Ailsa Chang

As a kid, Enrique Olvera spent hours in his grandmother's bakery in Mexico City. He loved watching everyday ingredients like flour, sugar and eggs fuse into something entirely different.

For Olvera, even the simple act of baking a cake felt like magic.

He absorbed every detail as his grandmother gently coaxed masa into handmade tortillas. On Sundays, he joined his father in the kitchen, chopping onions and tomatoes for breakfasts of scrambled eggs and dry beef.

Lt. Col. Bree "B" Fram left a doctor's office on April 2. Presenting that day as Bryan, the name given to them at birth, B should have been relieved.

"Overall, it's a good thing," said B. "It just didn't feel great to have to do it on someone else's timeline other than my own."

"It" was an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria. As a transgender member of the military, B had to secure the diagnosis by April 12 in order to continue serving openly.

The new novel Trust Exercise opens with teenagers attending an elite performing arts high school in the 1980s.

There, the theater kids form heartfelt friendships and relationships, and then sabotage them. Their semi-tyrannical drama teacher both inspires and manipulates them — with his "trust exercises."

Midway through, the book leaps forward in time and perspective. One of the students, Karen, is now an adult, re-thinking her past.

Quinn Robinson is only 18 years old, but she has already learned some hard lessons about the world. "It's scary being a trans person because I know there are people out there who just hate me for being myself," she says. "There's been kids who have approached me and say, 'Hey, you should burn in hell.' "

Robinson is a high school senior in Allendale, Mich., a small but growing town about 30 minutes outside Grand Rapids and smack dab in the middle of what's known as the state's "Bible Belt." Drive off the main road and you quickly find yourself in farm country.

Jennifer Eberhardt has been interested in issues of race and bias since she was a child.

The African-American Stanford University psychology professor — and author of a new book called Biased -- grew up in an all-black neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. Then, one day, Eberhardt's parents announced the family was moving to the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood. When Eberhardt arrived there, she told NPR's Ailsa Chang, she noticed something strange: She could no longer tell people's faces apart.

The new movie If Beale Street Could Talk is based on a James Baldwin novel of the same title.

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) adapted and directed the film. And in working with the Baldwin estate, he received a leather notebook filled with Baldwin's handwritten notes about how he would have approached a film version.

Tayari Jones says there are two things to consider as a book matchmaker: "You have to match what you think your friend would like to read, with what you think your friend should read — and you have to make a Venn diagram of that," she says.

As Congress prepares to adjourn for the holidays, one piece of legislation that's still on the table is a bipartisan criminal justice bill known as the First Step Act.

It aims to improve federal prison conditions and reduce some prison sentences, a sticking point for some lawmakers. But the bill also contains a less controversial provision: a ban on shackling pregnant women.

Incarcerated people outside prison walls are considered potential flight risks. That label applies even to pregnant women when they leave prisons for medical care or to give birth.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A couple years ago, author Gabrielle Moss was feeling "worn down by the world" and found herself impulse buying an entire crate of "Sweet Valley High" books on eBay for $25.

At first, Moss was binging these books — "Sweet Valley" and other series — as "nostalgic stress relief." Moss had devoured these pastel-colored paperbacks during her own preteen years — she estimates she read two per week.

Pages