An often engaging novel with a touch of magic, hampered by a problematic trope at its center.

LITTLE BY LITTLE

From the Tower Room series , Vol. 3

In this third book in her Tower Room fantasy series, Davis (Falling, 2017, etc.) takes her Canadian protagonist from 1920s Toronto to 1850s Buffalo, New York, right in the middle of an Underground Railroad escape.

It’s 1929, and Dilys Frank feels exhausted and spiritually empty. Once a nurse for Toronto General Hospital, she now lazily keeps the doors open at the unlicensed Makeshift Pharmacy on behalf of her father, Gus Frank, a gambling photographer, con artist, and thief. Her stress about her father’s shady activities is exacerbated by the recent loss of her baby daughter, Pearl, who was born out of wedlock and lived only a few short weeks. When Gus invites her to his home to show her evidence of his previous time travel, Dilys is skeptical and angry. But when she snoops around the magical tower room, it takes her on her own adventure—landing her in Buffalo in 1850. Once there, she meets Caleb Breneman, a kindly Quaker who needs a nurse to attend a wounded child whom he’s helping along the Underground Railroad. She quickly discovers that she’s not a slave, but the disguised white daughter of a plantation owner named Caroline, who fled with her young friend, a slave named Jackson. When Caroline’s father comes to town, the need to secret the children away to Canada becomes more urgent. Over the course of the novel, Davis presents a story that’s well written, well researched, and features an intriguing central conflict. Although this installment in the series may easily be read as a stand-alone novel, readers will get helpful context if they start from the beginning; the time-travel device, for example, ties the overarching story together, but it’s hardly explained here. Also, some readers may find the white-savior narrative structure, which puts Dilys at the heart of a slave-rescue story, to be distasteful. Overall, though, the novel does effectively manage to bring some historical injustices to light.

An often engaging novel with a touch of magic, hampered by a problematic trope at its center.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5255-5526-8

Page Count: 312

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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