A relationship that could seem profoundly unfair blossoms into a revelation of love and magic.

BOX HILL

A STORY OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM

In a cruisy, pastoral spot, a young, inexperienced gay man trips over the “long and insolently extended” legs of a mysterious older gay man and falls, quite literally, into a new life.

It’s 1975, south of London, and clumsy, pudgy Colin is turning 18 on a Sunday, the day the bikers hang out at Box Hill in Surrey. Colin is so self-conscious about his weight and looks that he doesn’t understand that sexy, 6-foot-5 Ray—after an initial bit of sex in the fields near the pub where the bikers congregate—is taking possession of him by moving him into his home and controlling almost every aspect of his life. But that control is something Colin yearns for. Told by Colin years after the relationship has ended, Mars-Jones’ trim, poignant novel humanizes the intricacies of a dominant-submissive gay relationship. “If there are to be leaders then there must be followers, and I had followership skills in plenty,” Colin confides. Some aspects of their six years together are shocking: Colin learns to prefer sleeping on the floor and doesn’t ever learn Ray’s last name, occupation, or birthday. Since the novel is narrated by Colin, and since Colin loves the mystery of being with Ray, the potential pitfall here is that the mystery man will remain a cipher to readers. But Mars-Jones uncovers revealing details about Ray, like the fact that although he always heads up the motorcade of bikers, he’s not all cocky swagger; he’s a real stickler for speed limits and is courteous to pedestrians. Their relationship may end in tragedy, but it’s a joy to learn that Colin conquers the pejorative assessment in the novel’s subtitle, A Story of Low Self-Esteem.

A relationship that could seem profoundly unfair blossoms into a revelation of love and magic.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8112-3005-6

Page Count: 112

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

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OUR MISSING HEARTS

In a dystopian near future, art battles back against fear.

Ng’s first two novels—her arresting debut, Everything I Never Told You (2014), and devastating follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)—provided an insightful, empathetic perspective on America as it is. Her equally sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn latest effort, set in a dystopian near future in which Asian Americans are regarded with scorn and mistrust by the government and their neighbors, offers a frightening portrait of what it might become. The novel’s young protagonist, Bird, was 9 when his mother—without explanation—left him and his father; his father destroyed every sign of her. Now, when Bird is 12, a letter arrives. Because it is addressed to “Bird,” he knows it's from his mother. For three years, he has had to answer to his given name, Noah; repeat that he and his father no longer have anything to do with his mother; try not to attract attention; and endure classmates calling his mother a traitor. None of it makes sense to Bird until his one friend, Sadie, fills him in: His mother, the child of Chinese immigrants, wrote a poem that had improbably become a rallying cry for those protesting PACT—the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act—a law that had helped end the Crisis 10 years before, ushering in an era in which violent economic protests had become vanishingly rare, but fear and suspicion, especially for persons of Asian origin, reigned. One of the Pillars of PACT—“Protects children from environments espousing harmful views”—had been the pretext for Sadie’s removal from her parents, who had sought to expose PACT’s cruelties and, Bird begins to understand, had prompted his own mother’s decision to leave. His mother's letter launches him on an odyssey to locate her, to listen and to learn. From the very first page of this thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving novel, Bird’s story takes wing. Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine—and persuasively posits that the antidotes to fear and suspicion are empathy and love.

Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49254-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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