An impressive segregation tale—not comforting by a long shot but true to its era and an intriguing experiment in textual...



A debut historical novel focuses on racial tensions in the South in 1950.

In this tale, the Horaces, a mixed-race couple, have moved from Chicago to fictional Kidron, North Carolina, because Titus’ Aunt Callula has bequeathed him the 90-acre ancestral homestead, begging him to settle there and keep it in the family. Fifteen-year-old Asa is the couple’s bright and perceptive daughter. The story is told through her eyes, eyes that are being opened to the rigid Jim Crow rules. Titus is a well-educated Black man, former lawyer, and successful writer; Ardene is White and Jewish. To complicate things further, Asa could easily pass for White. Essentially this is a story about social cruelty. The Ku Klux Klan is everywhere; stores and even hospitals are segregated; and with few exceptions, the hoi polloi are viciously and openly racist. Blacks bear the brunt of this, but Jews and other outsiders are barely tolerated. Threats are as pervasive as the weather and as subtle as thunder. The Black community, used to this climate, tries to make the best of it. But Ardene is a natural fighter, determined to start to make things right. Asa becomes deeply involved in a big project to renovate a house into a library for Blacks and eventually helps people “check out the books they want” at the new library. But the idea of Blacks reading is beyond anathema in Kidron, and a heavy price will likely be paid. Mangel’s dark novel is a very ambitious undertaking and strong in many ways. The typography—left margin justified, right not, as well as artfully broken lines—signals loose blank verse. For most of the book’s 600-plus pages, the verse simply moves the plot along. But when the subject invites it, readers can hear the poetry, rather like a radio signal that fades in and out. For example: “Miss Junetene brings out an oval pie basket, sets / it on the table. ‘Asa, I have some lemon biscuit / for you mama and made them fig biscuit for you pa’ /… /… / The basket has a crisp ruffled trim of forest green / gingham. ‘That’s a pretty pie basket,’ I say.” Although poetry tends to draw readers’ attention to the words themselves and prose to the ideas those words serve, a work like this shows that the gap is not that wide. (Truly lyric poetry might be another matter.) The author delights in descriptions of all kinds, especially food, and delivers some memorable characters, like Virgil Hudson, Callula’s caretaker, immensely strong and kind; Sheriff Noah Emerson, the worst the South has to offer; Henryk, a brilliant Jewish hermit; and Miss Bertie, Asa’s teacher. Asa makes a perfect narrator and protagonist. She devours books that are well beyond her age—including, secretly, her father’s racy mysteries, written under the pen name Ovid White. And she is a useful mix of wisdom and innocence. Asa deals with the tension between sticking it out in Kidron (Ardene’s idealistic stubbornness) and Titus’ growing desire for the relative safety of Chicago. Doing the right thing versus saving oneself is a very hard question, one that should engage every reader.

An impressive segregation tale—not comforting by a long shot but true to its era and an intriguing experiment in textual form.

Pub Date: June 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-912477-25-8

Page Count: 664

Publisher: Eyewear Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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

Did you like this book?