A highly recommended historical tale that will make readers hope that the good doctor has more novels in him.

READ REVIEW

FORTNIGHT ON MAXWELL STREET

In Kerns’ (Standard of Care, 2007) latest novel, a student learns much more than obstetrics during a baptism by fire on Chicago’s West Side in the fateful spring of 1968.

Every med student in Northwestern University’s program must spend two weeks at the Chicago Maternity Center, whose mission is to serve a deeply poor, predominantly African-American area of the city, overseeing pregnancies and delivering babies. The students are pushed to their physical limits, and some are scared about working in a potentially threatening neighborhood—and about their own competence as doctors. Nick Weissman, a Jewish-American student, is flush with idealism and liberal political views; he’s tested while earning the trust of Blossom Amos, a sullen, withdrawn 14-year-old African-American girl pregnant with twins. A parallel storyline follows the notorious James Earl Ray, who escapes from a Missouri prison, travels all across the South and eventually to Memphis—the site of his assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which sets off horrific riots in Chicago and elsewhere. In this chaos, Nick and the others are about to evacuate for their own safety. Then comes word that Blossom is in labor, and Nick makes a fateful decision to help her, against all odds. Kerns is an engaging writer who gives the story such momentum that it fairly gallops to its conclusion. He also effectively draws on aspects of his own life, including two weeks that he spent working at the Chicago Maternity Center in real life; all of the novel’s gritty details ring as true as they should. Some elements are fictional, though, such as the Abrafo, which is said to be the most terrifying of the local African-American gangs. Also, Nick and James Earl Ray never meet—but the fact that they serve as vectors of good and evil makes for an inspired plot device.

A highly recommended historical tale that will make readers hope that the good doctor has more novels in him.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9966765-3-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bay Tree Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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