A vivid and moving novel about heritage, history, and the family bonds that transcend culture.

An absorbing portrait of life in contemporary Afghanistan that is simultaneously raucous and heart-rending, told from a perspective we rarely hear: that of a young émigré returning home to his war-torn country.

In his debut novel, Kochai tells the story of Marwand, a 12-year-old whose family has returned to their home province of Logar, just south of American-occupied Kabul, at the height of the war on terror. Marwand hasn't been to his ancestral home since he was 6; he's an American boy who barely knows life in Logar. Worse, the landscape feels like anything but home: American bases and checkpoints pockmark the land as the central government in Kabul tries to tamp down a raging insurgency, and Taliban fighters roam Logar with impunity. Holed up in his mother's family compound and looking for some comfort, Marwand tries to pet the family dog, Budabash—only to find the wolflike animal less agreeable than the dogs he's used to in America. Budabash bites off a bit of his finger and runs away. Convinced that Budabash is a demon in disguise, Marwand sets out with a band of cousins to track the dog down and bring him back home. But that plot is really just an excuse for an extravagant outpouring of storytelling: Marwand encounters an enormous cast of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, all of whom have stories to tell about their family and the bloody history of the land they call home. The result is a novel that reads like a thrilling collision of Huckleberry Finn, Boccacio's The Decameron, and One Thousand and One Nights. As it careens between tragic stories of Afghanistan's history of perpetual warfare and magical realist tales of djinn, the novel threatens to become unwieldy at times, but Marwand is the thread that holds it together. Endowed with a voice that is at once street-smart and innocent, the boy speaks a language that is distinctly Afghan but retains the marks of his life as an American preteen. When his little brother, Gwora, demands to follow Marwand and his cousins on their quest to find Budabash, Marwand beats him into submission: "After the whupping, I left him in the orchard all crumpled up," he boasts, "...while me and the rest of the fellahs headed out onto the roads of Logar to search all day long for the wolf-dog who, just a few weeks ago, had bitten the tip off my index finger." Marwand's is the voice of an American kid who speaks a bit of Pakhto and whose favorite word happens to be "Wallah!" When Marwand and his cousins hide on top of a roof of the compound to eavesdrop on a conversation or don burqas so they can sneak into a bride's wedding party in search of a cousin's betrothed, the book seems like the very echo of Huckleberry Finn. With beautiful prose that encompasses the brutality of life in Afghanistan without overshadowing the warmth of family, culture, and storytelling, Kochai delivers a gorgeous and kaleidoscopic portrait of a land we're used to seeing through a single, insufficient lens: the war on terror.

A vivid and moving novel about heritage, history, and the family bonds that transcend culture.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55919-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018


Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018


With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Eleven years ago, he broke her heart. But he doesn’t know why she never forgave him.

Toggling between past and present, two love stories unfold simultaneously. In the first, Macy Sorensen meets and falls in love with the boy next door, Elliot Petropoulos, in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Ultimately, they’re separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance—Elliot and Macy always kept their relationship casual because they went to different schools. And as a teen, Macy has more to worry about than which girl Elliot is taking to the prom. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. In the present day, Macy’s father is dead as well. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future.

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2801-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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