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WHAT BEN FRANKLIN WOULD HAVE TOLD ME

A soulful journey that offers surprises and unforeseen victories.

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A boy with a fatal disease sets out to help a political refugee restore his shattered family in Gordon’s debut coming-of-age novel.

In the late 1970s, Lee Adams is just 12 years old and has a rare condition called Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, which causes his cells to age rapidly. He weighs only 35 pounds and has the wizened appearance of a bald, 102-year-old man; he’s also plagued by arteriosclerosis and arthritis and is likely to die from a heart attack or blood clot in his teens. He has a sharp mind and a keen interest in American history, especially Benjamin Franklin’s motivational wisdom; he wants to indulge this interest during a long-anticipated trip from his Newark, New Jersey, home to Washington, D.C., accompanied by his mom, Cass, and soul mate, Kira Throop, a 13-year-old girl who also has progeria. After Kira dies suddenly, Cass finds herself unable to take off work, so she insists that Lee make the trip anyway, accompanied by newly hired caretaker Tomás Concepción. Lee is suspicious of Tomás, who drags him around Washington on mysterious errands, but the boy finally gets him to tell him what’s going on: He’s an Argentinian journalist who was jailed and tortured in his home country three years ago along with his wife, Violeta; he’s now searching for news of her and their baby, who he fears may have been taken away and sold on the black market. Lee eagerly joins in Tomás’ quest, and they’re helped by Margaret, a Washington Post reporter, and Alicia, an Argentinian expat connected to the “Abuelas,” an underground network of women who gather information about the disappeared. Lee and the others finally uncover leads that may result in the reunion of Tomás’ family—and also learn why this might be a bad idea.

Gordon’s novel is a plangent study of a fearsome disease, depicted in language that’s raptly evocative but never sentimental: “There weren’t any words created that could say why he was on this treadmill with time, or why his collarbones were disintegrating like limestone, or why his spine felt like a brittle trail of broken teeth.” It’s also a dark, gripping investigation of Argentina’s experience with brutal dictatorship in the 1970s and ’80s, full of paranoia and sinister, Kafkaesque atmospherics, as when a character watches secret police descend on her family’s house in Buenos Aires: “She…saw the shadows of two figures being hauled out of her parents’ house—first her father, who had difficulty walking, then her mother sagging behind….She knew she would never see her parents again.” Gordon’s prose is vivid and subtly allusive, conjuring character and feeling from details of appearance and behavior, as in a description of Tomás’ “industrial lunch box and paratrooper shoes” and how he has the “depressed cross-eyed delirium of an undertaker.” The end result is a searching meditation on mortality and hope that’s all the more powerful for being filtered through the quirky point of view of a child.

A soulful journey that offers surprises and unforeseen victories.

Pub Date: June 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64603-230-3

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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