An acutely observed, tenderly philosophical novel that tells a wonderfully bittersweet story.

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THE LAUNDRESS

A young woman reconnects with her Italian heritage and attunes to her inner self in this coming- of-age novel by Sapienza.

Lavinia Lavinia (who was given the same first and last name as part of an “old custom in Italy”) is sauntering through the streets of San Francisco from her home in the Mission District when this novel opens. Her Uncle Sal “scooped her away” from Naples before she was 5 years old and moved with her and her aunt Rose to the West Coast. Soon after Rose died, Sal hurriedly returned to Italy, leaving the 26-year-old Lavinia feeling abandoned. After dropping out of San Francisco State University, she set up as a laundress, “detailing” clothes for a range of offbeat clients from lawyers to sculptors. Lavinia has a habit of tipping with bubble gum, a gesture that catches the eye of an attractive barista. Her playful demeanor conceals that her lost past tugs heavily on her emotions. With the help of others, she starts to recover memories of her infancy and, in doing so, sets out on a journey of self-understanding. Sapienza’s writing is delightfully descriptive as it evokes the streets of the Mission District: “Mothers with shiny black hair, dressed in flowing skirts and sandals, push their babies in strollers. Lavinia sidesteps past old cars parked on the sidewalks.” Connective forces stretch out across space and time as Lavinia recalls her Italian past: “The old ladies scream from their windows for pane, prosciutto, mozzarella di bufala, the groceries to be hauled up to their second- and third-story apartments.” As Lavinia breezes through the streets of San Francisco, she evinces the freedom of youth. This effervescence is beautifully balanced by the wisdom of experience, as proffered by Mercedes Montoya, the mother of a close friend. She counsels Lavinia: “La querencia is a safe place in the bull ring, the place where the bull goes to stay alive, to stay away from the lance of the matador. …it’s a place to regain his power.” Mercedes adds that “this is the place you will find within yourself.” Wistful yet uplifting, the book mourns the fading past while celebrating the intricate beauty of each passing moment.

An acutely observed, tenderly philosophical novel that tells a wonderfully bittersweet story.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-679-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A gut-wrenching debut.

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MY DARK VANESSA

The #MeToo movement forces a struggling young woman to confront the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past.

At 15, Vanessa Wye falls for her English teacher at Browick, a private boarding school. Jacob Strane is 42, "big, broad, and so tall that his shoulders hunch as though his body wants to apologize for taking up so much space." Strane woos Vanessa with Nabokov's novels, Plath's poetry, and furtive caresses in his back office. "I think we're very similar, Nessa," Strane tells her during a one-on-one conference. "I can tell from the way you write that you're a dark romantic like me." Soon, Vanessa is reveling in her newfound power of attraction, pursuing sleepovers at Strane's house, and conducting what she feels is a secret affair right under the noses of the administration. More than 15 years later, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Taylor Birch, another young woman from Browick, publicly accuses Strane of sexual abuse. When a young journalist reaches out to Vanessa to corroborate Taylor's story, Vanessa's world begins to unravel. "Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it," Vanessa tells herself. Russell weaves Vanessa's memories of high school together with the social media–saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Russell's debut is a rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse, and her novel asks readers both to take Vanessa's assertions of agency at face value and to determine the real, psychological harm perpetrated against her by an abusive adult. What emerges is a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. "The excuses we make for them are outrageous," Vanessa concludes about abusive men, "but they're nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves."

A gut-wrenching debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294150-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled...

A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD

A riveting, potentially redemptive story of modern American suburbia that reads almost like an ancient Greek tragedy.

When the Whitmans, a nouveau riche white family, move into a sprawling, newly built house next door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor of forestry and ecology, and her musically gifted, biracial 18-year-old son, Xavier, in a modest, diverse North Carolina neighborhood of cozy ranch houses on wooded lots, it is clear from the outset things will not end well. The neighborhood itself, which serves as the novel’s narrator and chorus, tells us so. The story begins on “a Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them,” we are informed in the book’s opening paragraph. “Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who’s to blame.” The exact nature of the tragedy that has been foretold and questions of blame come into focus gradually as a series of events is set inexorably in motion when the Whitmans’ cloistered 17-year-old daughter, Juniper, encounters Xavier. The two teenagers tumble into a furtive, pure-hearted romance even as Xavier’s mom and Juniper’s stepfather, Brad, a slick operator who runs a successful HVAC business and has secrets of his own, lock horns in a legal battle over a dying tree. As the novel builds toward its devastating climax, it nimbly negotiates issues of race and racism, class and gentrification, sex and sexual violence, environmental destruction and other highly charged topics. Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman, 2018, etc.) empathetically conjures nuanced characters we won’t soon forget, expertly weaves together their stories, and imbues the plot with a sense of inevitability and urgency. In the end, she offers an opportunity for catharsis as well as a heartfelt, hopeful call to action.

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled times.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-23727-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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