Wu presents an alluring story that hits all the right emotional buttons and maintains readers’ empathy from the first page...

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THE THIRD SON

Wu’s debut convincingly depicts a third-born son’s struggle to overcome his feelings of worthlessness and insecurity as he journeys from Taiwan to America in pursuit of freedom and accomplishment.

Saburo’s father is a prominent businessman and politician, and the family reaps the benefits of his position in Japanese-occupied Taiwan. Eight-year-old Saburo realizes that, as the third son, he'll never attain an exalted position within the family; in fact, he’s the family’s scapegoat. Each day when he returns home, he’s beaten, berated and accused of causing his younger brother’s death, and although the young boy inwardly questions why he’s the object of so much hatred, he accepts his treatment. In the midst of a World War II air raid, Saburo saves a girl’s life. He’s immediately smitten by Yoshiko’s beauty and frequently dreams of her, but many years pass before they meet again. The intervening years harbor a new era in Taiwan: Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists are the ruling force in the country, and those who oppose their policies face death. Meanwhile, Saburo has suffered further misfortune and abuses. He’s denied the educational opportunities his other brothers are given and must work to educate himself; he’s bitten by a venomous snake; and he almost dies of malnutrition when his mother denies him a fair portion of the family's rations. When Saburo and Yoshiko cross paths again, she's not only more beautiful than he remembers, but she’s also the object of his oldest brother Kazuo's desire. Saburo’s Uncle Toru, a guiding influence in his life, encourages his nephew to pursue his dreams, and Saburo finally takes his advice to heart. His persistence wins Yoshiko over (although it increases Kazuo's hatred toward him) and provides Saburo with the impetus to work toward his educational goals. Against all odds, he becomes the student from his county to receive a coveted invitation to study in the United States. Although he must leave Yoshiko and his infant son behind, Saburo makes the journey and faces new challenges—including his loved ones' illnesses, the threatening presence of Chinese agents who monitor his moves, racism, and decisions about his personal and professional future. Each obstacle serves to strengthen Saburo's resolve to become a financially independent and emotionally strong husband, father and person.

Wu presents an alluring story that hits all the right emotional buttons and maintains readers’ empathy from the first page to the last.

Pub Date: April 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61620-079-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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