A visceral book that promises a major new literary voice.


In a Taiwanese immigrant family, secrets and myths are indistinguishably intertwined.

This debut novel is told from the alternating perspectives of three generations of women from the same family: Ama, the grandmother, who emigrated from Taiwan with her war-addled husband and two children, leaving three other daughters behind; Mother, who remembers both Taiwan and the Arkansas chicken farm where they arrived through the lens of poverty and struggle; and the daughter, born in this country, who serves as a link between her mother and grandmother which both would be more comfortable severing. From the beginning, the story is one of internalized violence. Agong, the family patriarch, was a soldier from the Chinese mainland, 20 years older than Ama when she married him at 18, already a widow and mother of three. In their second life in America, Agong has lost the thread of his memories and forgotten his name, the faces of his children, and the place where he buried the family gold—in spite of Ama’s best efforts to beat it out of him. Mother, in an attempt to escape Ama’s violence, has married another man from the Chinese mainland and struggles instead to shield her children from her husband’s abuse. Meanwhile, the daughter navigates both the demands of her American community to assimilate and the need of her immigrant family to preserve the cultural memories of a place she has never known. The magic of these origin myths is very much present in all their lives. When the daughter and her brother dig a series of holes in the rank soil of their backyard, the holes become mouths, open and hungry. When the daughter is beaten for this infraction by her mother—enacting a violence more typical of Ama—a tiger tail with its own vituperative will grows from one of the scabs. And when the daughter’s lover, Ben, a girl from Ningxia who could “spit a watermelon seed so far it skipped the sea and planted in another country,” gets the idea to feed the daughter's tail to one of the backyard holes, what emerges are letters from Ama that tell not only the secret at the root of her violence, but the secret at the root of all their entangled lives.

A visceral book that promises a major new literary voice.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13258-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 20

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2022

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

Did you like this book?