As this novel powerfully illustrates, the terminology has changed but gender discrimination persists.


An early-20th-century Texas refuge for wayward girls inspires a troubled librarian a century later in Kibler’s second novel (Calling Me Home, 2013).

In 2017, Cate moves to Arlington, Texas, mostly, the reader gathers, to escape her past. Employed by the University of Texas as an assistant librarian, Cate becomes obsessed with the musty records of the Berachah Industrial Home, a church-run shelter for women and girls then known as fallen, erring, or wayward—abused women, some pregnant out of wedlock, often forced into prostitution. Cate also visits Berachah’s only remaining vestige, its cemetery. Interspersed with Cate’s story are scenes from early-1900s Berachah, where Mattie, an unwed mother, and Lizzie, who was raped by her stepbrother and deserted by husband and family, relate their experiences in close third-person narration. Mattie’s ailing son dies as she arrives at the home, and her one attempt at prostitution has left her pregnant. Taken in by Berachah along with her young daughter, Lizzie goes through heroin withdrawal. The momentum of the first half of the book is sluggish. Cate’s first-person narrative ranges between the present and 1998 during her senior year in high school. The only daughter of fundamentalist Christians, she is deeply enmeshed in her church community. Much space is devoted to a deceptively anodyne account of falling in love with new classmate River while being asked to the prom by the church golden boy, Seth. In the second half of the book, conflicts finally emerge. For the Berachah girls, it’s Mattie’s bid for independence in Oklahoma City and Lizzie’s ill-advised decision to return home to her mother. A major development in Cate’s teenage life is withheld until later in the book, and readers may question how Cate, as the narrator, could censor her thoughts as to such a crucial revelation. Readers may also question the relevance of the parallel narratives until compelling ironies emerge. Not least of these is the role of fundamentalist Christianity: as rescuer in Berachah’s time, as oppressor in Cate’s.

As this novel powerfully illustrates, the terminology has changed but gender discrimination persists.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-49933-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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