Darkly playful; a warning without a moral.

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PEW

A silent stranger of indeterminate origin is discovered sleeping on a church pew in Lacey’s haunting fable about morality and self-delusion.

A nice churchgoing family—Hilda, Steven, and their three boys—in the small-town American South stumbles on someone lying down before services on Sunday and agrees to take the stranger in. “Steven and I decided that you can stay with us as long as it takes,” Hilda tells the stranger, who responds with silence. The stranger is illegible to them—racially ambiguous, of indeterminate gender, unclear age, no obvious nationality—and as an interim solution, the reverend decides they’ll call the stranger Pew, “until you get around to telling us something different.” They are kind, at first, and patient. Their questions as to Pew’s identity are only meant to help, they say—“we really don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, exactly,” and “God loves all his children exactly the same”—but still, they need to know “which one” Pew is, and Pew continues to say nothing. But other people do: Invited by Pew’s silence, they begin to confide in Pew, offering sometimes-chilling windows into their past lives. Pew, publicly silent but an acute observer of societal dynamics, is both the novel's narrator and its center, an outside lens into an insular and unsettling world. Pew’s only peer is Nelson, adopted by one of the church families from “someplace having a war,” a fellow charity case, ill at ease in town. “My whole family was killed in the name of God,” he says, “and now these people want me to sing a hymn like it was all some kind of misunderstanding.” As the week wears on, tensions begin to rise as the community prepares for its annual “Forgiveness Festival,” an ominous cleansing ritual central to the cohesion of the town. “The time right after, everyone’s more peaceful,” Nelson’s mother tells Pew. “Of course right now it’s a little more dangerous for everyone.” Setting her third novel in a placid town built on a foundation of unspeakable violence, Lacey (Certain American States, 2018, etc.)—spare and elegant as ever—creates a story that feels at the same time mythological and arrestingly like life.

Darkly playful; a warning without a moral.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-23092-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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