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REAL AMERICANS

Bold, thoughtful, and delicate at once, addressing life’s biggest questions through artfully crafted scenes and characters.

A sweeping exploration of choice, chance, class, race, and genetic engineering in three generations of a Chinese American family.

Khong’s follow-up to her sweet, slim debut—Goodbye, Vitamin (2017)—is again about parents and children but on a more ambitious scale, portraying three generations in what feel like three linked novellas, or somehow also like three connected gardens. The first begins in 1999 New York City, where Lily Chen stands next to a man at an office party who wins a big-screen TV in the raffle. He insists she take it; he is Matthew Maier, heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, and has all the TVs he needs. On their first date, they go to Paris after dinner, and as this section ends, they’ve had their first child. The second part of the book moves to 2021 on an island off the coast of Washington state. It’s narrated by Lily’s now-15-year-old son, Nick; his father is nowhere in sight, at least for now. The closing section unfolds in 2030 in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s told by Lily’s now elderly mother, May, with an extended flashback to her youth in China during the Cultural Revolution and her first years in the U.S. As a budding scientist, May was fascinated by genetics. Of the lotus flowers she studied at university, she observes, “Raindrop-shaped buds held petals that crept closer, each day, to unfurling. As humans we were made of the same stuff, but their nucleotides were coded such that they grew round, green leaves instead of our human organs, our beating hearts.” This concern for how and why we turn out the way we do animates the book on every level, and along with science, social constructs like race and class play major roles. Every character is dear, and every one of them makes big mistakes, causing a ripple effect of anger and estrangement that we watch with dismay, and hope.

Bold, thoughtful, and delicate at once, addressing life’s biggest questions through artfully crafted scenes and characters.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9780593537251

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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HOME IS WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

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Three siblings on very different paths learn that their family home may be haunted by secrets.

Eldest daughter Beth is alone with her fading mother as she takes her final breath and says something about Beth’s long-departed brother and sister, who may not have disappeared forever. Beth is still reeling from the loss of her mother when her estranged siblings show up. Michael, the youngest, hasn’t been home since their father’s disappearance seven years ago. In the meantime, he’s outgrown his siblings, trading his share of the family troubles for a high-paying job in San Jose. Nicole, the middle child, has been overpowered by addiction and prioritized tuning out reality over any sense of responsibility, much to Beth’s disgust. Though their mother’s death marks an ending for the family, it’s also a beginning, as the three siblings realize when they find a disturbing videotape among their parents’ belongings. The video, from 1999, sheds suspicion on their father’s disappearance, linking it to a long-unsolved neighborhood mystery. Was it just a series of unfortunate circumstances that broke the family apart, or does something more sinister underlie the sadness they’ve all found in life? In chapters that rotate among the family’s first-person narratives, the siblings take turns digging up stories and secrets in their search for solace.

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9798212182843

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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