If the novel occasionally seems to lack subtlety—the phrase “on the nose” sometimes comes to mind—it's rescued by the sheer...

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CHARMED PARTICLES

Part immigration story, part Midwestern pastoral, Kolaya’s charming debut maps the schisms of a small Illinois town that's divided over a proposal to build a Superconducting Super Collider at the local research lab.

Abhijat Mital arrived in Nicolet, Illinois, from India to take a prime research job at the National Accelerator Research Lab, starting a new American life with his wife, Sarala. But as Sarala has thrown herself into all things American, Abhijat is feeling the pressure of his ambitions. When the lab becomes a contender to house the new Superconducting Super Collider, it seems like his last chance—his only chance—to “make the kind of legacy in the physics world he’d always expected to.” Meanwhile, across Nicolet, Rose Winchester is forging an unconventional life in a conventional town. Her husband, Randolph, is an explorer who spends the majority of each year in remote pockets of the globe; her daughter, Lily, is a supremely precocious child with a distinctly un-childlike enthusiasm for academia. The two families, the novel’s dual anchors, are linked by more than just their outsider status: Lily and the Mitals' equally gifted daughter, Meena, are best friends, united by their curiosity and a passion for the World Book Encyclopedia] But as the debate over the super collider heats up, the town begins to split: the scientists fighting on behalf of discovery on one side, the skeptical longtime residents, worried for their safety (and their property values), on the other, progress pitted against tradition. And yet for all the novel’s earnest focus on local politics, the book is at its best and most nuanced when Kolaya turns her attention to the personal: Abhijat and Sarala’s marriage, Lily and Meena’s increasingly difficult friendship, and—above all—Abhijat’s internal struggle to come to terms with the reality of his career.

If the novel occasionally seems to lack subtlety—the phrase “on the nose” sometimes comes to mind—it's rescued by the sheer strength of its extremely inviting characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938103-17-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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