Here are our recommendations for the Waterloo 2021 Reading Challenge prompt: Read a book set in Nebraska or by a Nebraska author. Enjoy getting lost in our prairie landscape with one of these excellent picks:

Carson Vaughan is a freelance journalist from central Nebraska with a focus on the Great Plains.

Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream by Carson Vaughan

When Dick Haskin’s plans to assist primatologist Dian Fossey in Rwanda were cut short by her murder, Dick’s devotion to primates didn’t die with her. He returned to his hometown of Royal, NE (population 81) with Reuben, an adolescent chimp, in the bed of a pickup truck and transformed a trailer home into the Midwest Primate Center. As the tourist trade multiplied, so did the inhabitants of what would become Zoo Nebraska. A resonant true story of small-town politics and community perseverance and of decent people and questionable choices, Zoo Nebraska is a timely requiem for a rural America in the throes of extinction.

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After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

A century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water. Stubbornly independent Myra and her 7-year-old daughter Pearl live and fish on their small boat, the Bird, visiting dry land only to trade for supplies and information in the few remaining outposts of civilization. Grieving the loss of her Nebraska homeland and her oldest daughter Row, Myra embarks on a perilous voyage to save her daughter, and herself.

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Kassandra Montag grew up in rural Nebraska and now lives in Omaha with her husband and two sons.
Ted Genoways is the winner of
the 2018 James Beard Foundation Award for
Investigative Journalism. He lives outside Lincoln, Nebraska, with the photographer Mary Anne Andrei and their teenage son.

This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm by Ted Genoways

The family farm lies at the heart of our national identity, yet its future is in peril. Rick Hammond grew up on a farm, and for 40 years has raised cattle and crops on his wife’s fifth-generation homestead in Nebraska, in hopes of passing it on to their four children. But as the handoff nears, their family farm—and their entire way of life—are under siege, from shifting trade policies, to encroaching pipelines, to climate change. Following the Hammonds from harvest to harvest, Genoways explores the rapidly changing world of small, traditional farming operations and one family’s fight to preserve their legacy and the life they love.

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The Line Between by Tosca Lee

When Wynter Roth is turned out of New Earth, a self-contained doomsday cult on the American prairie, she emerges into a world poised on the brink of madness as a mysterious outbreak of rapid early onset dementia spreads across the nation. As Wynter struggles to start over in a world she’s been taught to regard as evil, she finds herself face-to-face with the apocalypse she’s feared all her life—until the night her sister shows up at her doorstep with a set of medical samples. That night, Wynter learns there’s something far more sinister at play and that these samples are key to understanding the disease.

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Learn more about this year’s One Book One Nebraska selection.

Prairie Forge: The Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Metal Drive of World War II by James J. Kimble

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt called for the largest arms buildup in our nation’s history. A shortage of steel, however, quickly slowed the program’s momentum, and arms production fell dangerously behind schedule. The country needed scrap metal. Henry Doorly, publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, had the solution. Prairie Forge tells the story of the great Nebraska scrap drive of 1942—a campaign that swept the nation and yielded five million tons of scrap metal, literally salvaging the war effort itself.

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Kings of Broken Things by Theodore Wheeler

In the waning days of WWI, three lost souls find themselves adrift in Omaha at a time of unprecedented nationalism, xenophobia, and political corruption. Adolescent European refugee Karel Miihlstein’s life is transformed after neighborhood boys discover his prodigious natural talent for baseball. Jake Strauss, a young man with a violent past and desperate for a second chance, is drawn into a criminal underworld. Evie Chambers, a kept woman, is trying to make ends meet and looking every which way to escape her cheerless existence. As wounded soldiers return from the front and black migrant workers move north in search of economic opportunity, the immigrant wards of Omaha become a tinderbox of racial resentment stoked by unscrupulous politicians. Punctuated by an unspeakable act of mob violence, the fates of Karel, Jake, and Evie will become inexorably entangled with the schemes of a ruthless political boss whose will to power knows no bounds.

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Theodore Wheeler is a fiction writer, roving bookseller, college professor, pub quiz host, and legal reporter living in Omaha, Nebraska. He is also the author of In Our Other Lives.
Pipher is the author of 10 books including her number one New York Times bestseller Reviving Ophelia. She lives in Nebraska with her husband Jim.

Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age by Mary Pipher

Nebraska author Mary Pipher offers a timely examination of the cultural and developmental issues women face as they age. Drawing on her own experience as daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, caregiver, psychologist, and cultural anthropologist, she explores ways women can cultivate resilient responses to the challenges they face. “If we can keep our wits about us, think clearly, and manage our emotions skillfully, we will experience a joyous time of our lives. If we have planned carefully and packed properly, if we have good maps and guides, the journey can be transcendent,” she writes.

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Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee

Ten years after the Massacre at Wounded Knee, J. B. Bennett, a white rancher, and Star, a young Native American woman, are murdered in a remote meadow on J. B.’s land. The deaths bring together the scattered members of the Bennett family: his cunning and hard father, Drum; his estranged wife, Dulcinea; and his young sons, Cullen and Hayward. As the mystery of these twin deaths unfolds, the history of the dysfunctional Bennett’s and their damning secrets are revealed exposing the conflicted heart of a nation caught between past and future.

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Born in Omaha, Jonis Agee grew up in Nebraska and Missouri, places where many of her stories and novels are set. She is a Professor of English at the University of Nebraska where she teaches creative writing and fiction.
Roxane Gay is an American writer, professor, editor, and social commentator. She was born in Omaha.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

In her phenomenally popular essays, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

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The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair. The Swan Gondola is a transporting read, reminiscent of Water for Elephants or The Night Circus.

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Timothy Schaffert is an Assistant Professor of English at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Dirk Chatelain is a sports reporter at the Omaha World Herald.

24th & Glory: The Intersection of Civil Rights and Omaha’s Greatest Generation of Athletes by Dirk Chatelain

Award-winning journalist Dirk Chatelain uncovers the mystery of Omaha’s greatest generation of athletes. They rose out of segregation as racial tensions in north O boiled hotter and hotter. A neighborhood where, depending on the night, they might see Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Ray Charles, James Brown, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson – just walking down 24th Street. During the civil rights era, they ascended to national prominence – Bob Boozer, Gale and Roger Sayers, Marlin Briscoe, Ron Boone, Johnny Rodgers and Bob Gibson.

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

In a small town in western Nigeria, four young brothers take advantage of their strict father’s absence from home to go fishing at a forbidden local river. They encounter a dangerous local madman who predicts that the oldest boy will be killed by one of his brothers. This prophecy unleashes a tragic chain of events of almost mythic proportions. The Fishermen was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.

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Chigozie Obioma is an associate professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and divides his time between the US and Nigeria.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself.

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“I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice by Joe Starita

In 1877, Chief Standing Bear’s Ponca Indian tribe was forcibly removed from their Nebraska homeland and marched to what was then known as Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), in what became the tribe’s own Trail of Tears. “I Am a Man” chronicles what happened when Standing Bear set off on a six-hundred-mile walk to return the body of his only son to their traditional burial ground. Along the way, it examines the complex relationship between the United States government and the small, peaceful tribe and the legal consequences of land swaps and broken treaties, while never losing sight of the heartbreaking journey the Ponca endured.

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Joe Starita is a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I Am a Man” was the One Book, One Nebraska selection in 2012.

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends. Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1. But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye. Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang?

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All book descriptions were borrowed from Goodreads.com.

Learn more about the 2021 Reading Challenge here.

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