Beah draws on both his life and imagination to depict children leading brave, provisional lives.

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LITTLE FAMILY

Five grifter children band together, holed up in an abandoned fuselage in Zimbabwe.

We meet Beah's protagonists as an unnamed narrator glimpses a boy in a Zimbabwean forest before the boy slips away. The child has heard an elaborate whistle and answered it, the all-clear of four adolescents and one small girl surviving by their wits. Elimane, Khoudiemata, Ndevui, Kpindi, and Namsa have come together to shelter in the remains of a crashed airplane covered with foliage. But these are no boxcar children—each day they fan out to scam and steal their daily portion with a zest that Dickens’ Fagin would admire. They sneer at government workers along the road: “The census meant nothing. It was just another ploy that let those in power pretend that something was being done.” It’s an ingenious setup from the author of A Long Way Gone (2007), a memoir of Beah's harrowing coming-of-age in Sierra Leone as a child soldier. That book created a sensation—though some questioned its accuracy, Beah stands by his story—and his fiction is clearly informed by both his experiences with trauma and as a Los Angeles–based married father of three. When his characters become entangled with a crime syndicate midbook, their deeds grow graver, and the children blot out their fear with ganja and alcohol: “They were upset about not only what they had taken part in, but what it stirred up for them as well.” As the rainy season resumes, their old plane leaks more each year. Khoudiemata, perhaps the cleverest in the little family, starts a beach flirtation with a clique of rich young elites, who declare she is “fresh, original, real, and mysteriously unusual in a great way.” The awkwardness of that phrase conveys the belabored writing that occasionally detracts from the story. Still, readers will be drawn to discover what befalls a group fending for itself amid conflict and crime.

Beah draws on both his life and imagination to depict children leading brave, provisional lives.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1177-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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

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SUCH A FUN AGE

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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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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