Winner of the 2015 Strega Prize for Young Authors, this immense, good-natured, self-indulgent tale offers a cumulative...

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THE BREAKING OF A WAVE

After a tragedy, a quirky collection of adults and children fashions a new kind of family connected by commonplace philosophy, community, and the possibility of better.

Hairdresser and local beauty Serena is a single parent, mother to golden-boy Luca and albino daughter Luna. Forty-year-old Sandro is a sad sack who still lives with his mother, hangs out with two similarly hopeless friends, and works as a substitute teacher. And Zot, a Russian orphan boy from Chernobyl, lodges in the chaotic home of his grumpy, rifle-toting stepgrandfather. Love, guilt, need, heartbreak, happenstance, and the search for meaning connect this diverse group in Italian writer Genovesi’s (Live Bait, 2014, etc.) latest, a wacky, sprawling tale of contemporary Italy phrased in casual, everyday language. While writing from several perspectives, principally those of Serena, Luna, and Sandro, Genovesi is happy to take the reader on narrative excursions, into the life of an overprivileged Russian toy poodle, for example, or the flirtations of a woman with a large nose at her bachelorette party. But beneath the boundless flow of colorful anecdote, character portrait, and discursive dialogue in and around the Tuscan town of Forte dei Marmi, there’s a story about the lonely daydreams of outsiders. Luna’s fantasies about the sea and its gifts of flotsam feed her efforts to understand Luca’s existence and her own. Serena is battling depression brought on by loss. And Sandro is trying to address his terminal ineffectualness. Pain and alienation are the book’s foundation, but its superstructure is a sentimental weave of modern life punctuated by Genovesi’s sense of humor and fondness for off-the-cuff aphorisms: “If the future sucks so much, then shit, we’re better off diving into all the present we can find.”

Winner of the 2015 Strega Prize for Young Authors, this immense, good-natured, self-indulgent tale offers a cumulative celebration of life in shaggy dog form.

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60945-387-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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