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CROSS-STITCH

A somber book about the formative, irreplicable experiences shared between friends and the agony and bewilderment of loss.

Writer and mother Mila, one of a trio of middle-school classmates who became close friends, reflects on their once-interwoven lives after a member of the trio dies unexpectedly.

As the book opens, Mila hears her cell phone buzz. It’s Citlali’s aunt, writing to tell Mila that Citlali has drowned in the sea in Senegal and her ashes will be brought back to Mexico. Dalia, too, has been informed. Mila, Dalia, and Citlali first met as preteens in Mexico City and stayed friends even as their personal and professional paths diverged: Dalia moved to Spain; Citlali settled in Brazil but moved around while working for an environmental NGO; Mila remained in Mexico. Stricken with shock and grief at the news, Mila agrees to help organize a sort of memorial service—she calls it a “leave-taking ceremony”—for Citlali. More information about the trio is revealed as Mila contemplates their individual and communal bonds, tracing the history of their friendship from its inception in junior high to the present. Two defining events soon emerge: an adult literacy campaign for which Mila, Dalia, and Citlali volunteered around the beginning of high school, and a trip to Europe to visit Citlali about six months after Mila and Dalia started college. Hindered by a low score on the entrance exam for her chosen academic track, Citlali had instead elected to take a job picking grapes in France, one in a series of offbeat decisions. Her private struggles are seen through Mila's eyes, referenced but never belabored; this limited context for her death feels true to life rather than unsatisfying. Translated from the Spanish by MacSweeney, the novel evokes the awkward process of growing up, chronicling adolescence and the transition into adulthood vividly and frankly. While their personalities and interests vary—differences that cause more than a few tiffs—the women share the love for embroidery implied by the title. Passages about embroidery and other forms of stitching divide sections of the novel, though any symbolic link to the events of the plot is not obvious.

A somber book about the formative, irreplicable experiences shared between friends and the agony and bewilderment of loss.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781949641530

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Two Lines Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023

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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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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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