Striking style, memorable characters, and a believably miraculous premise add up to a beautifully crafted first novel.

SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS

By turns lyrical and gritty, a moving family story focuses on the aftermath of miracles.

From its opening pages, this debut novel juxtaposes the realities of life for a working-class Hawaiian family and the mysticism of the Native culture that shapes them, with surprising results. Augie and Malia and their children—sons Dean and Nainoa and daughter Kaui—find their lives forever changed when, during a boat tour, little Noa falls overboard and is rescued by sharks, unharmed, as witnessed by a boatload of passengers. It’s an echo of old legends that is reinforced a few years later when the boy heals an accident victim’s injuries (although his mother offers an origin story that suggests he was marked by the old gods from conception). Noa’s gift is a source of both wonder and cold hard cash, not to mention a baffling burden for a kid. In chapters narrated in turn by each member of the family, the siblings grow up, Dean and Kaui always feeling they are in their brother’s shadow, all of them balancing on the edge of poverty. Dean is a talented athlete, Noa and Kaui top students, and Augie and Malia manage to send all three to the mainland for college. But with the family fractured, all of them struggle, and only some find redemption. Washburn’s prose is lush and inventive; a native of Hawai’i, he portrays the islands and their people with insight and love. He skillfully creates distinct voices for each of his narrators: resentful Dean, wisecracking Kaui, happy-go-lucky Augie, and Malia the true believer: “The kingdom of Hawai’i had long been broken—the hot rain forests and breathing green reefs crushed under the haole commerce of beach resorts, skyscrapers—and that was when the land had begun calling. I know this now because of you.” That ”you” is Noa, sweet and bighearted and wrecked by his unasked-for powers. Their stories go in unexpected directions, from hilarious to heartbreaking.

Striking style, memorable characters, and a believably miraculous premise add up to a beautifully crafted first novel.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-27208-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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