by Ann Leary ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 31, 2022
Leary’s wit complements her serious approach to historical and psychological issues in this thoroughly satisfying novel.
Leary turns her mordant eye to the interplay of feminism, racism, and eugenics at a state institution for women deemed unfit to bear children in 1927.
The fictional Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Child Bearing Age is based on actual asylums where women deemed to have “moral feeblemindedness”—often because they defied social norms or their husbands—were involuntarily placed. Narrator Mary Engle comes to work as a secretary at the supposedly benevolent Nettleton when she’s not quite 18. Having lived in an orphanage until she was 12, Mary feels at home in the institutional setting, and she's also deeply impressed with Nettleton’s superintendent, Dr. Agnes Vogel, a woman who's both a respected doctor—rare at the time—and a suffragette. Then Mary recognizes Lillian Faust, one of the inmates, as a slightly older girl she'd known at the orphanage; Lillian claims she doesn’t belong at Nettleton, saying her abusive husband stuck her there because she'd had a baby with her Black lover. Mary feels conflicted, her instinct to help Lillian escape at odds with her loyalty to Dr. Vogel. Mary is also having a romance with a muckraking Jewish journalist she doesn’t fully trust. Leary’s spot-on descriptions of small moments (learning the Charleston, drinking bootleg liquor) bring the Prohibition era to life. The murky politics and ethics of the time, hinting of parallels with today, are embodied in Dr. Vogel—a feminist committed to expanding women’s rights but also an ardent promoter of eugenics and populist fears (of Blacks, Jews, and Catholics, among others) and a despot who cares little about the Nettleton inmates’ welfare. But the novel’s heart centers on Mary’s moral coming-of-age. Not as naïve as she’d have others believe and possessing a strong survival instinct, Mary clings defensively to her belief in Dr. Vogel despite damning evidence because doing so suits her ambitions. The reluctance with which Mary changes makes her eventual act of courage—against social conventions and despite the personal cost—all the more satisfying.Leary’s wit complements her serious approach to historical and psychological issues in this thoroughly satisfying novel.
Pub Date: May 31, 2022
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Marysue Rucci Books
Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022
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by James McBride ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 8, 2023
If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2023
New York Times Bestseller
McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.
It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that’s been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel’s eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona’s encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb’s swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown’s leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn’t at all “feeble-minded,” but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride’s well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride’s previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It’s possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride’s breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work.If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023
Page Count: 400
Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023
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by Mitch Albom ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 14, 2023
A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.
Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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