A lightly told but incomplete story.

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THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF AUGUST MARCH

An orphaned child searches for love in New York City in this debut novel by a writer and comedian.

In the early 1930s, an actress gives birth to a son between acts of These Dreams We Cherish in the Scarsenguard Theater and promptly abandons him after the show. The infant is discovered by the laundress, Eugenia Butler, who hides him backstage and becomes something of a surrogate mother, though she only cares for him while she's at work and gives him champagne as his first food. “That the boy survived his infancy was perhaps the greatest miracle in his miraculous life,” we're told. Indeed. After almost a year, Miss Butler names the boy August March, and the child remains unknown to all the theater's inhabitants except one actor, Sir Reginald Percyfoot. In 1945, August is left to survive on his own after Miss Butler dies, Percyfoot refuses to take him in, and the Scarsenguard is demolished to make way for a hotel; he becomes a street thief to survive. He is finally located by Percyfoot, who tells him he's inherited Miss Butler’s five-story brownstone (which raises the question of why she was willing share her home after her death but not in life), but then Percyfoot promptly sends the never-schooled August off to boarding school. Though August offers rich soliloquies, having grown up seeing all manner of plays, he has difficulty adapting to the expectations of formal schooling, though he thrives when offered a chance to direct the school’s plays. August still lacks purpose or family, however, and after graduation, he returns to running cons with the help of a girl he’s fallen in love with, who is only dimly capable of returning his affections. If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to buy the book's setup, the characters' lack of interiority and weak or absent motives make it difficult to engage with the story, which seems to exist in a slightly alternate world but one strangely without charm. One of three things often keep a reader interested in a book: its world, characters, or ideas. Though Jackson's prose is nimble and clever, his novel can't quite decide what it's interested in, so neither can we.

A lightly told but incomplete story.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-293938-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

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A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile and a half-century of political and personal upheavals.

We meet Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938 as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican cause they support is doomed. When they reunite in France as penniless refugees, Roser has survived a harrowing flight across the Pyrenees while heavily pregnant and given birth to the son of Victor’s brother Guillem, killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Victor, evacuated with the wounded he was tending in a makeshift hospital, learns of a ship outfitted by poet Pablo Neruda to take exiles to a new life in Chile, but he and Roser must marry in order to gain a berth. Allende (In the Midst of Winter, 2017, etc.) expertly sets up this forced intimacy between two very different people: Resolute, realistic Roser never looks back and doggedly pursues a musical career in Chile while Victor, despite being fast-tracked into medical school by socialist politician Salvador Allende (a relative of the author's), remains melancholy and nostalgic for his homeland. Their platonic affection deepens into physical love and lasting commitment in an episodic narrative that reaches a catastrophic climax with the 1973 coup overthrowing Chile’s democratically elected government. For Victor and Roser, this is a painful reminder of their losses in Spain and the start of new suffering. The wealthy, conservative del Solar family provides a counterpoint to the idealistic Dalmaus; snobbish, right-wing patriarch Isidro and his hysterically religious wife, Laura, verge on caricature, but Allende paints more nuanced portraits of eldest son Felipe, who smooths the refugees’ early days in Chile, and daughter Ofelia, whose brief affair with Victor has lasting consequences. Allende tends to describe emotions and events rather than delve into them, and she paints the historical backdrop in very broad strokes, but she is an engaging storyteller. A touching close in 1994 brings one more surprise and unexpected hope for the future to 80-year-old Victor.

A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2015-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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