A powerful, empathetic study of place and character with great depth.

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A SHOT OF MALARIA

A musician copes with addiction, mental illness, and dreams of recovery in this novel.

Daniel Martin at first appears to be an archetypal character. Living off the meager earnings of his street-corner banjo playing and the periodic release of savings bonds left to him by his grandmother, he believes his heroin habit isn’t a big deal. Despite his 15-year addiction, he explains to his counselor at the methadone clinic, Elsie Schwartz, that he just needs a little short-term help to get back on his feet. But while parts of Daniel’s life may seem like familiar tropes, the depth of his characterization should strike even the most jaded readers. Daniel’s story reveals his profound, driving need for connection and companionship. He yearns for a girlfriend and the comfort and closeness of a relationship, especially over the upcoming holidays. But his feelings for Elsie can’t go anywhere, and when he meets a woman named Caroline, she falls into a recognizable pattern for Daniel—most of his friends are addicts. With Caroline enabling him, her dealer husband breathing down their necks, and his best friend, Cody, suffering from terminal cancer, Daniel has plenty of reasons to keep using and to follow that instinct to his death. His abiding Aunt Teresa and his few clean friends and loved ones try to pull him out of his addiction, depression, and suicidal thoughts, but it ultimately comes down to whether Daniel will allow intervention to succeed. Complexity and uncertainty fill the pages of Souby’s (Winifred, 2014) tale. The open, blunt first-person narration provides a thorough sense of Daniel’s character, and it’s difficult not to feel for him and to understand the bleak twists and turns his mind takes on a regular basis. But what makes the story stand out are its descriptive prose and sense of place. The highs and the shaking lows are palpable. (At one point, he muses about mixing cocaine and heroin: “A nice concentrated blast of coke rocketing my soul to the stars with the dope dropping me back down like parachutes guiding a space module.”) But even more tangible are the fog-swept San Francisco streets and the sights and smells of dead-end bars and vomit-streaked clothes. While Daniel’s world is not for the faint of heart, it delivers a rich, revealing darkness unlike what readers encounter in most books.

A powerful, empathetic study of place and character with great depth.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2005

ISBN: 978-1-4958-0147-1

Page Count: 454

Publisher: Infinity Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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