How a whip-smart young girl handles the loss of her mother and the reorientation of her family; charming and beautifully...

RABBIT CAKE

A brilliant debut novel about a child grieving the loss of a mother.

Elvis, a 12-year-old girl named for the singer with whom she shares a birthday, lives in Freedom, Alabama, with her father, her sister, Lizzie, and a dog named Boomer. Her mother has recently died, drowned while swimming in her sleep, and Elvis is trying desperately to make sense of how and why. A sympathetic counselor at Elvis’ school tells her it takes 18 months to recover from such a loss. Elvis’ scientific mind finds comfort, then, in creating a grieving chart to track her progress; she crosses off each month as she makes it through while volunteering at the zoo and carrying on her mother's work writing a book about the sleep habits of animals. The remaining members of her family take different approaches: her father wears his late wife’s clothes and makeup around the house and has fallen in love with a parrot who can mimic her voice, and Lizzie, who has inherited the sleepwalking gene, is becoming increasingly dangerous in her sleep. After a series of terrifying incidents in her slumber—lacing her baking with enough gout medication to kill, breaking into all the neighboring chicken coops and eating dozens of raw eggs, attacking family members with knives, plucking all the feathers off her father’s beloved bird—Lizzie is sent to an institution for troubled girls. When she returns, she plans to break a world record by baking 1,000 rabbit cakes using the cake pan her mother used to bring out to celebrate every occasion. This is the moving and often funny story of a family trying to figure out what to do next now that their touchstone is gone. The narrator’s voice is a stunning combination of youthful and astute. In contemplating her grief, she thinks, “Maybe a spirit evaporates like vapor off the bag of frozen peas you steam in the microwave: the droplets go everywhere, settle wherever they land.”

How a whip-smart young girl handles the loss of her mother and the reorientation of her family; charming and beautifully written.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-56-0

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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