Vividly written and deeply affecting.

THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI

The author of the young adult novel Pet, a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, offers another exploration of gender identity, this time for adults.

This book’s title leaves no doubt about the fate of its central character. Nor does the first chapter, which is one sentence long: “They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.” Then the story moves into the past to introduce Vivek’s father, Chika, as he is about to meet Kavita, the woman who will become his wife and Vivek’s mother. The next chapter is told from the perspective of Vivek’s cousin, Osita. As the narrative moves around in time and from viewpoint to viewpoint, Emezi offers a richly textured depiction of a middle-class community in Nigeria—one that includes several immigrants, among them Vivek’s Indian mother. In these early chapters, there is no sense of the tragedy that’s coming. The first hint of trouble ahead is when Vivek starts slipping into fugue states. Eventually, Vivek will explain that these were moments when the burden of living an inauthentic life became too much to bear. When Vivek lets his hair grow long and acknowledges his true sexuality, he experiences some relief from this stress, but new problems arise—including an aunt who thinks he’s possessed by demons and boys who throw bottles at him. He is only just beginning to express his true self openly when he dies. Only a handful of chapters—most of them very brief—are told from Vivek’s point of view. There’s something heartbreaking about the fact that his story can only be told by others, especially since some of them never saw him as he wanted to be seen. And Osita—who loved Vivek and knew him better than anyone—cannot say everything he knows. Even so, the novel ends on a note of hope.

Vividly written and deeply affecting.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54160-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

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WE BEGIN AT THE END

A police chief who never grew up and a girl who never had a childhood try to solve the murder of someone they love.

A tiny, picturesque town on the California coast is an emotional prison for the characters of this impressive, often lyrical thriller. Its two main characters are a cop with an improbable naïveté and a child too old for her years. Walk (short for Walker, his last name) is chief of the two-person police department in Cape Haven and a native son. He’s kind and conscientious and haunted by a crime that occurred when he was a teenager, the death of a girl named Sissy Radley, whose body Walk discovered. Duchess Radley is that child’s niece, the daughter of Star Radley, the town’s doomed beauty. Most men lust after Star, including several of her neighbors and perhaps a sinister real estate developer named Dickie Darke. But Star is a substance abuser in a downward spiral, and her fatherless kids, Duchess and her younger brother, Robin, get, at best, Star’s benign neglect. Walk, who’s known Star since they were kids, is the family’s protector. As the book begins, all of them are coming to terms with the return to town of Vincent King. He’s Walk’s former best friend, Star’s former boyfriend, and he’s served a 30-year prison term for the death of Sissy (and that of a man he killed in prison). Someone will end up dead, and the murder mystery structures the book. But its core is Duchess, a rage-filled girl who is her brother’s tender, devoted caretaker, a beauty like her mother, and a fist-swinging fighter who introduces herself as “the outlaw Duchess Day Radley.” Whitaker crafts an absorbing plot around crimes in the present and secrets long buried, springing surprises to the very end.

A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-75966-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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