A deeply disturbing, furiously tender, and darkly comedic debut.

REAL LIFE

A young girl comes of age in a house of horrors.

In the Demo, a nondescript prefab development, there is a house where a young girl and her dysfunctional family live. Belgian writer Dieudonné’s debut novel, which has already won multiple awards in France, follows an unnamed narrator who fears her father, an abusive big-game hunter; denigrates her mother, a battered wife; and adores Sam, her bright-eyed younger brother. After the two siblings witness a tragedy, their lives are forever changed. Sam retreats from the world and finds comfort in the carcass room where his father’s trophies are mounted. The narrator becomes convinced she’s living in an alternate reality that she can rewrite: “It made everything seem more bearable.” She spends the next few years trying to change the past to save her younger brother—who has stopped smiling, started hurting animals, and become their father's shooting buddy. She studies quantum physics, feels stirrings of forbidden desire, and begins recognizing the dangers of her intelligence and budding body. After a tense moment with her father she has a moment of realization: "I understood that, from now on, just like my mother, I, too, had become a prey.” The novel portrays trauma and abuse with both seriousness and a touch of humor. When talking about the way her mother prepares meals, the narrator says, “She did like an amoeba might, with neither creativity nor taste, but lots of mayonnaise.” Dieudonné’s writing captures momentous and mundane moments with equal insight and beauty: “The houses of the Demo smelled of old damp swimming towels forgotten in a sports bag,” and “[the sounds] escaped from her like jets of steam from a pressure cooker.” Despite a slightly underwhelming ending, Dieudonné’s startling debut tackles dark themes with grace, wit, and sincerity.

A deeply disturbing, furiously tender, and darkly comedic debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64286-047-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A heartfelt novel that celebrates its implausibility with a unique joie de vivre.

OONA OUT OF ORDER

What would you say to your younger self if you could give her advice?

“Wise beyond their years” is an expression we’ve all heard before. But for one Brooklyn teen, that saying becomes all too real when an unexplained event causes her to begin living her adult life in random order. On New Year’s Eve 1982, Oona Lockhart is about to turn 19. Change is on the horizon, as she must decide whether to leave school to tour with her band, Early Dawning, or quit the band to continue her studies in London. Does she follow her loving boyfriend and band mate, Dale, or does she make a stable, independent decision for herself? Almost as if standing on a precipice between past and future, Oona finds it important to tell herself: “Remember this party. Every second of it. Every person here.” When the clock strikes midnight, she opens her eyes to a reality far different from the one she'd been experiencing—and decades later. The abrupt shift sets the pace for the rest of the book—it turns out that even when you’re living life out of order, time passes just as quickly. Right as you settle in with one version of Oona, whether it be free-spirited, club-going Oona or middle-aged investor Oona, it’s almost New Year’s again. The effect is something like narrative jet lag, making it impossible to feel grounded in time. Which is, no doubt, the point. Montimore (Asleep From Day, 2018) is not afraid to wrench Oona from one season of life to another, satisfied with ending a year in a fashion as incomplete as this: “She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence.” These vignettes, removed from linear neatness, celebrate the unpredictability and imperfect nature of life. Even when Oona has the opportunity to leave notes for the next version of herself, it doesn’t always mean she’ll follow her advice. With each temporal shift, Oona is left longing for what came before, but supporting characters like Oona’s mom, Madeleine, and confidante, Kenzie, serve as talismans that guide her back to the present. In the end, we must give credit to Oona for finding joy and even humor in her situation and to Montimore for developing a complex narrative held together by simple truths. Read this to get a bit lost, to root for a character with a strong love for herself, and to connect on a deeply human level with the fear of leading an incomplete life.

A heartfelt novel that celebrates its implausibility with a unique joie de vivre.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-23660-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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