A satisfying, entertaining read from an admired writer who deserves to be a household name.

THE ALMOST SISTERS

Jackson (The Opposite of Everyone, 2016, etc.) has written another spirited page-turner set in a new South still haunted by the ghosts of the old.

Leia, single at 38, writes popular graphic novels but is gun-shy with men. Following a boozy one-night stand at a comic-book convention, she has “fetched up pregnant” with a biracial child. Then she hears that her beloved 90-year-old grandma Birchie has slipped into dementia and is acting out: at church, Birchie has loudly, and lewdly, revealed what she knows about the new pastor’s relationship with a (married) parishioner. Leia decides to take charge, driving from her home in Norfolk, Virginia, to the small town in Alabama where Birchie lives with her lifelong friend Wattie, a black woman whose mother was her family’s housekeeper. Complications ensue—not least of which is the discovery of a trunk filled with the bones of someone who has met a violent end. There’s a whiff of Southern Gothic here and plenty of sex, lies, and family secrets. (The author’s fans will also recognize some elements from earlier novels). But Jackson is bighearted and, in the end, optimistic. She writes vivid, funny characters, and her voice is distinctive and authentic. She can also toss off amusing pop-culture references that make this narrative sound very au courant: Leia’s stepsister’s divorce “would be so perfectly done it would make Gwyenth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling look like a bar brawl.” Jackson doesn’t do trite. Even when Leia ruminates on race, the author frames things in a fresh way: “There was no such thing as mixed-race in…America....The whole country had called a mixed-race man our ‘first black president.’ ” Perhaps the novel overreaches—the ending is a bit sober for what comes before—but it’s not a major flaw.

A satisfying, entertaining read from an admired writer who deserves to be a household name.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-210571-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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