With complexity, honesty, and, above all, a sense of home, this book delivers a striking tale of a young émigré in the...

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Goodbye, Rudy Kazoody

A debut novel encapsulates American traditions, bringing New York and immigrant stories together in that often overlooked part of the metropolis, the Bronx.

How do you fit in as an uncertain young man in a country going through uncertain times? It’s a question that haunts many and lies at the core of this story. But it’s even more relevant to Joey, who begins his American experience living on the outside looking in. His first years after his family emigrates from Italy are lonely, but survival leads to new opportunities, and the clan moves to the Bronx in the 1960s, putting Joey among relatives, friends, and his own people in the United States for the first time. But while the support and leadership of his cousin Spike and the rest of the local gang open up the world to Joey, they’re not enough to keep him from feeling like an outsider. There are times when he acts like one of the gang, chasing girls, dodging the dangers of the city, and having the madcap adolescent adventures he’s dreamed of. But too often he’s overcome by a sense that he doesn’t quite belong and that some terrible upheaval is coming. Case in point: the enigma of Rudy Kazoody, a figure who seems to represent Joey’s hopes, his terrors, and the sense of cultural shift and shock that pervades the boys’ corner of the city simultaneously. But for all that, and the fact that Kazoody only comes up in times of anguish, the other boys won’t tell Joey a thing about him. While Freda’s novel takes some expected turns, weaving in the love and loss that accompany any coming-of-age yarn, there’s more to this work than just those tropes. The mystery of Kazoody gets at a unique piece of immigrant experiences: the confusion, isolation, and even despair that come with growing up between two worlds. This narrative is only furthered by the tumultuous backdrop of the ’60s, with war and cultural change informing the boys’ trajectories. Brought to life by Joey’s complex narrative voice, the story cuts to the heart of America.

With complexity, honesty, and, above all, a sense of home, this book delivers a striking tale of a young émigré in the turbulent ’60s.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-9242-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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