Energetic and compelling, a promising first book from a writer to watch.


An LGBTQ nonprofit takes its services to rural Middle America in this ambitious debut about the slow wheels of social change.

Big Burr, Kansas, is the most homophobic town in America, which is why Acceptance Across America sends a task force to take up residence there for two long years. Laskey's debut novel chronicles the ups and downs of the social experiment, alternating between the queer volunteers who uprooted their lives in big cities and the residents who have, for the most part, minds as small as their Main Street. There's Avery, the straight daughter of AAA's proud lesbian director, caught between wanting to fit in at the local high school and protecting her out-and-proud family; Linda, the grieving mother who finds solace in volunteering for AAA; Gabe, the closeted father and husband who hides his sexuality behind Carhartts and mounted deer heads; and Harley, the nonbinary social media copywriter for AAA whose neighbors retaliate against them with unflinching cruelty. Laskey inhabits each of these characters with skill and grace in a tour de force of first-person narration that illustrates how dangerous isolated, rural places can be for queer people. However, the conceit of Laskey's novel is troubled, and it requires a certain dependence on stereotypes, queer and straight, urban and rural, open-minded and closed, that hampers its success. Laskey is most convincing when she turns stereotypes on their heads, like the blistering rage and sadness rippling beneath teenage Avery's encounters with the homophobic group of teens who egg her mother's house—forcing her to choose sides. Other characters, like the bigoted Christine Peterson, flounder under the weight of bad marriages and righteous mommy blogs and are driven to unexamined acts of hatred and violence. There are unarticulated class and geographical tensions here, too, between the "liberated" coasts and the "backwards" red states. Laskey seems to suggest that Middle America can only change, reluctantly, with a push from the educated coastal elites who escaped its confines. As AAA's pragmatic director tells one beleaguered task force member, "[Liking] these people isn't a necessary part of it. You have to understand them, but that's different."

Energetic and compelling, a promising first book from a writer to watch.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53616-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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