In this debut novel, a Taiwanese-American family 30 miles outside Anchorage struggles to live after the death of their youngest daughter.

Ten-year-old Gavin loses consciousness after he comes home from school sick, the day before the Challenger launch is broadcast on TV. When he comes to a few days later, his world has been wrenched apart: Every astronaut on the shuttle is dead—and so is his 4-year-old sister, Ruby, who contracted meningitis from him. Immediately, Gavin is saturated with a guilt he doesn’t know how to express: “The heaviness on me was like dread. But what came after dread? What was on the other side of it, once a thing was done, done, and done, and dread had thickened into something solid?” His other family members, including 5-year-old brother Natty and older sister Pei-Pei, treat each other with a quiet kind of violence, and the rift between his parents expands. His mother wants the family to move back to Taiwan, where she and his father grew up; his dad, an insubstantial man who drills water wells and repairs septic tanks, maintains his innocence when sued by a family whose child was poisoned by a well he worked on. The lawsuit, grasped only hazily by the children, threatens to drain the family’s savings and evict them from their home. The novel is full of harsh beauty, both in its prose and its attentive depictions of an ever shifting Alaskan environment, all frigid air and Sitka spruces and vast, treacherous mudflats. Death is omnipresent, from a tree that nearly falls on Pei-Pei to the flying squirrel skeletons the family clears from their attic, as well as a sense of constant, oppressive emptiness. “It was impossible to erase the feeling of the unoccupied parking spaces around us. So many freshly painted rectangles and no cars. To one side was an empty building, to the other, empty roads.” The book's main mood is one of intense suffocation: Gavin’s family is completely unable to communicate, and events pile up, disjointed and without explanation. The family doesn’t belong, the novel makes achingly, physically explicit: not to the community, where they stick out because of their race and lack of money, and not to the land, which is unwelcoming to any form of life.

Unremittingly bleak.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-27936-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...


From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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