A captivating story of a strong African American woman who pursues her dreams.

CHILD BRIDE

In 1950s Louisiana, an African American teenager must leave childhood and her ambitions behind when she marries an older man in this coming-of-age novel about the black diaspora, resilience, and courage.

Until the age of 16, Nell Jones’ home is a ramshackle house on “one of many small hog and pecan farms owned and worked by the descendants of sharecroppers and former slaves.” There, her mother teaches her how to cook, her father shows her how to use a pocket knife to peel an apple in one long spiral strip, and her oldest brother, Robert, tells her how to find the North Star in the night sky. Most of all, Nell loves school, where Miss Parker, a teacher, nurtures her naturally inquisitive nature and her passion for reading. Cocooned in the love of her family and her small community, Nell knows little of the outside world, but she later realizes, “for black southerners racism lived in the air we breathed.” Nell is still an innocent teen when Henry Bight comes to claim her as his bride and take her north to Boston. There, her dreams of becoming a teacher quickly evaporate in the face of Henry’s possessiveness and insistence that she have as many babies as possible. A few years later, Nell is the mother of three young children, a lonely and unfulfilled woman tied to an angry and controlling man. But she does possess an inner strength and stubbornness that will not allow her to simply abandon her dreams. Turner’s warm and personal narrative brings to life the vigor and interdependence of black communities in both the South and the North of the mid-20th century. Nell is an appealing, penetrating, and spirited protagonist whose struggles are relatable to all readers, but much of the power of her story lies in the fact that it is grounded in African American society. White characters make an occasional appearance, but the tale is centered on the black experience. It is disappointing that Nell’s eventual fate seems to rely heavily on the trappings of class privilege, but the book as a whole is uplifting and dynamic.

A captivating story of a strong African American woman who pursues her dreams.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68463-038-7

Page Count: 209

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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