An imaginative, engrossing work of speculative fiction, like an Edward Snowden rewrite of The Hunger Games.

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THE BURNING OF CHERRY HILL

Kids battle totalitarian sadists in this searing sci-fi novel.

In the year 2159, roughly a century after World War III, young teenager Zay Scot and his little sister, Lina, are living an idyllic life of chores and gin rummy on Block Island. Then stormtroopers invade, burn the place, apparently kill their parents, Tavish and Ava, and haul the kids off to the mainland capital of the United North American Alliance. Like any dystopia, UNAA is a mixed bag. There are floating cars, helpful hover-bots that deliver personalized meals, awesome virtual-reality combat games at the skyscraper game center, and implanted scanners by which the government tracks everything citizens do, buy and email—for the citizens’ safety and convenience, of course. But there’s a downside: Dickensian foster homes; strict curfews; constant spying by yet more robots and cameras; the ever-present threat of electroshock-lashings from black-uniformed goons and their psychotic supervisors; and the experimental drugs they secretly sprinkle into those ready-to-eat robo-meals. Zay’s refusal to log in to the all-seeing computer system plunges him into hot water, and with the help of a dissident underground, he and Lina set out to find the truth about their parents and a giant gulag known as Cherry Hill. Butler’s yarn unfolds in punchy but evocative prose that’s full of well-realized characters. Although the political economy of this imperfect future doesn’t make a wholly reasonable amount of sense, the portrayal of its mechanisms of control is chillingly effective. Characters languish in an oppressive sense of helplessness under a state so domineering that citizens can’t share a bite of food without the government’s permission; in the background is an unspoken but ubiquitous brutality that emerges with gruesome realism in the electroshock scenes, which are both convincing and hard to read with their mixture of workaday jocularity and devilish cruelty. Steeped in teen martyrdom and paranoia about the total surveillance society, the narrative depends too much on plot contrivances, and the violence, profanity and sexual menace are a bit heavy for YA fare. The story wraps up rather patly, but the fictive world is sure to pull readers in.

An imaginative, engrossing work of speculative fiction, like an Edward Snowden rewrite of The Hunger Games.

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0988500419

Page Count: 334

Publisher: Flexion House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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