An uneven fantasy tale with an encouraging message about embracing life’s risks.

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GIPSY LAKE

Corna (You’ll Fall Asleep, 2014, etc.) offers a fantastical novel about a fearful girl and the strange events that help her find herself.

Helen is a troubled, nervous girl. She finds it hard to make friends and suffers from extreme anxiety about questions of life and death. One day, her brother Alex, a pilot, asks her to help him celebrate his 1,000th flight by flying with him to any destination she chooses. She selects a lake that she’s been to before that’s tucked away in a far-off mountain range and difficult to reach, even by plane. During the flight, Helen has a strange experience: She looks out over the lake and sees a young girl on its shore whom she intensely identifies with, and suddenly, she feels transported to the lake’s shores and can feel the young girl’s emotions. When Helen tries to explain her strange experience to her brother, he doesn’t believe her. After they return from their trip, Helen embarks on her own voyage back to the lake to discover who the little girl was and why she feels so drawn to the area. Along the way, she makes friends with a man named Johnny, who explains the origins of his village and the towns nearby. Later, she meets nearby homeowners Alice and Martin, who take her under their wing and invite her to learn more about the village’s community. Soon, they reveal that Alice is one of the few people in the world who can remember their past lives, and the village is filled with others who have the same talent.At first incredulous, Helen begins a journey that changes every aspect of her life. Corna’s novel centers on an uplifting message about conquering fear, and it reads more like a folk tale than a contemporary novel. However, many aspects of the story may strike readers as hard to believe, and its lack of clarity may make it hard to follow at times (“You can lose yourself in pain as in happiness, but if you want to be yourself, you will have to be able to keep yourself in the middle”).The dialogue can also be awkward and unrealistic; for example, when Alex doubts his sister’s experience, he says, “Although I don’t believe in paranormal phenomena, perhaps we are in the presence of such a situation.”

An uneven fantasy tale with an encouraging message about embracing life’s risks. 

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1494205812

Page Count: 228

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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