THINGS WE LOST TO THE WATER

An engrossing, prismatic portrait of first- and second-generation Vietnamese American life.

In this decades-spanning novel, a family of Vietnamese refugees makes a home in New Orleans.

Hương, who’s pregnant, arrives in New Orleans in 1978 disoriented and overwhelmed but clear on one thing: She must get in touch with Công, her husband, who was inexplicably left behind when she and their young son boarded the boat that carried them away from Vietnam and the encroaching Communist regime. As she, her son, and her new baby settle into the Versailles Arms, an apartment building on a polluted bayou populated entirely by Vietnamese refugees, she sends letter after letter to their old addresses in Vietnam and constantly replays the moment of their unexpected parting in her head. “How had Công’s hand slipped? she kept asking herself. That was the only explanation. The only possible one.” It’s only when Công sends her a brief postcard back—“Please don’t contact me again” is the jist of it—that denial gives way to grief and a steely resolve to protect her two sons, no matter what. Over the following years, the novel moves fluidly among each of the family members’ perspectives: Tuấn, her elder son, grows from a boy gentle with animals to a teenager trying to prove his toughness to the members of a Vietnamese American gang called the Southern Boyz. Bình—or Ben, as he insists on being called, never having known Vietnam—loves to read, slowly realizes that he’s gay, and eventually embarks on a transoceanic voyage of his own. Hương begins dating a kind car salesman named Vinh, but all three family members are haunted by Công’s absence. Hương tells the boys early on that their father is dead, a lie that plants the seeds for familial rupture later on. Debut author Nguyen movingly portrays the way adopted homes can become as cherished and familiar as ancestral ones (Hương on New Orleans: “She realized this had become her city, the place she lived but also a place that lived in her”) but also the truth that new loves can never quite heal old wounds. Seeing her sons, so like their father, growing away from her, Hương thinks: “It’s always like she’s losing him again—to the world, to life, to fate.”

An engrossing, prismatic portrait of first- and second-generation Vietnamese American life.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 9780593317952

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

THE WOMEN

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

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

GIRL ABROAD

A spicy novel that’s a must-read for fans of a British accent.

A rock star’s daughter decides to study abroad in search of her own experiences, finding romance and intrigue along the way.

For 19-year-old Abbey Bly, having a rock star for a father isn’t as glamorous as it seems. For one thing, she shares her name with Abbey Road, and for another, the only version of the famous Gunner Bly she knows is the helicopter parent she lives with in Nashville. Hoping to find her way outside her father’s sphere of influence, Abbey decides to spend a semester in London studying European history at Pembridge University. Promising to keep her father updated on every aspect of life abroad, Abbey heads to her shared apartment expecting to find three female roommates…only to find that she’s actually living with three men. Afraid that Gunner will order her home, Abbey decides to keep Lee, Jack, and Jamie’s gender a secret (lucky their names sound androgynous!) and sets her sights on adventure. While working on a research project about a mysterious painting and adapting to Britain’s drinking culture, Abbey finds time to explore a little romance despite her housemates’ strict no-fraternizing rule. First there’s Jack, a commitment-phobic Australian hottie who can’t seem to stay away from Abbey; then there’s Nate, a sexy bassist who keeps forgetting he’s taken. Toying with nonexclusive relationships and exploring her sexuality, Abbey can’t help but feel excited about all the experience she’s gaining, but has she really, truly found herself? Kennedy’s novel is a page-turner—who wouldn’t want to travel to a foreign country and meet interested potential lovers down the hall? Abbey is a relatable character who yearns to stand outside her father’s shadow, and though the love triangle is a focal point, it never outshines the heroine’s growth.

A spicy novel that’s a must-read for fans of a British accent.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2024

ISBN: 9781728299792

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Bloom Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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