A deeply felt coming-of-age story rich with respect for the natural world.

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THE STORY OF BONES

A sequel set in sub-Saharan Africa about a boy who grows to adulthood, becomes a safari guide, and takes a stand against poachers and a childhood nemesis.

In Cousins’ previous novel, Waiting for Bones (2011, etc.), American tourists on a photo safari face a life-or-death struggle to survive in the African wilderness when their guide, Bones, disappears, his fate a mystery. This novel came about, Cousins says in an author’s note, because the question of Bones’ disappearance was “too intriguing to ignore.” Her answer is an inspired, eventful coming-of-age story. It starts with Bones’ remembering his life as an impoverished 10-year-old boy, living on a small farm in his African village; he’s a gifted young carpenter who eventually realizes his dream career as a safari guide. Bones’ passion for knowledge and his soulful connection to nature—especially for elephants, whose populations are being decimated by ruthless poachers armed with military-grade weapons—shape the man he later becomes. So does a loss, chillingly depicted in the book’s first chapter, that affects his whole family; it also presages what’s to come in the unsavory form of a man named Skinner, a sadistic bully-turned–dangerous adversary. A skillful storyteller, Cousins gives weight and color to small events, such as the processes of crafting a wooden drawer and curing and drying impala meat, and to pivotal scenes, such as the horrific slaughter of an elephant herd. The environments of the village and wilderness are keenly observed, as is the book’s rich cast of characters, including Bones’ love interest, Mima Swale; Granny Nobbs and her attack chickens; cousin Squeak, who’s lost to a crocodile (“Death was never far from our world”); nurturing Uncle Stash; and hefty truck driver Chiddy, who has a face “as round and shiny as a kukui nut.” Although it isn’t necessary to have read the previous book, those who have will appreciate how the author gives Bones’ abandonment of the American tourists a sense of high-stakes urgency.

A deeply felt coming-of-age story rich with respect for the natural world.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-3544-9

Page Count: 244

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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