Good intentions can’t save this unsubtle novel.

HOW I LEARNED TO HATE IN OHIO

It’s 1985 in fictional Rutherford, Ohio, and high school freshman Barry Nadler is miserable.

The teenager has been the target of bullies for years, and he misses his mother, a project analyst for a hotel chain who’s almost always on the road. His father is a feckless adjunct professor at the local college whom Barry seems to pity more than anything.  He’s saddled with the homophobic nickname “Yo-Yo Fag,” which even one of his teachers has started calling him. But after befriending a fellow student named Gurbaksh “Gary” Singh, a Sikh who’s originally from Canada, Barry’s life begins to change. When he loses his temper in the school counselor’s office, he develops a reputation among the students as being a live wire, and his friendship with the “socially alchemical" Gary makes him “popular-adjacent.” He even develops a crush on a Manic Pixie Dream Girl named Ottilie. But the good news, such as it is, doesn’t last long—after he walks in on his mom sleeping with Gary’s dad, he becomes estranged from his only friend and starts hanging out with a group of rough-hewn, working-class White people with retrograde politics. His parents’ marriage falls apart, and he discovers that Gary and Ottilie have been dating. The plot only gets more melodramatic and unbelievable from there, as a series of tragedies continues to befall pretty much everyone in the book. The novel culminates with a horrible but predictable act of violence and ends vaguely and unhappily. This is a message novel—that message being “hating people is bad”—and MacLean veers as hard as one possibly can against subtlety, with cartoonish villains and mostly clumsy dialogue. Some passages show promise, but this novel ultimately falls flat.

Good intentions can’t save this unsubtle novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4719-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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