WITH OR WITHOUT YOU

One character’s coma is only the first surprise in this satisfying story of middle-aged love.

What if Snow White woke up and decided she didn’t much like Prince Charming?

Something like that happens in Leavitt's latest novel. New Yorkers Simon and Stella have been a couple since the heady days when his rock band was almost famous. Now in their 40s, he’s still chasing musical fame while Stella, a skilled and well-regarded nurse, supports them both and generally is the adult in the relationship. The night before they’re supposed to leave for a gig in California that might be his big break, they have a nasty argument, drink a lot of wine, and, despite Stella’s aversion to drug abuse, share an unidentified pill. In the morning, Simon wakes up and Stella doesn’t. Her coma lasts for several months. The middle section of the book alternates among Simon’s anguished guilt and devotion to caring for her, Stella’s hallucinatory experiences while comatose, and the reactions of Stella’s best friend, Libby, who is one of the doctors treating her. Libby had never liked Simon but is impressed with his dedication; unlucky in love herself, she’s drawn to him. Sparks fly, but their loyalty to Stella counters the attraction. Then the patient awakes, and, as can happen after comas, her personality is quite different. The old Stella was cautious and always played by the rules; the new one is restless, reckless, and emotionally distant. The only thing that calms her is art. Compulsive doodling turns into startlingly accomplished drawings—a talent she had never displayed before. People begin to commission her probing portraits; in the meantime, Simon, kicked out of his band because he stayed at Stella’s bedside, is a Lyft driver. And Libby keeps swearing she won’t see Simon anymore and then opening the door when he buzzes. Leavitt expands the characters with backstories that have a common thread: Stella, Simon, and Libby all felt severely rejected by their parents in childhood. The upheavals in their lives caused by Stella’s coma and its aftermath lead to the exposures of old secrets, healed wounds, and surprising futures.

One character’s coma is only the first surprise in this satisfying story of middle-aged love.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-779-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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