"Readers who find themselves riveted by stories like Sybil and A Beautiful Mind will likely enjoy this absorbing, but long-winded, novel."– Kirkus Reviews
In Rosa’s (Fractured, 2013, etc.) historical novel, tragedy forces a Puerto Rican teenager to become his family’s sole provider as America’s influence begins to slowly change his native land.
In 1900s Puerto Rico, José Esperanza is an aboriginal Taino. His ancestry dates back to the island’s original native peoples, who were all but destroyed during the Spaniards’ colonization. Now that it’s newly under U.S. rule, Americans are flocking to the island, bringing teachers, missionaries, and profiteers to the rain forest to scrounge out livings. Such scrounging isn’t foreign to José, who spends his days foraging to provide for his family after the death of his father. He finds little aid, as his mother is sick with grief and his eldest brother is a lazy burden. His younger brother and sister are eager to help, but they’re easily distracted by modern commodities and thoughts of life outside Puerto Rico. Along the way, though, José finds new mentors: a zealous American, Montgomery Holland, who, impressed by the boy’s work ethic, employs him on his tobacco farm; Miss Alexandra “Vyris” Paul, a woman feared and respected as a witch, who bears a familial burden much like José’s; an insistent teacher; a stuttering shopkeeper, and others. Rosa paints a vivid picture of turn-of-the-century Puerto Rico, a lively sierra of breathtaking colors and scurrying, slithering, and sometimes-frightening wildlife. José’s drive to help his family as his world changes around him gives the book much of its narrative motion, but its real charm is in its animated portrayal of the island’s jungles and mountains, its turbulent Luquillo River, and its storms’ violence. The novel has a languid storytelling style, and its lengthy conversations and occasional songs give it an anecdotal structure. The only drawback is that its moments of urgency, as when José’s eldest brother is struck with worms, are slowed considerably by expositional digressions. Ultimately, though, the plot is secondary to the rich history and vibrant backdrops.
A slow-paced novel with a beautifully portrayed tropical setting.
A complex mystery that tracks a woman’s quest for justice both on the job and in her own life.
In Rosa’s novel (Lumberville Seven, 2012 , etc.), Natalie Faye, a newly promoted NYPD officer, is a brave, quick-thinking heroine. She has been put in charge of a rather gruesome case after two skeletons, one from a woman and the other from a newborn baby, are discovered within the walls of a home that is being demolished. Natalie soon finds herself caught in a maze of twists and turns within her investigation as she follows leads that only take her deeper into the unsolved mystery. Starting with a senile neighbor who remembers the Nolands, a troubled family living in the house a while back, Natalie must piece together the scattered scraps of information to learn what actually happened. But every person she contacts raises more questions than answers. The situation becomes more complicated when a prison guard goes missing. As Natalie investigates her case, she struggles with her new quirky, unpredictable partner (while still coming to terms with seeing her former partner killed on the job), as well as her own issues with her estranged mother. Fraught with anxiety, Natalie is nevertheless a protagonist who manages to be smart, funny, kind and sharp no matter what mess she finds herself in. The story clips along quickly and satisfyingly. Though sometimes grisly, Natalie’s layered story reaches beyond the scope of the ordinary murder mystery. With memorable characters and thought-provoking content, this is an exciting, contemplative read that will appeal to mystery fans.
A fast-paced, tightly woven crime novel that is frightening, funny and always enjoyable.
A story of coming-of-age, of nurturing and of the fact that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. Or to raise seven of them, for that matter.
Novelist Rosa (Reflections on a Stone, 2011, etc.) takes Lumberville, Penn., on the Delaware River, and peoples it with very memorable characters in the early 20th century. Angelo Giusto, though only 9, is the oldest of the seven orphaned Giustos who have been scattered from Brooklyn to orphanages far and wide. He plans to find all his siblings and make the family whole again. At the outset, he becomes the protector of a little African-American orphan boy, James Houston, who is picked on mercilessly. Fearless Angelo becomes James’ hero. Hearing that two of the Giusto brothers have been sent to Kansas, Angelo and James resolve to get there somehow and bring them back. But they get only as far as Lumberville, the village that welcomes and nurtures them. The main characters are Angelo and Penny Brown, a woman who has lost her only child and whose callow husband has run off. Penny, like Angelo, is tough, resourceful, and relentlessly optimistic. Civil War veteran and amputee Zeke Thompson comes out of a previous Rosa novel (Zeke Thompson, American Hero, 2011) to oversee the boys’ upbringing and is ably assisted by the ingenious and perceptive Frank Martin, a man with a mysterious past. Lumberville is an idyllic place, and the reader is reminded of Tom Sawyer’s Missouri village, or Mayberry, RFD. But there are real toads in this garden, and the good guys—just as protective of the children as Angelo is of James—find and root them out. Rosa is a gifted storyteller who makes hardly a misstep. And at 500 pages, she does not stint. An afterword tells us just who in Rosa’s real life inspired these characters. And for those who like a Dickensian sweep, the novel ends with a grand retrospective of what the Giusto kids, all grown up, have made of their lives as the midcentury nears.
Reminiscent of one of those wonderful 19th-century doorstop novels.
Rosa (Zeke Thompson, American Hero, 2010, etc.) presents a series of short stories that address a wide variety of subject matter.
Rosa clearly writes from the heart, drafting prose with a passion and intensity indicative of an author who believes strongly in what she has to say. Her use of settings is powerful and rich, vividly bringing to life the varied locales of her stories. She covers an assortment of topics including child abuse, life after death, the power of God, teen death, family loyalty, war and, oddly enough, random cat antics and excrement-covered iPads. The overall theme of the collection is hard to discern, if there is one. Rosa’s narrative often includes not-so-subtle political, social or religious commentary, which creates a heavy-handed feel in places. Several of the tales (“The Promise,” “Sent”) are positive affirmations about life after death and how those we lose are always with us, and it’s a lovely reprieve to discover those two stories are written clearly enough to understand and enjoy them. Some of the vignettes, however, are a confusing maze of different points of views, inadequate back story and limited setup that make them a challenge to decipher. “Silent Hero” is a short but powerful look into the impact a teen’s death can have on the community, but the story scratches at the surface rather then plunging into the emotional intensity of the experience. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the concluding Acknowledgments section, in which the writing is finally straightforward and fluid, giving the reader insight into the back story and intended meanings of many of these stories.
Rosa’s collection has moments of insight, but readers may struggle through a fog to find the nuggets.
A righteous man traverses Civil War era America and fights for the causes in which he believes.
Zeke Thompson: orphan, white, cripple, federal agent, unrepentant abolitionist and chef extraordinaire; a befitting description for a man who led an extraordinary life in tumultuous 19th-century America. Zeke was beaten by his father, who died when Zeke was a child, and then left all alone when Zeke’s mother died from a botched abortion. Jason, a kindly and knowledgeable slave from a local plantation, takes the orphaned boy under his wing and teaches him how to hunt and fish, but more importantly teaches him that all men are the same and all equally deserving of the liberties promised in America. When Jason is killed for a crime he didn’t commit, Zeke is spurred to a lifetime of protecting slaves and helping the less fortunate. After being sent to New York to escape violent Southerners as well as to further his education, Zeke joins the Union Army, becomes a decorated war hero and embarks upon a career of rescuing illegal slaves. Whether falling in love, meeting the president or being kidnapped, Zeke never forgets his mission to help the disenfranchised. While most of the story is well paced, Zeke’s nonstop adventures sometimes proceed too quickly; he goes from wartime chef to paraplegic to national hero in a matter of pages. This speed robs Zeke of some of his depth, as readers are denied an opportunity to glimpse his evolving character. As befitting a man of action, some of Zeke’s dialogue, particularly soapbox speeches on slavery and equality in America, are hackneyed and would not hold sway with the powerful politicians to whom he is preaching. But through all of his travels, Zeke’s conviction stands out, and in this entertaining novel that reads as a Forrest Gump-type journey through mid-19th century America, he is a fine prism through which to view a complicated time in our nation’s history.
Fun and educational—a unique look at post-Civil War America.
A family takes on the challenge for caring for two abused children in this inspiring debut novel.
After finding out that 4-year-old Katie has been sexually abused by her father and witnessed her mother’s murder, Matthew and Carolyn O’Gorman adopt and raise their niece as if she were their own child. But as Katie struggles to deal with the violent memories of her mother’s death and the horrible abuse she’s endured at the hands of her father, she tests her adoptive parents’ patience with her jealous nature and cruel temper. When Luis, another abused child, enters their lives, the O’Gorman family accepts him with open arms—Katie most of all. Together, Katie and Luis form a friendship, and eventually a relationship, as they help each other recover from the unspeakable things they’ve had to endure. Rosa’s novel, inspired by her interest in child abuse cases, offers readers a glimpse into the lives of those affected by abuse. From Katie’s inability to distinguish fantasy from reality to her Aunt Carolyn’s unfailing patience and accepting nature, Rosa provides a subjective view of the bad and the good. While some readers will be intimidated by the wordy nature of this mammoth 750-page novel, and the confusing tendency to shift between the present and the past, others will appreciate the honesty and gentleness that Rosa weaves into each sentence. Although some characters come across as one-dimensional, the author does a great job of acknowledging Katie’s struggles and balances them with her accomplishments. The novel’s optimistic conclusion allows the reader to see the extent of Katie’s growth, providing hope that real-life abused children may fare as well as she.
Readers who find themselves riveted by stories like Sybil and A Beautiful Mind will likely enjoy this absorbing, but long-winded, novel.