Oh-so-sensitive aperçus voiced in finely wrought language merely add to the general air of unreality in this...



In Robbins’ debut, an American student of Arabic gets lessons in love and loss when she goes to study in the Middle East.

Bea has come to an unnamed foreign city to read an ancient text “that made everyone who read it cry, it was that astonishing.” It tells the story of a Bedouin named Qais and his doomed love for the beautiful Leila, so when she hears a member of the family she is living with describe the blond policeman she glimpses in the station across the street from their apartment as “a real Qais,” Bea is intrigued. She has fallen in love with Arabic, we sense from allusions skillfully planted in the early chapters, because her life in America seems too safe and devoid of deep feeling. She has a crush on handsome Adel (the policeman) before she’s even met him, but when it becomes clear that he’s interested in the family’s maid, Nisrine—who has a husband and son back home in Indonesia—Bea passively accepts his choice. This is characteristic of her behavior throughout the novel, as Bea describes Madame; her husband, Baba; their three children; Nisrine; and Adel as though they were characters in an exotic play she was observing rather than participating in. She maintains this oddly distanced stance, preoccupied with abstract musings such as the number of words for love in Arabic, even as events grow menacing. The deteriorating political situation poses a particular threat to Baba, an anti-government activist who has already served 10 years in jail, and Adel must face the wrath of his powerful father, outraged by the discovery that he is in love with a foreign woman. Bea is wracked with guilt when she realizes that her American naiveté has contributed to the family’s woes, but in the time-honored fashion of privileged Westerners, she doesn’t seem able to do more than feel bad about it.

Oh-so-sensitive aperçus voiced in finely wrought language merely add to the general air of unreality in this well-intentioned but curiously unmoving novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59463-358-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.


After facing tragedy and betrayal in New York, an aspiring fashion designer escapes to her idyllic Pacific coast hometown to raise her best friend’s two young children and finds inspiration, redemption, and love in the unexpected journey.

Caroline Shelby always dreamed of leaving tiny Oysterville, Washington, and becoming a couturier. After years of toil, she finally has a big break only to discover a famous designer has stolen her launch line. When she accuses him, he blackballs her, so she’s already struggling when her best friend, Angelique, a renowned model from Haiti whose work visa has expired, shows up on her doorstep with her two biracial children, running from an abusive partner she won’t identify. When Angelique dies of a drug overdose, Caroline takes custody of the kids and flees back to her hometown. She reconnects with her sprawling family and with Will and Sierra Jensen, who were once her best friends, though their relationships have grown more complicated since Will and Sierra married. Caroline feels guilty that she didn’t realize Angelique was abused and tries to make a difference when she discovers that people she knows in Oysterville are also victims of domestic violence. She creates a support group that becomes a welcome source of professional assistance when some designs she works on for the kids garner local interest that grows regional, then national. Meanwhile, restless Sierra pursues her own dreams, leading to Will and Caroline’s exploring some unresolved feelings. Wiggs’ latest is part revenge fantasy and part romantic fairy tale, and while some details feel too smooth—how fortunate that every person in the circle has some helpful occupation that benefits Caroline's business—Caroline has a challenging road, and she rises to it with compassion and resilience. Timelines alternating among the present and past, both recent and long ago, add tension and depth to a complex narrative that touches on the abuse of power toward women and the extra-high stakes when the women involved are undocumented. Finally, Wiggs writes about the children’s race and immigration status with a soft touch that feels natural and easygoing but that might seem unrealistic to some readers.

A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-242558-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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