An honest and eye-opening, if sometimes overly didactic, account of what it takes to try and make a difference in the world.

READ REVIEW

ESSENTIAL MOVEMENT ONLY

In Zimmerman’s debut novel, two American women, a doctor and a lawyer, try to improve Afghan women’s lives even as they and their local allies find themselves in constant danger.

Cousins Catherine and Alyse have had a long-standing interest in social-justice issues dating back to their days volunteering at Berkeley, California, soup kitchens. Working together for over 20 years, they’ve developed a system for helping people in developing countries: Catherine provides training in midwifery and reproductive health, while Alyse encourages and educates women to build their legal competence. In 2003, they organize a dual medical and legal clinic for Afghan women, though Alyse has doubts about their effectiveness in a “culture that virtually squeezes the life out of females” and is still at war. This novel, spanning the years 2006 to 2013, describes the effort from various points of view, including those of each of the cousins; Nina, Catherine’s son David’s partner; and Rashina, a young Afghan woman who comes to work with them. Rashina’s story lies at the center, because her family becomes embroiled in a vindictive warlord’s power grab—one that eventually touches the Americans’ lives. The resulting danger and heartbreak raise questions about whether it’s possible, without excessive cost, for an outside country to make a dent in Afghanistan’s entrenched cultural, social, economic and religious problems. Zimmerman, who worked for the Peace Corps and in Afghanistan for six years, uses her firsthand knowledge to present an authentic, telling, detailed and well-rounded picture of these issues and tells of the hard-won rewards of battling against seemingly impossible odds. After reading this novel, it’s hard not to conclude that international development in countries like Afghanistan is futile, which can make this earnest, statistic-laden novel an even more difficult read. “The human brain can only take in so much…emotionally charged and depressing information,” warns Catherine, for good reason; that said, Rashina, and other young Afghan women like her, still holds out hope for a better future.

An honest and eye-opening, if sometimes overly didactic, account of what it takes to try and make a difference in the world.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 291

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more