Emotionally resonant in the loveliest of ways.

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WALK WITH ME

A lion accompanies a child on a walk home during a day in the city in this wistful tale of parental absence.

The story begins with a simple gesture: a nameless, light-skinned child in a school uniform holds out a flower to a lion. “Keep me company on the way home,” says the child. The lion then follows the child, terrifying adults—and delighting other kids—at school and on the city’s streets all the way home. The pair dashes by crowded buses and cars, stops to pick up the child-narrator’s younger sibling, and even shops at “the store that won’t give us credit anymore.” (Fortunately, the ferocious feline can help with the last difficulty.) At home, things start to settle down as the trio prepares a meal and waits for Mama to return from the factory. The day soon ends, and the lion departs, though the child-narrator hopes it returns when called. Similar to Buitrago and Yockteng’s previous collaborations, the story ends on a poignant and unexpected note. The first-person narration tugs readers along with ease, deftly eliciting compassion from the performance of seemingly mundane tasks. Yockteng’s muted illustrations depict the city as full of cracked buildings, drab colors, and expression captured in movement. Minor details in the pictures, including environmental print in Spanish, take readers in different directions all at once, adding to the low-key narration.

Emotionally resonant in the loveliest of ways. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55498-857-0

Page Count: 35

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

This book delights on many levels as it affirms the importance of young children’s close relationships

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ME TALL, YOU SMALL

Readers tall and small will recognize themselves between the pages of this book.

This sparsely worded picture book exudes the pleasure that emanates from the relationship between a caring adult and a child. Beginning with “Me tall / You small,” the text progresses through other mostly rhyming descriptors, some of them nonsense (bop, bip; whoop, droop; tired, wired), that show the contrasts between an exceedingly energetic child and an adult who vacillates between matching exuberance and exhaustion. Readers will delight in the way the adult attends to the child, acts silly right along with the child, and gives kudos to the child for often being cooler or smarter than the adult. The anthropomorphic weasels walk upright, live like humans, and are androgynous enough for readers to interpret them as any gender. Some might even read the story as a friendship between a child and an older friend or caregiver rather than a parent. On the book’s endpapers appear what look like drawings on a chalkboard of everyday items such as a brush, toothbrush, underwear, umbrella, chair, and other household and personal items that the characters might use on a typical day. Stylistically similar to Cliff Wright’s Bear and Ball books and Olivia Dunrea’s Gossie series, this sweet picture book, translated from German, will find eager fans among American readers.

This book delights on many levels as it affirms the importance of young children’s close relationships . (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: March 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77147-194-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

Readers of all ages should be prepared to laugh, cry, and sigh with satisfaction.

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BRONZE AND SUNFLOWER

Set during China’s Cultural Revolution (1960s-70s), this import follows the trials and tribulations of a poor, rural family.

Sunflower accompanies her artist father to the countryside, where he undergoes political reform at a labor camp. Left on her own for most of the day, Sunflower longs to play with the village children across the river. When her father tragically drowns, Sunflower is taken in by Bronze’s family, the poorest family in Damaidi village. Bronze, who is mute, and Sunflower form an instant bond and become inseparable. In Wang’s translation of his leisurely, languid prose, Hans Christian Andersen winner Cao captures both the infinite joys and harsh realities of rural farming life: Sunflower and Bronze picking wild plants or catching fish; the family’s struggle to rebuild their house after a storm. Yet despite their adversities, the close-knit family members remain fiercely loyal: Bronze hoists Sunflower on his shoulders and stands for hours so she can watch a circus; Sunflower deliberately fails her exams so the money for her schooling can be used for Nainai’s medical expenses. Eventually, the family makes the ultimate sacrifice but does it with the same grace and resolute strength they’ve demonstrated throughout the story. While seemingly idealized, the story and its protagonists reflect the Confucian values of filial piety and society above self—the very foundation of Chinese culture.

Readers of all ages should be prepared to laugh, cry, and sigh with satisfaction. (historical note, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8816-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

A slice of African-American life seldom explored in stories for young people and a must for readers of middle-grade fiction.

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IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS

Twelve-year-old Sophie is the younger of two sisters in an upper-middle-class African-American family in 1965 Los Angeles.

Her older sister, Lily, is about to leave for college, and Sophie worries about her life without her. It is obvious that her parents’ marriage is having problems, and she can no longer count on Jennifer, the one white girl who had been her friend. Despite some misgivings, Sophie decides to try out for a play at the community center, which will bring her in close contact with the prejudiced girls in the neighborhood. In addition, the new housekeeper, Mrs. Baylor, seems to have it in for her. When Mrs. Baylor’s son begins doing odd jobs around the house, sparks fly between him and Lily—but despite Nathan’s success at college, Sophie’s mother deems him unsuitable for Lily due to his class and dark complexion. Nathan’s arrest during the Watts riots brings things to a head. This is a wonderfully written novel, one that manages to address complex subjects such as racism and colorism without sinking beneath them. Both the differences and similarities between the worlds of Sophie’s family and Nathan’s are handled with nuance. Most of all, this is an impressive coming-of-age story whose fully realized protagonist is surrounded by a rich supporting cast. Cultural details artfully evoke the tenor and tone of the times.

A slice of African-American life seldom explored in stories for young people and a must for readers of middle-grade fiction. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-83957-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

A dystopian world that is all too real and that has much to say about our own.

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THE MARROW THIEVES

In an apocalyptic future Canada, Indigenous people have been forced to live on the run to avoid capture by the Recruiters, government military agents who kidnap Indians and confine them to facilities called “schools.”

Orphan Frenchie (Métis) is rescued from the Recruiters by Miigwans (Anishnaabe) along with a small band of other Indians from different nations, most young and each with a tragic story. Miigwans leads the group north to find others, holding on to the belief of safety in numbers. Five years later, Frenchie is now 16, and the bonded travelers have protected one another, strengthened by their loyalty and will to persevere as a people. They must stay forever on alert, just a breath away from capture by the Recruiters or by other Indians who act as their agents. Miigwans reveals that the government has been kidnapping Indians to extract their bone marrow, scientists believing that the key to restoring dreaming to white people is found within their DNA. Frenchie later learns that the truth is even more horrifying. The landscape of North America has been completely altered by climate change, rising oceans having eliminated coastlines and the Great Lakes having been destroyed by pollution and busted oil pipelines. Though the presence of the women in the story is downplayed, Miigwans is a true hero; in him Dimaline creates a character of tremendous emotional depth and tenderness, connecting readers with the complexity and compassion of Indigenous people.

A dystopian world that is all too real and that has much to say about our own. (Science fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77086-486-3

Page Count: 180

Publisher: DCB

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

This story is necessary. This story is important.

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THE HATE U GIVE

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction.

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THE GULF

THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN SEA

A sweeping environmental history of the Gulf of Mexico that duly considers the ravages of nature and man.

In light of the 2010 devastation of the BP oil spill, environmental historian Davis (History and Sustainability Studies/Univ. of Florida; An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century, 2009, etc.) presents an engaging, truly relevant new study of the Gulf as a powerful agent in the American story, one that has become “lost in the pages of American history.” Once the habitat of the highly developed, self-sustaining Calusa indigenous people, the rich estuary of the Gulf is the 10th largest body of water in the world, and it forms the sheltered basin that creates the warm, powerful Gulf Stream, which allowed the first explorers, such as Ponce de León, to make their ways back to the Old World. Davis meanders through the early history of this fascinating sea, which became a kind of graveyard to many early marooned explorers due to shipwrecks and run-ins with natives. Yet the conquistadors took little note of the abundant marine life inhabiting the waters and, unaccountably, starved. A more familiar economy was established at the delta of the muddy, sediment-rich Mississippi River, discovered by the French. The author focuses on the 19th century as the era when the Gulf finally asserted its place in the great move toward Manifest Destiny; it would “significantly enlarge the water communication of national commerce and shift the boundary of the country from vulnerable land to protective sea.” The Gulf states would also become a mecca of tourism and fishing and, with the discovery of oil, enter a dire period of the “commercialization of national endowments.” The story of this magnificent body of water and its wildlife grows tragic at this point—e.g., the “killing juggernaut” of Gulf wading birds to obtain fashionable feathers. Still, it remains an improbable, valiant survival tale in the face of the BP oil spill and ongoing climate change.

An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87140-866-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

The best sort of science history, explaining not only how great men made great discoveries, but why equally great men,...

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THE SEEDS OF LIFE

FROM ARISTOTLE TO DA VINCI, FROM SHARKS' TEETH TO FROGS' PANTS, THE LONG AND STRANGE QUEST TO DISCOVER WHERE BABIES COME FROM

A history of the “search for the solution to the sex and conception mystery,” focused on the period between 1650 and 1900.

As former Boston Globe chief science writer Dolnick (The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853, 2014, etc.) notes at the beginning of his latest book, “not everyone has wondered why the stars shine or why the earth spins,” but “every person who has ever lived has asked where babies come from.” Thoughtful scientists have confidently delivered the wrong answer, and the author provides a delightful history of what happened until they got it right. Everyone knew that an egg was involved, although brilliant anatomists (Vesalius, William Harvey) searched humans in vain. Semen was essential and—as men were considered the superior sex—the most important factor, but its role remained mysterious. When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek turned his microscope on his semen in the 1670s, he believed that each of the innumerable wiggling creatures contained a tiny human. Most scientists disagreed, insisting that the tiny human resided inside the still-unobserved human egg. This was “preformism.” To early scientists, making an embryo from nothing was absurd. More refined experiments and the discovery that cells make up all living things produced impressive advances, but it was not until 1875 that a German biologist who remains mostly unknown (Oscar Hertwig) first saw a single sperm penetrate an egg (of a sea urchin) and fuse with the nucleus, after which the cell began to divide. Researchers then turned their attention to what happens afterward, but, having effectively answered the big question, Dolnick stops there.

The best sort of science history, explaining not only how great men made great discoveries, but why equally great men, trapped by prejudices and what seemed to be plain common sense, missed what was in front of their noses.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-08295-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

A linguistically dexterous, eloquently satisfying narrative debut.

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PRIESTDADDY

A MEMOIR

A noted young poet unexpectedly boomerangs back into her parents’ home and transforms the return into a richly textured story of an unconventional family and life.

After Lockwood (Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, 2014, etc.) discovered that her journalist husband, Jason, needed lens replacements in both his eyes, the pair “[threw themselves] on the mercy of the church.” This meant going to Kansas City to live with her mother and eccentric father, an ex-Navy man and former Lutheran minister–turned–deer-hunting, guitar-wielding Catholic priest. For the next eight months, Lockwood and Jason, who had met online when both were 19 and begun their peripatetic married life not long afterward, found they were like “babies in limbo”: dependent on parents after 10 years of living on their own. Throughout, Lockwood interweaves a narrative of those eight months with memories of her childhood and adolescence. Though not always occupying center stage, her father is always at the heart of the book. The author describes her “priestdaddy’s” penchant for creating “armageddon” with the guitar, which he treated like some illicit lover by practicing it “behind half-closed doors.” At the same time, she confesses her own uncomfortable proximity to church pedophile scandals and clerics that had been forced to resign. Lockwood treats other figures—like the mother who wanted to call the police after discovering semen on a Nashville hotel bed and the virgin seminarian “haunted by the concept [of milfs]”—with a wickedly hilarious mix of love and scorn. Yet belying the unapologetically raunchy humor is a profound seriousness. Episodes that trace the darker parts of Lockwood’s life—such as a Tylenol-fueled teenage suicide attempt; her father’s arrest at an abortion clinic sit-in; and origins of the disease and sterility that would become her family’s “crosses” to bear—are especially moving. Funny, tender, and profane, Lockwood’s complex story moves with lyrical ease between comedy and tragedy as it explores issues of identity, religion, belonging, and love.

A linguistically dexterous, eloquently satisfying narrative debut.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59463-373-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

A powerful call to action and to empathy.

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TELL ME HOW IT ENDS

AN ESSAY IN 40 QUESTIONS

A heartfelt plea to change the dialogue on Latin American children fleeing violence in their homelands to seek refuge in America.

A Mexican-born novelist, Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth, 2015, etc.) began the inquiry that informs her book-length essay as a Mexican-born writer, living in America, awaiting her green card. Her sense of mission intensified when she began working as a translator for those seeking pro bono legal assistance in their attempts to avoid deportation. She found that their stories could not match neatly with the 40 questions on the immigration questionnaire. Some of the children lacked fluency in Spanish as well as English, and some of their memories were vague or evasive. Yet the dangers they had encountered were real, as was the threat of returning to their countries of origin. Luiselli effectively humanizes the plights of those who have been demonized or who have been reduced to faceless numbers, the ones caught in the web of gang violence fueled by drug wars and the American arms trade. She writes with matter-of-fact horror in response to question No. 7, “did anything happen on your trip to the U.S. that scared you or hurt you?,” that “eighty percent of the women and girls who cross Mexico to get to the U.S. border are raped on the way.” Yet the victims are often criminalized in the American debates over immigration: “In the media and much of the official political discourse, the word ‘illegal’ prevails over ‘undocumented’ and the term ‘immigrant’ over ‘refugee.’ ” The author also explains how the immigrant crisis predated the triumph of Trump and how policies of the Obama and Bush administrations were heartless in treating such refugees as some other country’s problem. Though Luiselli may not convince those adamantly opposed to loosening regulations, she hopes that those who have been willfully blind to the injustices will recognize how they “haunt and shame us…being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable.”

A powerful call to action and to empathy.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56689-495-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2017

An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike.

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THE COOKING GENE

A JOURNEY THROUGH AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULINARY HISTORY IN THE OLD SOUTH

Food historian Twitty, creator of the Afroculinaria blog, serves up a splendid hearth-based history, at once personal and universal, of the African-American experience.

The author accounts himself a citizen of the Old South, “a place where people use food to tell themselves who they are.” It is also, he continues, a fraught place where food controversies—whether to put sugar and not molasses in cornbread, say—pile atop controversies of history, all pointing to the terrible fact of slavery. Twitty’s book is not just about food, though it certainly covers the broad expanse of African-American cooking over the centuries and how it shaped the larger Southern American culinary tradition. The author delights in the “world of edible antiques” that his researches take him into, a world requiring him to think in terms of gills, drams, and pecks. Twitty also traces his own family history, beyond the eight or so generations that carry documents, to places all over the world: a white ancestor here, an Indonesian by way of Madagascar forebear there, Native Americans and West Africans and Anglos meeting in bloodstreams and at table. On all these matters, the author writes with elegant urgency, moving swiftly from topic to topic: on one page, he may write of the tobacco economy of the Confederacy, on another of the ways in which “the food of the Chesapeake grew legs as the culture of the Upper South was forced to branch out” beyond the Appalachians and Mississippi into new territories, such that “turkey with oyster dressing on a Maryland plantation became turkey with freshwater clam and mussel sauce on a slaveholding Missouri farmstead.” Drawing on a wealth of documentary digging, personal interviews, and plenty of time in the kitchen, Twitty ably joins past and present, puzzling out culinary mysteries along the way—e.g., “chickens got served to preachers because chickens had always flounced in the hands of African priests, and nobody remembered why.”

An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-237929-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

Thoreau has inspired so many esteemed biographies that it's difficult to claim any new one as definitive. However, Walls...

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HENRY DAVID THOREAU

A LIFE

A superbly researched and written literary portrait that broadens our understanding of the great American writer and pre-eminent naturalist who has too long been regarded as a self-righteous scold.

“A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist,” wrote Vladimir Nabokov. In Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), this formulation finds its fullest expression, and that’s only part of the story. Besides being a great prose stylist and the spiritual father of environmentalism, he was also the author of “Civil Disobedience,” which has served as a rallying cry for nonviolent protests ever since. For all that, he's hardly a beloved figure; he's the hermit of Walden Pond, the Concord solipsist sneering at the lesser mortals who lack his independence. In this magnificent new biography, Walls (English/Univ. of Notre Dame; The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America, 2009, etc.) effectively humanizes her subject. The man who will always be regarded by some as the great prig of American literature was deeply involved in 19th-century life. He worked every day, and not just as a relentless writer; he made his living as a handyman, carpenter, expert surveyor, and businessman who helped run his family’s pencil-manufacturing company. His friendships, most notably with Ralph Waldo Emerson and others in the transcendentalist movement, were tumultuous but enduring. He was a popular lecturer and an anti-slavery activist. He was also the literary artist who spent nearly a decade trying to describe a year on Walden Pond. The Thoreau on the pages of Walden, writes Walls, “is not the author who so carefully staged the book, but the book’s protagonist, who, in the course of the year and a day, is utterly changed by the experience.”

Thoreau has inspired so many esteemed biographies that it's difficult to claim any new one as definitive. However, Walls delivers a sympathetic and honest portrait that fully captures the private and public life of this singular American figure.

Pub Date: July 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-226-34469-0

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

Heralds a new voice with certain staying power.

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WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY

Nigeria serves as a prism refracting the myriad experiences of both former and current inhabitants.

In two different stories in Arimah’s debut collection, characters have the supernatural ability to drain emotions from other people, for good or for ill. In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a Nigerian woman participates in a tradition of making children out of inanimate materials and having them blessed by older women in hopes that they will become real. But these blessings come at a price—in her case, "Mama" blesses the child in exchange for the protagonist's own joy, “siphoned a bit, just a dab…a little bit of her life for her child’s life.” In the title story, figures known as Mathematicians are able to use precise algorithms and equations to relieve negative emotions from customers who can afford it. This power over feelings is as good a metaphor as any for storytelling. And Arimah has skill in abundance: the stories here are solid and impeccably crafted and strike at the heart of the most complicated of human relationships. Against a backdrop of grief for dead parents or angst over a lover, Arimah uses Nigeria as her muse. The characters exist in relation to a Nigeria of the past—the ghost of the Nigerian civil war, especially, looms over many of the stories—as well as present-day Nigeria, either as citizens or expats. Arimah even imagines a future Nigeria in which it has become the “Biafra-Britannia Alliance” in a massive geopolitical shift resulting from devastating climate change. This speculative turn joins everything from fabulism to folk tale as Arimah confidently tests out all the tools in her kit while also managing to create a wholly cohesive and original collection.

Heralds a new voice with certain staying power.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1102-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

A well-turned and innovative tale that cannily connects old-time blues and modern-day minstrelsy.

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WHITE TEARS

Record collecting turns dangerous in a smart, time-bending tale about cultural appropriation.

Seth, who narrates most of Kunzru’s fifth novel (Gods Without Men, 2012, etc.), is obsessed with sound, making field recordings of his travels around Manhattan. Carter, his old college buddy and scion of a wealthy family, is similarly obsessed with old blues 78s. Together, they’re an up-and-coming production team that works with white rappers and rock bands looking to make their music sound antique and “authentic.” They’re so good at it that, as a prank, they take Seth’s recording of a Washington Square denizen singing a mordant blues song, use modern tools to faux age it, attribute it to the made-up name Charlie Shaw, and upload it, whereupon online vintage-blues fans go bonkers. Kunzru signals early on that Seth and Carter are playing with fire, from Seth’s hubristic suggestion that his blues knowledge is a passkey to blackness to Carter’s exclusionary and officious family, which made its fortune in private prisons. But Kunzru attacks the racism the two represent indirectly and with some interesting rhetorical twists. Carter is mysteriously beaten into a coma in the Bronx, and once Seth begins an investigation with another collector and Carter’s sister, the narrative begins to deliberately decouple from logic—suggesting, for instance, that a real Charlie Shaw recorded the fake song Seth and Carter created. This weirdness reads subtly at first—a record skipping a groove, a playback glitch—but in time commands the narrative, allowing Kunzru to set the deadly mistreatment of blacks in the Jim Crow South against the hipster presumptions of whites now. Kunzru has done his homework on racial history and white privilege, but the novel is also lifted on his sharp descriptions of music, which he makes so concrete and delectable you understand why his misguided, ill-fated heroes fall so hard for it.

A well-turned and innovative tale that cannily connects old-time blues and modern-day minstrelsy.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49369-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

One of the most bittersweet love stories in modern memory and a book to savor even while despairing of its truths.

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EXIT WEST

Hamid (Discontent and Its Civilizations, 2014, etc.) crafts a richly imaginative tale of love and loss in the ashes of civil war.

The country—well, it doesn’t much matter, one of any number that are riven by sectarian violence, by militias and fundamentalists and repressive government troops. It’s a place where a ponytailed spice merchant might vanish only to be found headless, decapitated “nape-first with a serrated knife to enhance discomfort.” Against this background, Nadia and Saeed don’t stand much of a chance; she wears a burka but only “so men don’t fuck with me,” but otherwise the two young lovers don’t do a lot to try to blend in, spending their days ingesting “shrooms” and smoking a little ganga to get away from the explosions and screams, listening to records that the militants have forbidden, trying to be as unnoticeable as possible, Saeed crouching in terror at the “flying robots high above in the darkening sky.” Fortunately, there’s a way out: some portal, both literal and fantastic, that the militants haven’t yet discovered and that, for a price, leads outside the embattled city to the West. “When we migrate,” writes Hamid, “we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” True, and Saeed and Nadia murder a bit of themselves in fleeing, too, making new homes in London and then San Francisco while shed of their old, innocent selves and now locked in descending unhappiness, sharing a bed without touching, just two among countless nameless and faceless refugees in an uncaring new world. Saeed and Nadia understand what would happen if millions of people suddenly turned up in their country, fleeing a war far away. That doesn’t really make things better, though. Unable to protect each other, fearful but resolute, their lives turn in unexpected ways in this new world.

One of the most bittersweet love stories in modern memory and a book to savor even while despairing of its truths.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-73521-217-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott’s...

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THE NINTH HOUR

In Brooklyn in the early 20th century, The Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor are intimately involved in the lives of their community.

When a depressed young man with a pregnant wife turns on the gas in his apartment and takes his own life, among the first to arrive on the scene is an elderly nun. “It was Sister St. Savior’s vocation to enter the homes of strangers, mostly the sick and the elderly, to breeze into their apartments and to sail comfortably through their rooms, to open their linen closets or china cabinets or bureau drawers—to peer into their toilets or the soiled handkerchiefs clutched in their hands.” By the time the fatherless baby is born, St. Savior will have been so instrumental in the fate of the young widow that the baby will be her namesake, called Sally for short. Sally will be largely raised in the convent, where her mother has been given a job helping out with laundry. The nuns also find a friend for the new mother—a neighbor with a houseful of babies—then they finagle a baby carriage, and “the two young mothers negotiated the crowded streets like impatient empresses.” This desperately needed and highly successful friendship is just the beginning of the benign interference of the Sisters in the private lives and fates of their civilian neighbors. Partly told by a voice from the future who drops tantalizing hints about what’s to come—for example, a marriage between the occupants of the baby carriages—this novel reveals its ideas about love and morality through the history of three generations, finding them in their kitchens, sickbeds, train compartments, love nests, and basement laundry rooms.

Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott’s (Someone, 2013, etc.) stories of Irish-Catholic American life is back in her eighth novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-28014-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

An exceptional and pungently inventive first book.

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HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES

Machado’s debut collection brings together eight stories that showcase her fluency in the bizarre, magical, and sharply frightening depths of the imagination.

Each of the stories in this collection has, at its center, a strange and surprising idea that communicates, in a shockingly visceral way, the experience of living inside a woman's body. In “The Husband Stitch,” Machado turns the well-known horror story about a girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck inside out, transforming the worn childhood nightmare into a blistering exploration of female desire and the insidious entitlement that society claims over the female body. “Especially Heinous” turns 12 seasons of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit into a disorienting, lonely, and oddly hopeful crime procedural crammed with ghosts and doppelgängers. “Difficult at Parties” depicts a woman trying to recover from a sexual assault. She watches porn in the hope that it will help her reconnect with her boyfriend and discovers that she can somehow hear the thoughts of the actors on the screen. Women fade out of their physical bodies and get incorporated into prom dresses. They get gastric bypass surgery, suffer epidemics, have children, go to artist residencies. They have a lot of sex. The fierceness and abundance of sex and desire in these stories, the way emotion is inextricably connected with the concerns of the body, makes even the most outlandish imaginings strangely familiar. Machado writes with furious grace. She plays with form and expectation in ways that are both funny and elegant but never obscure. “If you are reading this story out loud,” one story suggests, “give a paring knife to the listeners and ask them to cut the tender flap of skin between your index finger and thumb.” With Machado’s skill, this feels not like a quirk or a flourish but like a perfectly appropriate direction.

An exceptional and pungently inventive first book.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55597-788-7

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

As with the best and most meaningful American fiction these days, old truths are recast here in new realities rife with both...

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SING, UNBURIED, SING

The terrible beauty of life along the nation’s lower margins is summoned in this bold, bright, and sharp-eyed road novel.

In present-day Mississippi, citizens of all colors struggle much as their ancestors did against the persistence of poverty, the wages of sin, and the legacy of violence. Thirteen-year-old Jojo is a sensitive African-American boy living with his grandparents and his toddler sister, Kayla, somewhere along the Gulf Coast. Their mother, Leonie, is addicted to drugs and haunted by visions of her late brother, Given, a local football hero shot to death years before by a white youth offended at being bested in some supposedly friendly competition. Somehow, Leonie ends up marrying Michael, the shooter's cousin, who worked as a welder on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The novel’s main story involves a road trip northward to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, where Michael’s about to be released from prison. Leonie, very much a hot mess, insists on taking both children along to pick up their father even though it’s clear from the start that Jojo—who's more nurturing to his sister than their mother is—in no way wants to make the journey, especially with his grandmother dying from cancer. Along the way, Jojo finds he’s the only one who sees and speaks to another spirit: Richie, an ill-fated friend of his grandfather’s who decades before was imprisoned at a brutal work camp when he was slightly younger than Jojo. Ward, a National Book Award winner for Salvage the Bones, (2011), has intimate knowledge of the Gulf Coast and its cultural complexities and recounts this jolting odyssey through the first-person voices of Jojo, Leonie, and occasionally Richie. They each evoke the swampy contours of the scenery but also the sweat, stickiness, and battered nerves that go along with a road trip. It’s a risky conceit, and Ward has to work to avoid making her narrators sound too much like poets. But any qualms are overpowered by the book’s intensely evocative imagery, musical rhetoric, and bountiful sympathy toward even the most exasperating of its characters. Remorse stalks the grown-ups like a search party, but grace in whatever form seems ready to salve their wounds, even the ones that don’t easily show.

As with the best and most meaningful American fiction these days, old truths are recast here in new realities rife with both peril and promise.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2606-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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