HINTERLAND

School in England is the dream motivating two Afghan boys on their dangerous trek across Europe. 

Here they come, 15 men, following the smuggler’s directions as they cross the river in full flood, the border between Turkey and Greece, part of a current phenomenon of trans-Europe migration. Accompanying them are two little guys, 14-year-old Aryan, the viewpoint character, and his 8-year-old brother Kabir. They are orphans. They lost their parents in separate terrorist attacks back home; an older brother was murdered by the Taliban. The boys have already covered many miles, spending time in Tehran and Istanbul. Now, across the river in Greece, they board a truck that makes an unexpected stop when the brothers are handed over to a waiting Greek farmer. “Here’s your merchandise,” says the driver. Seven months of forced labor follow; at one point Kabir is sodomized by another truck driver. Then they abscond, hopping another truck, slowly making their way to Italy and France. There’s a Hollywood moment in Nice when a married couple from Los Angeles, Iranian-Americans, buys them clothes, dinner and tickets to Paris, but then it’s back to reality in Calais, where swarms of Africans and Middle Easterners are living in makeshift camps. Aryan is tear-gassed by the cops and fingerprinted. The only free route to England seems to be the refrigerated truck, a potential death trap. First novelist Brothers, an Australian, is a journalist who has covered this story; she acknowledges her debt to a French language memoir by Wali Mohammadi. The question is how well her account of lost children on the march translates into fiction. How convincing is Aryan? He’s a saintly, protective big brother, and so resourceful he qualifies as Superboy, but he’s not individuated enough, any more than those American Good Samaritans or Idris, king of the Calais smugglers.  A debut that personalizes a humanitarian crisis but fails to fully penetrate others’ lives as does, say, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

 

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-678-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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