head

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