An atypical and profound tale that readers won’t easily forget.

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THE MEASUREMENTS OF DECAY

Three people from different times and places set themselves on paths to save humanity in Edin’s unorthodox sci-fi debut.

Tikan Solstafir lives on a spaceship, the Equuleus, in the distant future. Most people aboard have a device implanted in their brain called a “procrustiis,” with which they can lose themselves in hallucinogenic visions called “metempsies.” Because he doesn’t metempsy, Tikan is one of the first to realize that the Equuleus has been invaded by strange beings that begin killing and mutilating people. Tikan, along with his pal Naim and pilot Mira, rush to activate the ship’s defense protocol. They later learn the invasion may relate to the procrustiis, which can be used as a weapon. The key to preventing tragedy may lie in the far-off Arcturus system. In 21st-century Paris (on Earth), an unnamed philosopher wants to somehow “fix humanity and the world,” but as he struggles to write his treatise, he damages his relationships with his lover, Sophia, and friend Pierre. His life ultimately spirals into vagrancy and criminality, but it doesn’t deter him from his goal—though how he’ll go about it is initially obscure. Sielle, meanwhile, is a girl with the ability to travel through time and space. While searching for “beauty in the world,” she moves from Moscow to the village of Mercia in the Middle Ages as well as to planets beyond Earth. When Tikan, the philosopher, and Sielle finally meet, humanity’s fate will be determined—for better or for much, much worse. Edin’s generally abstract tale brims with philosophical concepts. The bulk of them are understated and smoothly incorporated into the narrative. For example, the Equuleus passengers who constantly metempsy escape the real world so often that returning to it is disorienting: “Nothing in your life exists,” Tikan tells a metempsying Naim. At the same time, some of the more blatant philosophizing, as in the philosopher’s treatise in progress, has a tongue-in-cheek tone; a glimpse at his notes merely reveals a number of unfinished ideas and occasional, senseless scribblings. The novel repeatedly shifts its perspective among the three protagonists, with the philosopher’s first-person accounts, not surprisingly, involving more reflection than action. However, his lengthy tale covers a number of years and takes a truly shocking turn near the end. There are more conventional sci-fi moments as well, as when Tikan visits a seedy area to find a ship captain to smuggle him and others to a particular location—a setup that’s reminiscent of one in the classic 1977 film Star Wars. Edin’s prose gives visual elements a distinctive vibrancy (“Ever suspended above, the sun poured its blood over the planet”) and conceptual passages tangibility (“My senses were unlocking, the tumblers dropping, the gate to the world’s mysteries unlatching.”). Some initially murky plot details, such as how the protagonists link up, become clearer as the narrative continues, with many answers revealed in the enlightening—and outstanding—conclusion.

An atypical and profound tale that readers won’t easily forget.

Pub Date: March 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73206-223-8

Page Count: 588

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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