Read this book for the vivid imagery and sharp dialogue. Read it for the spot-on characterizations. But if you want to care...

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DON'T FORGET ME, BRO

A well-written tale of family dysfunction that’s sure to depress the reader from beginning to end.

Narrator Mark Barr doesn’t much like his family and hasn’t been back to Alma, West Virginia, for more than a decade. Then his oldest brother, Steve, dies of a heart attack at age 45. Mark returns to find his father as hateful as ever, his mother as weak and unpleasant, and his other brother, Greg, as disagreeable. The family plans no funeral, no memorial for Steve, who is said to have been mentally ill. So what to do about Steve’s remains: urn or grave? That is the plot. Steve had begged Mark, “Don’t forget me, bro,” and simply wanted to be buried next to Grandpa Roy. But Dad, who has contempt for his entire family, insists on cremation and on placing the ashes in an unmarked urn to remain inside the house. The issue becomes a battle of wills between Mark and Dad, with Mom and Greg largely on the sidelines. Vivid descriptions help set the mood and redeem the story: “Baloney-pink rugs spread across bulges in the tile.” “Steve—bloated, grungy, and depressed in life—would look his best dead, too.” Mark’s life away from “home” has been no prize, either. He and his girlfriend are not in love but seem too lazy to break up, even though he has struck her at least once. The fundamental problem with the book is that there is no one to sympathize with, barring Steve, who’s dead. Mark and his old man both need swift kicks in the butt, but Mom won’t do it. Greg has a lawnmower and a huge truck tire in his kitchen, though, so there’s that going for him.

Read this book for the vivid imagery and sharp dialogue. Read it for the spot-on characterizations. But if you want to care about an outcome, look for a different book.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62288-078-2

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Stephen F. Austin University Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

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A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile and a half-century of political and personal upheavals.

We meet Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938 as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican cause they support is doomed. When they reunite in France as penniless refugees, Roser has survived a harrowing flight across the Pyrenees while heavily pregnant and given birth to the son of Victor’s brother Guillem, killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Victor, evacuated with the wounded he was tending in a makeshift hospital, learns of a ship outfitted by poet Pablo Neruda to take exiles to a new life in Chile, but he and Roser must marry in order to gain a berth. Allende (In the Midst of Winter, 2017, etc.) expertly sets up this forced intimacy between two very different people: Resolute, realistic Roser never looks back and doggedly pursues a musical career in Chile while Victor, despite being fast-tracked into medical school by socialist politician Salvador Allende (a relative of the author's), remains melancholy and nostalgic for his homeland. Their platonic affection deepens into physical love and lasting commitment in an episodic narrative that reaches a catastrophic climax with the 1973 coup overthrowing Chile’s democratically elected government. For Victor and Roser, this is a painful reminder of their losses in Spain and the start of new suffering. The wealthy, conservative del Solar family provides a counterpoint to the idealistic Dalmaus; snobbish, right-wing patriarch Isidro and his hysterically religious wife, Laura, verge on caricature, but Allende paints more nuanced portraits of eldest son Felipe, who smooths the refugees’ early days in Chile, and daughter Ofelia, whose brief affair with Victor has lasting consequences. Allende tends to describe emotions and events rather than delve into them, and she paints the historical backdrop in very broad strokes, but she is an engaging storyteller. A touching close in 1994 brings one more surprise and unexpected hope for the future to 80-year-old Victor.

A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2015-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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