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GOLDEN CHILD

A fascinating novel that fails to stick its landing.

A debut novel about class strife, masculinity, and brotherhood in contemporary Trinidad.

Adam—herself a native of Trinidad—tells the story of Paul and Peter Deyalsingh, twins of Indian descent whose lives rapidly diverge. Paul is socially awkward, a bundle of nervous tics and strange habits, and from a young age he is dubbed unhealthy by his industrious father, Clyde, who works tirelessly doing physical labor at a petroleum plant in order to afford a better life for his children—or, at least, one of them. As he ages, his family becomes convinced that he is "slightly retarded," and he is marked as doomed in comparison to his precociously intelligent brother, Peter—the "healthy" child. After Peter's unexpected success on a standardized test, Clyde and his wife, Joy, single him out as gifted while communicating to Paul that his possibilities are far more limited. Joy works hard to keep her children together—"The boys are twins. They must stay together," she frequently demands—but Peter's intellectual gifts create a chasm between him and Paul. Peter is destined to leave the island, while Paul's horizon never exceeds hard labor, like his father before him. Despite the efforts of Father Kavanagh, a kindly Irish Catholic priest who takes it upon himself to teach Paul, the family is forced to make an irrevocable decision that will determine the boys' fates. Adam excels at sympathetically depicting the world of economic insecurity, unpredictable violence, limited opportunity, and mutual distrust that forces Clyde and Joy to make their fateful decision. Unfortunately, however, the novel telegraphs its biggest plot twist. One can see the narrative gears turning very early, and as a result Clyde's decision isn't harrowing; by the time its necessary consequences unfold, a reader might be less moved than Adam hopes. It doesn't help that many of the characters are sketchily drawn at best. Clyde, Joy, and Peter are not vividly depicted, and the decision that renders Paul disposable seems to emanate out of a psychological vacuum. In the absence of any emotional stakes, the last third of the novel unfolds like a generic thriller. That's unfortunate, as Adam has otherwise written an incisive and loving portrait of contemporary Trinidad. Paul is the most fully realized character: Adam movingly depicts his struggle to break free of his family's conceptions of his abilities. As a result, the novel is most moving when it becomes a heart-rending character study of post-colonial adolescence that recalls V.S. Naipaul and George Lamming.

A fascinating novel that fails to stick its landing.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-57299-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: SJP for Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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