Mundelein author Leslie Stella said she was "delighted and honored" to learn that her novel "Permanent Record" was selected for the reading list of this year's Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year program.
"It was a wonderful surprise," Stella said. "It's a great program, and so many wonderful books and writers have been on the lists in the past."
The Suburban Mosaic reading program, now in its 11th year, invites suburbanites to read and discuss select books that deal with issues of tolerance and social justice. Roughly two dozen libraries and school districts in Cook and Lake counties are involved.
As is the custom, the 2014-15 reading list comprises books for all age groups. In addition to Stella's "Permanent Record," this year's titles are "Peaches for Monsieur le Cure" by Joanne Harris (adult readers); "Kids of Kabul" by Deborah Ellis (middle school); "The Garden of My Imaan" by Farhana Zia (grades 4-6); "The Year of the Book" by Andrea Cheng (grades 2-4); and "Marisa McDonald Doesn't Match" by Monica Brown (preschool readers).
"Permanent Record" is the title for high-school readers. Its protagonist is Badi Hessamizadeh, a 16-year-old Iranian-American boy who battles personal demons and bullies as he tries to make his way through high school. The novel, which came out in March, has been praised for its tense, propulsive narrative and Badi's vivid voice.
"The idea for 'Permanent Record' came to me after all the times I flipped on the news to see reports about violence in schools," Stella said. "I started thinking about what it would take to drive a young person to lash out like that."
"Permanent Record" is Stella's fourth novel, but the first one geared toward the young-adult audience.
"I think I'd like to stay with that audience for a while," she said. "I can remember my teenage years vividly. They're a time of such heightened emotion, where everything is dramatic. And I don't mean that dismissively. It's actually fun to key into that when writing stories."
Stella said she plans to appear at the Mount Prospect Public Library in September to discuss the book in the context of the Suburban Mosaic program.
"I hope the book gets people talking," she said. "The protagonist is interesting because he's flawed, he's not a perfect guy, but he's also clearly struggling."
All of the books on the reading list are available (or soon will be) at participating public libraries, some of which will build displays and discussion groups around the titles. Schools, meanwhile, will put the books on student reading lists and encourage teachers to use them in the classroom. Cathleen Blair, a readers advisory librarian at the Mount Prospect Public Library, said that 11 years in, the Suburban Mosaic program still sparks conversations in the suburbs.
"Even something as simple as our display in the library can do it," she said. "I had a student see it one time and ask what the program was and why the books were chosen. It's very exciting to see people show interest, and I believe people will find much to love and talk about in this year's books."
For more about the program, visit suburbanmosaicbooks.org.