UNMAKING GRACE

A smart, compassionate portrayal of one woman’s quest to end the cycle of violence.

A "colored" girl comes of age as South Africa transitions from apartheid to democracy and the violence of her home life parallels the terror of the outside world.

Fourteen-year-old Grace falls for her neighbor Johnny, but their youthful romance is short-lived. Authorities of the apartheid regime detain Johnny during a raid of student protesters. Meanwhile, Grace’s family life descends into chaos as her father’s physical and emotional abuse escalates. By the time Nelson Mandela becomes president of a new South Africa and Johnny resurfaces more than a decade later, Grace has married her college sweetheart and become a mother. She has created the picture-perfect life, but her past proves too powerful to suppress. The first part of the novel takes place in 1985, unfolding from Grace's and her father’s alternating points of view. Mary, Grace’s mother, must figure out how to protect herself and Grace with few resources beyond her wits; Patrick, Grace’s father, is full of a rage that consumes his hopes of ever being a decent family man. Grace, their only child, must make sense of how the people responsible for her well-being cause such harm. Part 2 is all about a grown-up Grace in 1997, and Boswell renders her conflicting emotions and actions with vivid language as Grace risks the new, safe life she has built to be with her first love. “Somewhere in her body, that body made up not of platelets and cells but of memory and forgetting, of love and the places that shape, a nerve jangled,” Boswell writes as Grace and Johnny are reunited. The author does not hold back on how domestic violence operates, on how survivors of abuse, like Grace’s father and Johnny, so often become perpetrators of abuse themselves. While the novel is not gratuitous, it is graphic; there are some harrowing scenes, but this book is not medicine that needs be swallowed because of the importance of the issues at hand. The novel creates drama while confronting intersecting systemic oppressions and intergenerational trauma by foregrounding its characters’ needs, wants, wounds, and aspirations. The prose is taut with both clarity and complexity.

A smart, compassionate portrayal of one woman’s quest to end the cycle of violence.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946395-23-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Catalyst Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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THE GREAT ALONE

A tour de force.

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In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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