Written in the tradition of Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri, Leung's debut story collection marks the career of a writer to...

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THAT TIME I LOVED YOU

Leung's stories lift the veiled curtain of late 1970s suburbia to reveal the sadness and isolation of its residents.

In the opening story of Leung's linked collection, 11-year-old June Lee frets over a disturbing trend: The parents in her suburban neighborhood of Toronto are committing suicide at an alarming rate. "Regardless of which group we belonged to—Chinese, white, or otherwise—by the second suicide, it felt like we were waiting for something else catastrophic to happen," recalls June. Her stories, all told in the first person, illuminate the subtle boundaries between girlhood and adolescence and serve to anchor the collection. Radiating outward from June's perspective are those of other women and children in the neighborhood. There's Marilyn, an impulsive middle-aged thief of discarded or forgotten items; Josie, June's best friend, who must work to support her family and who quietly keeps an assault to herself; Darren, a young black boy who experiences violent racism at the hands of a teacher; and June's elderly grandmother Poh Poh, who emigrated from Hong Kong and is leery of her granddaughter and her loud Canadian friends. Leung looks for ways to bridge the gaps between what characters say and what they mean, what they admit to themselves and what they won't utter aloud, ultimately painting a picture of deep social and racial divides. (When one white, wealthy neighbor observes that Toronto's poorer Italian neighborhood is "authentic," for instance, it feels a little on-the-nose.) Many of her neighborhood residents have left poverty behind in the city for a better life and a bigger lawn only to struggle with feelings of discontentment and shame about their social standing. The men and women who commit suicide suffer from isolation or mental illness, and Leung uses these tragedies to show the fragility of adulthood. Most heartbreaking, though, are the stories that address the fear and shame children internalize when they encounter racial and gendered violence. Darren is struck by a teacher in class despite repeated warnings from his mother to keep his eyes down around white people, and June's friend Nav is beaten for acting too feminine at school. "I didn't know what to do," June cries to Poh Poh, a familiar refrain throughout the collection. None of the adults in her life offer easy answers or solutions—the best they can do is provide comfort and a soft place to land until trouble moves on to the next family.

Written in the tradition of Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri, Leung's debut story collection marks the career of a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-552-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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