A jarring book that thrives on its many contradictions.

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THE ANTHILL

After a 20-year absence, Lina returns to Medellín in search of the authenticity of her childhood. In a city busy rebuilding itself from the ruins of conflict, what she finds is nothing as simple as atonement.

For decades, Medellín, Colombia, had one of the highest murder rates in the world. Caught at the epicenter of the conflict between FARC guerilla forces, the government-backed paramilitary, and Pablo Escobar’s narco crime wave, the city was so dangerous that citizens were effectively under siege in their own homes and under active attack in the streets. Yet this is also the city Lina called home for the first eight years of her life, until her mother’s violent death, and the place to which she returns when she finds herself adrift at the end of her Ph.D. program in London. Lina seeks out her closest childhood friend, Mattías, with a vague plan of volunteering at the community center he runs in a desperately poor neighborhood. Lina struggles to reconcile her muddled memories of her friend Matty with the intense, edgy Mattías she now meets, but even as the pressure of the childhood secret she keeps begins to overwhelm her, strange occurrences at the Anthill start to mount. Is the sharp-toothed, gray-skinned boy the children see hanging around just another of Medellín’s forgotten street children, or is he something more sinister? Where does Mattías go during his long absences, and what happened to him in the years Lina was gone? Finally, in coming back to Colombia, is Lina doing a service to her city and to the memory of her past life, or is her very presence opening the wounds that have just begun to heal? Pachico’s (The Lucky Ones, 2017) second book continues to assert the young author’s mastery of her chosen landscape. The tension between the residents of Pachico’s vibrant and tormented Medellín and the mission groups, professional volunteers, and poverty tourists is palpable and gets to the heart of one of the area’s primary dilemmas—how to build on a past which cannot be spoken and yet will not be erased. The insertion of a supernatural element in the novel is distracting, however, and too overt a metaphor for the paradoxes more skillfully and subtly asserted by Pachico’s pitch-perfect rendering of Medellín’s many voices as they seek to reconcile their pasts with their futures.

A jarring book that thrives on its many contradictions.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54589-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

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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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