An eloquent tale about real-life people with difficult problems.

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KALAYLA

A Massachusetts landlady befriends a tenant’s feisty daughter as they both unravel painful family secrets in this debut novel.

At the age of 72, Lena Barzetti has settled into a comfortable routine in 1999 as the longtime co-owner of a property company in Cambridge. She still goes into the office a few times a week, searches for vacant buildings to buy, and doesn’t get mixed up in other people’s business. A wild young girl arrives on the scene in the form of Kalayla Leeroyce, a biracial, green-eyed spitfire with an outrageously smart mouth. Lena discovers the girl lives with her mother, Maureen, in the same apartment building as she does, right across the hall. Knowing Maureen doesn’t have much money or free time, Lena tries to help Kalayla, including giving her a book with a black girl on the cover. Kalayla is hardly impressed and ruefully notes: “Tomorrow she’d probably be bringing me a book about a white girl ’cause my mama was white.” But she warms up to Lena and her home cooking and suggestions about activities. Kalayla’s father is dead and Maureen has told her that her own family, the O’Rourkes, died in a gas leak. As that story slowly falls apart, Kalayla has to confront painful realities about interracial marriages and their effects in the present day. Similarly, Lena has dealt with loss for decades, including two sons killed in Vietnam and one who disappeared after moving “out West.” Her abusive husband, Joey, is dead, but the bad memories persist, and she longs to find her missing son. Lena, Kalayla, and Maureen live in an old school, rough-and-tumble world, but there is also kindness, which they cling to as they confront the pasts they’ve tried to bury. Nicholas’ carefully layered novel excels at creating lifelike families with complicated, even sordid histories that touch on complex social problems. Marriages can be for business relationships; violence is a fact of life; and people can die young. The way that the author weaves in the memories with the present-day story is skillfully done and lends a good deal of authenticity to the characters. But the book can be slow going at times, and the middle section tends to drag. A more concise writing style would have strengthened the vivid journey toward the fully realized conclusion.

An eloquent tale about real-life people with difficult problems.

Pub Date: June 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-49075-5

Page Count: 293

Publisher: Nurturing Light

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2019

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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