A witty, formally thrilling family saga that feels about 100 pages too long.



A generation-spanning debut novel of unintended pregnancies and imperfect chosen families, winner of the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize, by a black Canadian writer.

In the late 1970s, two people meet in a Toronto hospital, where their dying mothers share the same room. That seems to be as far as their similarities extend: Edgar Gross is a wealthy, early-middle-aged white German man who works for his family’s company, while Felicia Shaw is a 19-year-old black high school student originally from a “small unrecognized island.” Felicia’s mother dies and Edgar’s is eventually discharged, but the two strike up a romance that is by turns affectionately teasing and rancorous. But soon Felicia finds out Edgar is married and then that she’s pregnant; Edgar tries to force her to have an abortion, and Felicia moves out. A decade and a half later, Felicia and her 15-year-old son, Army, live in part of a house shared by their landlord, Oliver, and his two children. In alternating sections, Williams (Personals, 2012, etc.) roves among the perspectives of the people living at 55 Newcourt— Felicia, drawn in yet again by Edgar, who’s facing allegations of sexual harassment at his company; Army, who lusts after Oliver’s 16-year-old daughter, Heather, and concocts various get-rich-quick schemes that rely mostly on his peers’ money; Oliver, who can’t stop thinking about his recent, acrimonious divorce; and Heather, who flirts with Army and a skinny shelf stocker at the local mall. But when Heather is raped and becomes pregnant, the residents of 55 Newcourt band together to take care of her. The novel contains a sly but sharp critique of power, in which women are forced to shoulder the failings, large and small, of white men—“[Edgar] stood in the doorway of the living room, calling for Felicia, whining the last syllable, waiting, as if he had forgotten how to take off his coat”—whose internal monologues are self-absorbed and un-self-consciously racist: “Her people killed each other as punctuation,” Edgar thinks of Felicia. But what pulls the reader along are Williams’ playful, brilliant formal innovations: song lyrics annotated from Heather’s point of view, a bravura section organized in the form of a numbered list that cycles through each character’s stream-of-consciousness and humanizes everyone involved. The last section, by contrast, drags as it attempts to tie together the novel’s themes into a neat yet unsatisfying bow.

A witty, formally thrilling family saga that feels about 100 pages too long.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-60945-575-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.


After facing tragedy and betrayal in New York, an aspiring fashion designer escapes to her idyllic Pacific coast hometown to raise her best friend’s two young children and finds inspiration, redemption, and love in the unexpected journey.

Caroline Shelby always dreamed of leaving tiny Oysterville, Washington, and becoming a couturier. After years of toil, she finally has a big break only to discover a famous designer has stolen her launch line. When she accuses him, he blackballs her, so she’s already struggling when her best friend, Angelique, a renowned model from Haiti whose work visa has expired, shows up on her doorstep with her two biracial children, running from an abusive partner she won’t identify. When Angelique dies of a drug overdose, Caroline takes custody of the kids and flees back to her hometown. She reconnects with her sprawling family and with Will and Sierra Jensen, who were once her best friends, though their relationships have grown more complicated since Will and Sierra married. Caroline feels guilty that she didn’t realize Angelique was abused and tries to make a difference when she discovers that people she knows in Oysterville are also victims of domestic violence. She creates a support group that becomes a welcome source of professional assistance when some designs she works on for the kids garner local interest that grows regional, then national. Meanwhile, restless Sierra pursues her own dreams, leading to Will and Caroline’s exploring some unresolved feelings. Wiggs’ latest is part revenge fantasy and part romantic fairy tale, and while some details feel too smooth—how fortunate that every person in the circle has some helpful occupation that benefits Caroline's business—Caroline has a challenging road, and she rises to it with compassion and resilience. Timelines alternating among the present and past, both recent and long ago, add tension and depth to a complex narrative that touches on the abuse of power toward women and the extra-high stakes when the women involved are undocumented. Finally, Wiggs writes about the children’s race and immigration status with a soft touch that feels natural and easygoing but that might seem unrealistic to some readers.

A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-242558-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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