After she sets up a world in which racism thoroughly defines every aspect of character and plot, Picoult's conclusion occurs...

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SMALL GREAT THINGS

In Picoult’s (Leaving Time, 2014, etc.) latest novel, Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse, struggles to survive claims of murdering a patient while keeping her own family intact.

Picoult has made a name for herself crafting novels of depth and insight, peopled with rich characters and relationships. Here, she explores the intersection of racial bias, medicine, and the law. African-American Ruth Jefferson has been a labor and delivery nurse for more than 20 years, and she's the kind of professional every patient dreams of: she genuinely cares for her patients and takes joy in seeking out ways she can help them—whether it be a back rub or an epidural. But Ruth is completely thrown when a newborn baby’s parents, both white supremacists, demand that she be removed from their care team because they don't want a black person touching their child. In a moment of deliberate plot maneuvering, Ruth is left as the sole nurse on the child’s floor, and the baby goes into cardiac arrest and dies. Ruth, accused of hesitating before performing CPR, is charged with murder. There's no question that Picoult is a talented writer. The plot is suspenseful, the structure and pacing exquisite. But there is also no question that writing a story from the perspective of a black woman requires more racial consciousness than she displays here. At times the plot feels more like an intellectual exercise to understand racism than an organic exploration of a real person's life. The voice is that of a nonblack person discovering all at once that racism exists rather than that of a black person who has lived with racism her whole life. Picoult has drawn upon every black stereotype available: here is the black single mother, the angry black woman, the mammy, the maid, the teenage "thug," the exceptional token, and the grandstanding preacher. Alternating among the points of view of Ruth; the white supremacist father, Turk Bauer; and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy McQuarrie, Picoult is at her best when she lets the novel solidify into Kennedy’s narrative, the tale of a white woman who thinks she's more liberal than she actually is. It's Kennedy's journey of coming to terms with her own racist relatives and white privilege, as she realizes, for the first time, the pervasiveness of American racism, that is the real story here—and the novel would have been stronger if it had been written from this perspective throughout.

After she sets up a world in which racism thoroughly defines every aspect of character and plot, Picoult's conclusion occurs in a separate fairy-tale world where racism suddenly does not exist, resulting in a rather juvenile portrayal of racial politics in America.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-345-54495-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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