A moving all-American family saga; fiction’s answer to Friday Night Lights.

HOME FIELD

After his wife’s suicide, a small-town high school football coach and his family navigate grief and forgiveness in Gersen’s emotionally nuanced debut.

In his corner of rural Maryland, Dean Renner is a local hero, a big fish in a small pond: he’s the high school football coach in a town where high school football makes you an icon. Father of three. Married to Willowboro’s hometown sweetheart, the beautiful, tragic Nicole. But when Nicole commits suicide—a shock to pretty much everyone outside of the immediate family (she was, Dean notes, “so easy to project happiness onto”)—Dean and his three kids are left to rebuild their lives while making sense of earth-shattering loss. At 8, Bryan, the youngest and the kindest, is becoming increasingly immersed in his Aunt Joelle’s fundamentalist church, much to Dean’s (mostly) unspoken dismay. Eleven-year-old Robbie, sensitive and sullen, has started sneaking out of school for illicit lunchtime walkabouts. And Stephanie—technically Dean’s stepdaughter—is supposed to be immersed in her new life as a freshman at Swarthmore, but her anger and grief keep pulling her back toward home. Meanwhile, Dean, struggling to keep his family functioning and afloat, finds himself face to face with his past and—slowly, painfully, sometimes joyfully—coming to terms with a future that’s nothing like the once he’d planned. A book that simmers rather than burns, its quiet power comes from its meticulous attention to the details of grief. That meticulousness sometimes verges on plodding—occasionally, the book does seem to drag—and it’s possible to wish the story felt just a touch less familiar. Still, Gersen’s characters are so full, so gently flawed, and so deeply human that it’s nearly impossible to resist falling into their world, with all its sorrow and all its subtle joy.

A moving all-American family saga; fiction’s answer to Friday Night Lights.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-241374-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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