A well-turned tribute to the freedom and frustrations of a diverse city.

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WELCOME TO LAGOS

A ragtag group of refugees from war, corruption, and domestic violence attempts to resettle in Nigeria’s chaotic capital in Onuzo’s second novel (The Spider King’s Daughter, 2012).

When Chike decides to desert the Nigerian army, unable to abide its violence against innocent citizens, he plans to travel light. But Yemi, one of the privates under his command, wants out, too; together, they soon meet Fineboy, another deserter; then Isoken, a young woman who’ll be raped if left with her family; then Oma, who's escaping her abusive husband. Together they travel to Lagos, which is hard on newcomers with limited means: The only shelter they can afford is in a camp town under a bridge, and the quintet can only piece together side hustles. (Chike’s brief stint directing traffic is at once comic and scarifying.) Fineboy stumbles across what seems to be an abandoned furnished apartment, but they’re actually squatting in the home of Sandayo, a former education secretary who’s stolen funds in hopes the money will go directly to schools instead of being squandered by bureaucrats. Onuzo’s novel is at once a Robin Hood tale and a cross section of Nigerian society, and though she takes on a lot in terms of both themes and characters, she shepherds it along smoothly. She avoids grand defining statements about Lagos, smartly letting the predicaments of each character show how the city’s lawlessness runs parallel to its bustle. (“Lagos would kill you if you wasted time on yesterday,” she writes.) Simplified statements are for the smug BBC reporter parachuting in to cover Sandayo’s story. (“One giant trash can,” he thinks.) Not every character gets his or her due (a romantic subplot involving a muckraking journalist feels unfinished), but the novel is marked by lively storytelling throughout.

A well-turned tribute to the freedom and frustrations of a diverse city.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-936787-80-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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