A complex, sometimes overly frenetic, look at one man’s experience of being black, queer, smart, soft, tough, artistic, and...

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SINCE I LAID MY BURDEN DOWN

Sex, drugs, punk rock, and Sunday sermons.

When DeShawn takes leave of his fast life in San Francisco and returns to his rural Alabama hometown, he finds time to slow down and contemplate his past and the many men—fathers, lovers, and friends—who have made him who he is. Purnell’s debut novel (Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger?, 2015, etc.) is structured as a series of flashbacks to DeShawn’s childhood and young adulthood, which is peopled with an abusive stepdad, a feuding mother and grandmother, and kids who share his love of 1990s punk music, partying, and sexual experimentation. Sex and self-fashioning are at the heart of this narrative, and the novel is refreshingly frank about desires both normalized and taboo. DeShawn, whose queerness becomes obvious to his family and community early on, must navigate sexual interactions with kids his own age and the leering adult clergy and teachers whose own desires are warped into power trips (DeShawn “marveled at how much of his young adult life was spent in a room getting spanked by a dirty old white man”). DeShawn’s path of sexual discovery is linked to his discovery of self, and as his story unfolds, questions of who, and how, to love become more clearly articulated. DeShawn is a wild child, but he is also an uncle, a nephew, a son, and a community member. Purnell treats his subjects with a heavy dose of dry humor, as when DeShawn’s “fag-loving aunt” gives him a handful of Klonopin after a funeral and tells him “Don’t overdose, bitch.” The novel’s style is messy, and DeShawn’s inner dialogue doesn’t always provide much depth. But DeShawn’s story, like any honest story, is a messy one and, for all its rough edges, entertaining.

A complex, sometimes overly frenetic, look at one man’s experience of being black, queer, smart, soft, tough, artistic, and constantly in motion between rural and urban cultures.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55861-431-4

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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