Thoughtful and moving.

READ REVIEW

THE OPPOSITE OF FATE

The author of Never Coming Back (2017) and Shadow Baby (2000) takes on reproductive freedom—and a lot more—in her new book.

The reader learns two things about this novel’s protagonist at the outset. One is that Mallie Williams has been in a coma for months and months. The second is that she’s pregnant. From that arresting opening, the story jumps ahead to the moment when, a year and a half after having been raped and beaten, Mallie wakes. She struggles to deal with the knowledge that she has given birth to a child she would not have chosen to keep had she been capable of making decisions for herself. In alternating chapters, we follow William T., a neighbor who has been like a father to Mallie since her own father died. And when Mallie decides to create an identity and a narrative for the unknown assailant who almost killed her, we see that, too. Through William T.’s recollections and newspaper clippings, we learn how Mallie’s body became a battleground for the friends and family members who were certain that she would have wanted an abortion and her mother, whose faith makes abortion anathema. McGhee handles this conflict with considerable care and without taking sides. But this novel is about much more than a divisive issue. The courtroom drama and the media frenzy take place, for the most part, offstage. This is, at its heart, a novel about family—including chosen family—autonomy, and identity. While most of the novel’s characters are carefully drawn, Mallie’s mother remains an enigma. She never has the chance to speak for herself, and, without understanding her motivations, some of her choices seem more convenient than believable. Also, it’s noticeably odd that Mallie seems to have no friends outside of William T., his girlfriend, and another older neighbor. The only peer with whom this young woman seems to have any connection is her boyfriend.

Thoughtful and moving.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-51843-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more