MY YEAR ABROAD

A sage study in how readily we’re undone by our appetites.

A young man becomes embroiled in a health-drink scheme with a man who has more baggage than he lets on.

National Book Critics Circle fiction finalist Lee is expert at writing about cross-cultural identity crises, be it through realist assimilation tales (Aloft, 2004), widescreen historical novels (The Surrendered, 2010), or dystopian fables (On Such a Full Sea, 2014). This coming-of-age story is a peculiar blend of the three, with a surrealist touch to boot. The narrator, Tiller, tells a braided tale, the first about his life with Val and her 8-year-old son, Victor Jr., who are in witness protection due to her ex’s dealings with Uzbek gangsters; the second about his time just before meeting Val when he became an assistant to Pong, a Chinese American entrepreneur trying to develop jamu, a drink with alleged restorative qualities. On either track, the novel is about the perils of consumption. Victor Jr. has an adult-grade gift for cooking, which makes him the pride of the neighborhood but risks exposing Val; one seriocomic set piece features a paranoid evening of gorging on food, alcohol, and pot with some neighbors. More seriously, Tiller’s acquaintance with Pong sends him to Shenzhen, where potential business partners have a threatening vibe. Pong’s recollection of his parents’ persecution during the Cultural Revolution successfully darkens the mood; even Tiller’s sexual relationship with the daughter of an acquaintance of Pong’s has a cringeworthy note to it. The novel has an ungainly, baggy feel of having taken on too much; the two threads could be two separate novels. Yet Lee is masterful from passage to passage, and Tiller is a winningly self-interrogating narrator; his relationships with both Pong and Val provoke smart riffs on ethnicity (he’s one-eighth Asian), accomplishment, love, and family.

A sage study in how readily we’re undone by our appetites.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59463-457-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

THE WOMEN

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

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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