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FRIENDS AND STRANGERS

This perceptive novel about a complex friendship between two women resonates as broadly as it does deeply.

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A new mother with a successful career and her babysitter form an unlikely bond in a small college town.

Elisabeth, one of the protagonists of Sullivan’s latest novel, has just moved with her husband, Andrew, and baby, Gil, from brownstone Brooklyn to a remote college town 250 miles away—or as she tells her New York City friends, upstate, “but not, like, cool upstate.”A successful journalist and author, she misses her old friends and community—although she still compulsively devours the postings on her old neighborhood parent listserv—and hasn’t been able to compel herself to make new ones, secretly suspecting she won’t like the other women in her town. Eventually she finds a confidante and companion in Sam, a student at the nearby women’s college whom she hires as Gil’s babysitter. Unlike Elisabeth, who comes from a family as wealthy and privileged as it is dysfunctional, Sam, an aspiring artist with an older British boyfriend who may be a threat to her career ambitions, comes from a big, warm, middle-class family and is funding her college education through a scholarship, a cafeteria work-study job, student loans, and off-campus child care work. The inequity in the two women’s relationship and status is mostly lost on Elisabeth but not on Sam. But Sam, who finds common cause with Elisabeth’s father-in-law in fighting for the overlooked and economically disadvantaged, has her own blind spots in relation to the women she works alongside in her dorm cafeteria. When both Elisabeth and Sam meddle in other people’s lives with the best intentions, well, suffice it to say that things don’t go precisely as they had hoped. Sullivan, whose bestselling work includes Saints for All Occasions (2017), writes with empathy for her characters even as she reveals their flaws and shortcomings. And while the story she tells focuses primarily on two women from different backgrounds and at different stages of life, it also illuminates broader issues about money, privilege, and class; marriage, family, and friendship; and the dueling demands of career and domesticity with which many women struggle.

This perceptive novel about a complex friendship between two women resonates as broadly as it does deeply.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52059-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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