Every character could use a copy of Girl, Stop Apologizing.

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH

Three South African women entwine their lives as each fights to be a mother in this novel by a white South African living in Toronto.

The story, centered on two well-to-do Afrikaner sisters tended by an impoverished black teenager, shares elements with The Help. Marais, as she demonstrated in her first book, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words (2017), likes stories of unexpected collisions between white and black women, all in turmoil. The new book begins with 17-year-old Zodwa seeking out a village healer for a concoction brewed to end a pregnancy. In Chapter 2, the action switches to an orphanage in Zaire, where aid worker Delilah receives a mysterious letter that requires her immediate return to South Africa. Meanwhile, Ruth, after a run of plastic surgeries and men, is staging her own faux suicide to hang on to her latest husband. Both Zodwa’s and Ruth’s missions fail. In this thickly plotted novel, readers discover on Page 40 that the prim Delilah, once a Catholic novitiate, is sister to Ruth, “South Africa’s Wild Child.” The tired virgin/whore duo converge on the family homestead, a failed avocado farm, to see their quarrels interrupted by the delivery of a black newborn on their doorstep. Ruth determines to adopt the boy even as Delilah faces the consequences of giving up a son from her own long-ago teen misfortune. Then Zodwa, more than a year postpartum, tracks down her child and signs on as the sisters' maid. Shame animates all three protagonists, who lubricate these pages with tears—it's hard to think of another novel with as much weeping. Marais strikes a jaunty tone even as she salts her story with rape, HIV, racism, and homophobia. The writing is breathless and fraught: “Zodwa closes her eyes and feels a spark of hope she never knew she was so desperately seeking.”

Every character could use a copy of Girl, Stop Apologizing.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1931-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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