This imaginative, alluring novel from an acclaimed Canadian author unspools steadily and grippingly and may earn Gowdy many...

LITTLE SISTER

The electrifying story of a cinema owner who finds herself living another woman’s life whenever it storms.

Something strange is happening to Rose Bowan, a woman in her mid-30s who, with her mother, runs the old Toronto repertory movie theater they inherited from Rose’s father. Every time a thunderstorm rolls in Rose finds herself transported into the body of another woman, a “small, kinetic” book editor named Harriet Smith, who Rose quickly ascertains is having an affair with a ruggedly sexy married man with whom she works. Harriet’s moodily dramatic, mildly dangerous life could not be more different from Rose’s. Rose lives with her mother, whose symptoms of dementia are rapidly increasing, and has been dating the same unexciting boyfriend for years, a shorter-than-she-is meteorologist with a lazy eye who is 10 years Rose's senior and resembles the singer Paul Simon. Gowdy (Helpless, 2007, etc.) describes Victor as “much the same” as Rose in that he's “a serious, steady person, a person of strict routines.” But Rose’s equilibrium is completely upset by her recurring episodes, and she finds herself drawn not only to them, but to searching for Harriet outside of them as well. What’s going on? Are Rose’s out-of-body (and into another) episodes a side effect of “silent migraines,” as Victor posits? Are they extremely and eerily vivid dreams? Or are they something harder to explain? And what, if anything, do Rose’s episodes have to do with the childhood death of her younger sister, Ava? Gowdy sucks readers into this suspenseful, supernatural story like a strong wind in a squall. We are right there with Rose as she tries to piece together her disconnected experiences as Harriet into a cohesive picture and to take action on Harriet’s behalf. Ultimately, the episodes lead Rose to more clearly understand her own experiences and to act on her own behalf as well.

This imaginative, alluring novel from an acclaimed Canadian author unspools steadily and grippingly and may earn Gowdy many new fans stateside.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-60-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

Very smart and very entertaining.

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THE POWER

All over the world, teenage girls develop the ability to send an electric charge from the tips of their fingers.

It might be a little jolt, as thrilling as it is frightening. It might be powerful enough to leave lightning-bolt traceries on the skin of people the girls touch. It might be deadly. And, soon, the girls learn that they can awaken this new—or dormant?—ability in older women, too. Needless to say, there are those who are alarmed by this development. There are efforts to segregate and protect boys, laws to ensure that women who possess this ability are banned from positions of authority. Girls are accused of witchcraft. Women are murdered. But, ultimately, there’s no stopping these women and girls once they have the power to kill with a touch. Framed as a historical novel written in the far future—long after rule by women has been established as normal and, indeed, natural—this is an inventive, thought-provoking work of science fiction that has already won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction in Britain. Alderman (The Liars’ Gospel, 2013, etc.) chronicles the early days of matriarchy’s rise through the experiences of four characters. Tunde is a young man studying to be a journalist who happens to capture one of the first recordings of a girl using the power; the video goes viral, and he devotes himself to capturing history in the making. After Margot’s daughter teaches her to use the power, Margot has to hide it if she wants to protect her political career. Allie takes refuge in a convent after running away from her latest foster home, and it’s here that she begins to understand how newly powerful young women might use—and transform—religious traditions. Roxy is the illegitimate daughter of a gangster; like Allie, she revels in strength after a lifetime of knowing the cost of weakness. Both the main story and the frame narrative ask interesting questions about gender, but this isn’t a dry philosophical exercise. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and even funny.

Very smart and very entertaining.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-54761-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

The love story is a delight, the social commentary sharp, the writing funny and fun—and yet the sorrow, even bitterness, at...

MRS. CALIBAN

A lonely housewife gets a new lease on life in the strong, green arms of a sea monster.

Thanks to the support of writers like Daniel Handler and Rivka Galchen, who introduces this novella, the marvelous Ingalls (Three Masquerades, 2017, etc.) has been rescued from obscurity with reissues of her books. Mrs. Caliban was originally published in 1982 to raves that compared it to works by Edgar Allan Poe, David Lynch, Richard Yates, and Angela Carter, not to mention E.T., King Kong, and “Beauty and the Beast”—which only shows how sui generis it really is. We meet the very dear character Dorothy Caliban at home, sending her husband, Fred, off to work. He will be late, he says, not even troubling to come up with an excuse for why. After the death of their young son, followed by a miscarriage, her despair, his affair, and, finally, the running-over of their Jack Russell terrier, this marriage is more of a house-sharing arrangement than any comfort to anyone. Dorothy has one great friend, Estelle, who draws out “other people’s subversive instincts,” offering sherry and laughter to break up the long afternoons, but it’s not enough. Then, the very evening after she hears a radio report of a monster who has killed two people and escaped from the facility where he was being held, her screen door opens and a 6-foot-7-inch creature, with the bulging forehead and flat nose of a frog and the body of an attractively hunky man, shoulders his way in and stares straight into her face. “Help me,” he says. “They will kill me. I have suffered so much already.” His name is Larry, he loves avocados, he is a tireless and attentive lover—and Fred is home so little, he doesn’t even notice that Dorothy's amphibian boyfriend is living in their guest room. The plot unfolds brilliantly and heartbreakingly from there.

The love story is a delight, the social commentary sharp, the writing funny and fun—and yet the sorrow, even bitterness, at the core of this book about our perfidious species is inescapable and profound. Where is the movie?

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2669-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

A smart and knotty merger of horror, fantasy, and realism.

THE CHANGELING

A tragedy thrusts a mourning father into peculiar, otherworldly corners of New York City.

When Apollo and Emma have their baby, Brian, it feels like both reward and challenge for the new dad. Apollo, the son of a single mother, had been scraping by as a bookseller who hunts estate and garage sales for rare first editions, so even the unusual circumstance of Brian's birth (in a stalled subway train) seems like a blessing, as does the way Apollo stumbles across a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird (inscribed by Harper Lee to Truman Capote, no less) shortly after. But after some young-parent squabbles and inexplicable images on their smartphones foreshadow trouble, the story turns nightmarish: Apollo finds himself tied up and beaten by Emma, then forced to listen to the sounds of Brian’s murder. LaValle has a knack for blending social realism with genre tropes (The Ballad of Black Tom, 2012, etc.), and this blend of horror story and fatherhood fable is surprising and admirably controlled. Though the plot is labyrinthine, it ultimately connects that first edition (“It’s just a story about a good father, right?”), Emma’s motivations, and the fate of their son, with enough room to contemplate everyday racism, the perils of personal technology, and the bookselling business as well. Built on brief, punchy chapters, the novel frames Apollo’s travels as a New York adventure tale, taking him from the basements of the Bronx to a small island in the East River that’s become a haven for misfit families to a seemingly sleepy neighborhood in Queens that’s the center of the story’s malevolence. But though the narrative takes Apollo to “magical places, where the rules of the world are different,” he’s fully absorbed the notion that fairy tales are manifestations of our deepest real-world anxieties. In that regard, LaValle has successfully delivered a tale of wonder and thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a parent.

A smart and knotty merger of horror, fantasy, and realism.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9594-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

An absorbing novel that explores a compelling, African-centered future world.

AFTER THE FLARE

In a deceptively slim novel, Olukotun (Nigerians in Space, 2014) orchestrates a complex dystopian story about what happens when a massive solar flare damages electrical systems worldwide and leaves Nigeria with the only functioning space program on the planet.

When the solar flare envelops the Earth, it also cripples the equipment on the International Space Station, stranding one astronaut with limited supplies and setting the station up to eventually fall out of orbit and crash into Mumbai. A few months later, Kwesi Bracket, an American engineer freshly unemployed from NASA, accepts an invitation to join the rescue effort in Nigeria, one of the few places left untouched by the flare and the only country currently capable of building a functioning spaceship. Bracket directs the construction of a massive simulation pool, balancing his duties as a scientist with the need to appease the whims of the charismatic politician who supports the space program and the volatile traders from whom he acquires supplies. He soon finds himself caught in a web of converging threats: political maneuvering, terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, and mysterious powers wielded by a small group of tribal women. Olukotun manages these complex threads of story with a wily grace, weaving them into a surprising and briskly paced plot while also reveling in an abundance of inventive, vivid detail. In this version of Nigeria, a fascination with tribal identity exists alongside new technological devices that bring together animals and computer technology—geckolike phones, a malicious hacking spider—and a complicated monetary system that combines cowrie shells with block chains. It is a place where industrial development flourishes next to nomadic trading people and where both traditional gender roles and fluid explorations of gender and sexuality exist at the same time. The entire novel is spectacularly imagined, well-written, and a pleasure to read.

An absorbing novel that explores a compelling, African-centered future world.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-944700-18-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

To describe this novel, as someone inevitably will, as Song of Solomon reimagined as a Marvel Comics franchise is to...

THE TALENTED RIBKINS

Hubbard shrewdly molds the pop-culture mythology of the comic-book superhero team into a magical-realist metaphor for African-American struggles since the real-life heroic battle against segregation in the middle of the 20th century.

You’ve heard of the Justice League? Meet the Justice Committee, an extended family of black crusaders who became legendary for using their extraordinary powers to protect leaders, activists, and their brothers and sisters during the 1960s civil rights movement. When this crafty and wistful debut novel opens in present-day Florida, the committee’s surviving members are scattered about, and one in particular, 72-year-old Johnny Ribkins, seems lost and at loose ends. Which is ironic since Johnny’s special gift is being able to draw precise maps of places he’s never been. (It came in handy when black drivers tried to make their ways safely through the racially segregated South.) But after the committee members drifted apart, Johnny and his brother, Franklin, whose natural wall-climbing skills rivaled those of Spider-Man, merged their talents for high-scale larceny. After Franklin’s untimely death, Johnny jump-starts his cartography gifts to track down buried loot from all their varied heists so he can pay off his debt to a shady real estate mogul. Accompanying Johnny in an antique Thunderbird she characterizes as “junky” is his moody teenage niece, Eloise, who’s been showing off some of her own inherited uncanniness by being able to catch any object thrown at her. With a pair of thugs shadowing them, Johnny and Eloise stop at various points in the Sunshine State, where they meet, among other relatives, Cousin Bertrand, nicknamed “Captain Dynamite” because he could “spit firecrackers”; another speedy, magnetic cousin known (of course) as “Flash”; and yet another nicknamed “The Hammer” because while her left hand looks normal, her right hand…you can probably guess the rest. With each rueful confrontation with people and places of his past, Johnny comes to grips with lost resolutions, squandered opportunities, and the complex history of a family that began with a patriarch whose superb sense of smell made him “The Rib King.” Hubbard weaves this narrative with prodigious skill and compelling warmth. You anticipate a movie while wondering if any movie could do this fascinating family...well, justice.

To describe this novel, as someone inevitably will, as Song of Solomon reimagined as a Marvel Comics franchise is to shortchange its cleverness and audacity.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61219-636-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

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

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