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SHAE

An alternately tender and challenging trip down the rabbit hole with an unforgettable young woman.

Queerness, motherhood, and opioids are all entangled in this harrowing West Virginia–set coming-of-age story.

The way Shae tells it, one of the defining moments of her life was meeting Cam in high school. Immediately, the narrator, whom “no one had even noticed…enough to give…a nickname,” admires her new friend’s shine, even though Cam’s vegetarianism and edgy style attract homophobic bullies. The two teens connect over music and, as Shae’s family begins to unofficially adopt Cam (whose grandfather is a less-than-attentive legal guardian), they begin a romantic relationship that leaves Shae pregnant. Shortly before their baby is born, Cam comes out as a transgender woman. Shae recognizes both this move’s rightness and its danger, and seeks to help Cam with her transition, but their failure to clearly communicate soon sends the girls in radically different directions. A botched C-section brings Oxycontin into Shae’s life and a spiral into addiction follows, taking Shae to desperate and heartrending places. The novel’s subject matter and framing device, unfortunately, make comparisons to Demon Copperhead unavoidable. Maren’s portrait of Appalachia isn’t quite as evocative or expansive as Barbara Kingsolver’s, but for those seeking a tighter narrative with a queer, female perspective, there is much here to savor. Shae’s struggle to understand herself as a queer woman, mother, and independent person includes authentically teenage behavior (e.g., a tendency to not assert her own desires) that can make her point of view a frustrating one to be in, but she never comes across as anything other than deeply human.

An alternately tender and challenging trip down the rabbit hole with an unforgettable young woman.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781643755663

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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