Jaffy’s experience could well move the reader as profoundly as it changed the narrator.

JAMRACH'S MENAGERIE

A magical, literary novel puts a surreal spin on a coming-of-age seafaring saga.

Among the amazements of the 10th novel by the British, award-winning Birch is that it is the first to be published in America. Its narrator is a young boy named Jaffy Brown, who begs to be described as a Dickensian “street urchin,” but whose life changes irrevocably after he encounters a tiger on a street near the Thames and proves uncommonly brave when the animal takes the boy into its mouth. The tiger belongs to Charles Jamrach, an importer of exotic animals who recruits Jaffy to go to sea on a whaling expedition that has a much more ambitious goal: to capture a dragon. Among his shipmates will be Tim, another boy with whom Jaffy bonds but who is very competitive, creating a tension complicated by Jaffy’s attraction to Tim’s sister. All of this is narrated in retrospect, decades later, after Jaffy has discovered how it feels to be “stuck between a mad God and merciless nature.” Yet it retains a sense of childlike wonder in its lyrical prose, as the line between what Jaffy is experiencing and what he is dreaming blurs the longer he is at sea: “Nowhere clearer than the ocean for a bright state of being, of falling with constant clarity into the vortex inside...Sometimes it felt as if the stars out there, far from all land, were screaming. Hundreds of miles blaring at your head. So beautiful, that night, waking in the sky with the screaming stars all around.” The ill-fated voyage finds the dragon haunting the young mariner much the same as the albatross did Coleridge’s ancient mariner. Before it is over Jaffy will have his first taste of death. And worse. If prayer was the only passable path to salvation, Jaffy felt “it had become long since plain that God didn’t answer. Not so’s the average idiot could understand anyway.”

Jaffy’s experience could well move the reader as profoundly as it changed the narrator.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53440-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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