A mesmerizing odyssey through the beauty, suffering, and rage that flow from the irrepressible desire to live.

PRINCESS BARI

Fleeing famine and the misfortune of her family, a young woman embarks on a perilous quest to survive in South Korean novelist Hwang’s (Familiar Things, 2018, etc.) latest.

The youngest in a family of seven daughters in 1980s North Korea, Bari’s arrival into the world brings great disappointment. Named after an old Korean myth—wherein an abandoned princess searches the globe for an elixir that will bring peace to the dead—Bari is abandoned at birth but later found and brought home by her family’s dog. To the delight of Bari's grandmother, the girl has inherited their ancestors’ gift of sight, an ability she surreptitiously helps Bari nurture. When famine sweeps North Korea in the 1990s, news arrives that Bari’s uncle has defected to the south, bringing with it harrowing realities that infect and dismantle their home. The family fractures, and Bari, her grandmother, sister Hyun, and dog, Chilsung (with whom Bari speaks telepathically), are smuggled across the border to China. Alas, no sooner do they find safety than Hyun, Grandmother, and Chilsung die within months of each other. Despondent and alone, 13-year-old Bari ends up in Yanji, working as an apprentice at a foot massage parlor. It’s there that she discovers her unique ability to map strangers’ lives through touching them. After an unpaid debt upends the business, Bari lands in the bottom of a cramped cargo ship on its way to England. In the ship’s darkness, she dissociates, slipping into “layers of the otherworld,” each sensation “like soft fabric tearing each time I shed my body.” This transient place that Hwang expertly builds conjures the disorientation brought by tragedy. In its unnerving darkness we wonder, as Bari falls further away from her body, if she might never make it back to the surface. In London, Bari’s consciousness elasticizes, making room for her permeable worlds to coexist. As her body takes root in a new place, Bari finds love and even happiness, and eventually finds work as a healer, helping others mine their sorrows. Still, with growth comes deep pain, and Hwang uses Bari’s isolation and quiet agony to depict the psychic trauma that settles into the lives of those who are displaced.

A mesmerizing odyssey through the beauty, suffering, and rage that flow from the irrepressible desire to live.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947534-54-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribe

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Touching, hilarious, and deeply satisfying.

WE RIDE UPON STICKS

Almost 300 years after the town of Danvers, Massachusetts, hosted the infamous 1692 witch trials, a new coven rises to power.

The 1989 Danvers High School girls’ field hockey team (go Falcons!) is sick and tired of losing. Frustrated after yet another loss at a summer training camp, goalie Mel Boucher takes matters into her own hands by signing a “dark pledge” in a spiral notebook with a picture of Emilio Estevez printed on the cover: “Years later [Mel] would try and explain why she did it by saying that sometimes the Lord is busy and He needs us to be self starters, show a little moxie.” Emilio, whom right halfback Heather Houston calls an “alternative god,” shows his gratitude by improving the team’s performance in their next game, and one by one the rest of the players sign their names in the book, each of them given a cut-off slice of an old sock (in Falcon blue) to tie on their arm as a symbol of their pledge. When the official season starts and the Falcons start winning games, the girls feel Emilio pushing them toward their more devilish impulses. As they cause increasing mayhem around Danvers, the team can feel Emilio demanding more from them, and they worry they won’t be able to keep the magic going long enough to win the state championship. Barry (She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, 2014, etc.) is deeply witty, writing the narrator as a sort of omniscient group-think, the team speaking as one wry voice. Barry spends time with each of the team members and examines their struggles with the gender norms of the late 1980s as well as with race, identity, family, and friendship. Three of the characters are women of color who have complex relationships to being surrounded mostly by White people; a few of the girls discover budding nuance in their sexuality; and they all start to wonder if witchcraft is really about taking up space in a world that wants to keep you small. As Emilio pushes them further down the path of darkness, readers will cheer them on because what they’re really doing is learning to be fully and authentically themselves.

Touching, hilarious, and deeply satisfying.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4809-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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There are few surprises, but it’s still satisfying to travel with these characters toward their more-than-well-earned happy...

THE BOOK OF LIFE

From the All Souls Trilogy series , Vol. 3

The witch Diana’s and the vampire Matthew’s quests to discover their origins and confront the threats to their star-crossed union tie up as neatly as one of Diana’s magical weaver’s knots.

In the resolution of the All Souls trilogy, Diana’s impossible pregnancy with Matthew’s twins advances as various forces seek the couple’s separation, their destruction or both, mainly due to the covenant against liaisons across supernatural species lines. While Matthew searches for genetic answers to how he and Diana could be cross-fertile and what that will mean for their children, Diana seeks magical revelations from the missing Ashmole 782 manuscript, the fabled Book of Life. Figures from their pasts also resurface, injecting additional danger and urgency into their search. The novel lacks the sweep of the previous book (Shadow of Night, 2012), which offered a vivid immersion into the daily life and court intrigue of late 16th-century London and Prague. But, as in the previous two installments, there are healthy doses of action, colorful magic, angst-y romance and emotional epiphany, plus mansion-hopping across the globe, historical tidbits and name-dropping of famous artworks and manuscripts.

There are few surprises, but it’s still satisfying to travel with these characters toward their more-than-well-earned happy ending.

Pub Date: July 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-02559-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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