Strong, well-developed portraits of veterans' experiences and relationships are undermined by a lurid, unrealistic ending.

THE HEART YOU CARRY HOME

On the road with PTSD: vets on bikes travel to the heart of darkness to heal their wounds.

Miller (The Year of the Gadfly, 2012, etc.) starts her novel with a tease: a letter to someone named Willy from someone named CO Proudfoot that includes the unexplained line: "I wish you hadn't ruined our friendship with all that. But you did, so here I am." This epistolary thread is one of several plotlines in this complicated novel about damaged veterans and the people who love them. The series of letters reveals bit by bit a horrific event in Vietnam that affected several of the characters, foremost a man named King Keller. Known in his hometown "as the Landmine due to his unpredictable outbursts," King is the father of 21-year-old Becca, recently married to Ben, himself an Iraq vet and also the son of a Vietnam vet. Ben's storyline details the experiences in Iraq that have turned a gentle young man into a drunken wife-beater. After Ben attacks her, Becca runs to her dad's house and ends up joining him and a posse of vets on a cross-country motorcycle trip to a desert compound in Utah. There, the author of the letters, CO Proudfoot himself, is running a cult, offering vets like King a form of healing "as powerful and terrible—and perhaps as unthinkable—as his trauma." Searching for both his runaway wife and for his lost sense of self, Ben is on his way to the compound as well. So is Becca's mother, Jeanine, who gave up on King years ago and joined a Christian group called the Hands of God Church. Once everybody meets up, the story takes a dizzying turn into Game of Thrones territory, as a violent contest involving heavy hallucinogens in a heated hogan is held to determine who will take the place of the CO when he steps down.

Strong, well-developed portraits of veterans' experiences and relationships are undermined by a lurid, unrealistic ending.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-30055-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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