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Books of the week review: Bring on the heat

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two books aimed at young readers and information about the 2020 Summer Reading Program of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Public Library come together in this article.

One book is Kelly McWilliams’ taut, female-empowering coming-of-age novel “Agnes at the End of the World.”

‘Agnes at the End of the World’ author Kelly McWilliams.

Sixteen-year-old Agnes has to make a tough choice. Should she stay with her family in the male-dominated cult community, or should she flee with her diabetic brother to the Outside, where a viral pandemic is raging?

The targeted audience of this apocalyptic-themed novel may be young readers, but it will appeal to adults as well.

The seed for McWilliams’ book occurred three years ago. “It grew out of a pregnancy dream. A fantasy pandemic crept into my thoughts because of the small-scale Zika virus outbreak at the time,” she said in a phone interview.

The novel tracks the lives of Agnes and Beth, strong-willed teenage sisters, and their paths to break out of a religious cult that has gone underground.

People magazine named “Agnes at the End of the World” (Little, Brown) one of its “20 Best Books to Read This Summer.”

McWilliams, a Colorado Springs, resident, will participate in a virtual Zoom conversation with award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes, whose new book is “Black Brother, Black Brother.” Rhodes is McWilliams’ mother. The telecast at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 14, is conducted by Bookworks. Attendees can RSVP at In response, Bookworks will send an email confirming the link to register for the free event.

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The other book for young readers is an inspirational autobiography by José M. Hernández. In it, Hernández shares his journey that takes him out of this world. Literally.

His bilingual book – in English and Spanish – is titled “From Farmworker to Astronaut, My Path to the Stars/De campesino a astronauta, Mi viaje a las estrellas.”(Piñata Books/Arte Público Press)

Jose M. Hernandez From Farmworker to Astronaut, My Path to the Stars/De campesino a astronauta, Mi viaje a las estrellas.

Hernández tells of shadowing his parents as they picked strawberries in Southern California. “It was hard work; you had to crouch to pick the berries, and your legs would feel like they were going to fall asleep,” he writes.

The preteen José remembers watching the Apollo 17 moonwalks on his family’s black-and-white TV. Seeing that voyage triggered his aspiration to be an astronaut. Encouraged by his father, he got two academic degrees in electrical engineering.

Hernández still faced obstacles toward his goal, but wouldn’t let them beat him. Eleven times he applied for the NASA astronaut program, and 11 times he was rejected. Then in 2004, he was named a member of the 19th class of U.S. astronauts. Five years later, he served as flight engineer of the Space Shuttle Discovery on a mission to the International Space Station.