A daring book that will stay in readers’ minds long after the final page.

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ATHENA'S CHOICE

In this sci-fi debut, men have gone extinct, and one woman must decide how society should continue.

It’s 2099, and 19-year-old Athena Vosh lives in the Algonquin Forest Zone of the North American Union. Her main source of income is her Citizen’s Benefit stipend, but she wants to become a landscape painter. She lives with her partner, Nomi James, who designs computer programs for “massage implants.” Both women routinely print clothing and food and interact with their Advanced Artificially-Intelligent Scheduler and Home Assistant. But the strangest thing about their world is that there are no men in it. The last one died in 2051 from Y-Fever, a disease created to kill terrorists that mutated and killed every man on Earth, including transgender men, as well as some women. A company called Helix has been trying to find a cure so that men might someday return. When someone steals an incomplete map of a fever-immune “Lazarus Genome” from Helix’s mainframe, Capt. Valerie Bell of Public Safety investigates. Oddly, the world’s most powerful artificial intelligence, the Third Core, enigmatically suggests to Bell’s supervisor that Athena is vital to solving the case. Meanwhile, Athena has been painting pictures of a ruined, vine-covered building that’s stuck in her head. She soon travels to Chicago, the North American Union’s capital, for an interview with Capt. Bell. As Athena dreams of the mysterious building and of the phrase “Original Sin is Real,” she grapples with being a “Lonely Heart”—a woman who yearns for men to return. Boostrom’s tale is fueled by sharp dialogue and challenging ideas, and it’s an invigorating read in an age of political and cultural division. His fictional world, with its population loss, nuclear terrorism, and risen oceans, is futuristic but familiar; rather than swiping right on a dating app, women swipe right in midair while using a contact lens–based web interface to schedule fertility consultations. This future is also apparently much safer without men: “Crime rates in the NAU were below 1%.” Boostrom frequently references famous paintings to emphasize Athena’s chosen field; his most poignant nod is to René Magritte’s Clairvoyance, which shows a man staring at an egg but painting a bird. According to Athena, this man does what she lacks the talent to do—“he’s viewing all of the egg’s future-promise and potential, fully brought to life.” The first two-thirds of the novel are a taut sci-fi mystery, but the last portion fearlessly interrogates the roots of maleness. The book presents 2099 as a near utopia, aside from a rising suicide rate, which could imply that most women are saints but for the evil to which men drive them; however, the author also has the Third Core say that "some women will be more dangerous than the average man."

A daring book that will stay in readers’ minds long after the final page.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79420-555-0

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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