Beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling.

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THE RESISTERS

Subtle dystopian fiction from the author of World and Town (2010).

It’s the not-too-distant future, and the United States has become AutoAmerica. The citizenry has been divided into the Netted and the Surplus. The job of the former is to rule, while the primary function of the latter is to consume. These are new social classes, but, as Grant, the narrator, notes, they look a lot like the old social classes. The Netted are “angelfair.” Grant is “coppertoned,” and his services as a professor are no longer needed. Eleanor, his “spy-eyed” wife, is still practicing law, though, mostly fighting on behalf of the oppressed; when the novel begins, she has just been released from prison. What's most remarkable about the worldbuilding here is that the sense of horror that suffuses so much dystopian fiction is absent. Grant’s tone is wryly matter-of-fact—perhaps because, as a dark-skinned person, he never took the freedoms and opportunities he once had for granted. And, really, the totalitarian country he describes is entirely believable. It’s not the product of a single cataclysmic event. It is, instead, the result of a million seemingly inconsequential actions, the cumulative effect of citizens giving away little pieces of their agency every time they choose convenience over autonomy. But life changes for Grant’s family when the government decides to resurrect the sport of baseball, because it happens that his daughter, Gwen, is a pitching prodigy who has spent her childhood honing her skills in an underground league. Baseball offers a way out and up for Gwen, but she’s not sure that what she would gain is more valuable than what she would have to leave behind. The juxtaposition of America’s pastime and the AI–enabled surveillance state Jen presents here is brilliant. Sports are a classic national obsession as well as an avenue to fame and success for the disenfranchised. In this sense, Gwen’s story feels familiar, and the ease with which the reader identifies with this narrative helps to make everything else about AutoAmerica seem eerily familiar, too. We recognize the world Jen creates because it is, finally, nearly identical to our own.

Beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65721-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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