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

HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS

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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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