Thorough research and stylish execution make for a striking tour de force.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020


A U.S. airman dies and finds himself in limbo after being shot down over Hiroshima in Harmon’s novel (The Paranormalist, 2019, etc.).

Bombardier Micah Lund’s B-29 is on a mission to drop propaganda leaflets over Hiroshima during the campaign against Japan in World War II. Having lost his brother to Japanese fire on Guadalcanal, Micah is set on revenge, openly declaring that “hate doesn’t begin to describe how I feel.” After taking flak, the plane goes down, and the crew attempt a difficult bail out. Kiyomi Oshiro, a young mother and war widow, sees an airman falling through the sky. Micah’s body lands near Kiyomi, and, to the disgust of the attending Japanese military police, she whispers a prayer for him. Micah learns he isn’t in heaven but limbo—a “black void”—when he awakes and discovers a group of soldiers laughing at his dead body. This only intensifies his hatred for the Japanese, yet he is strangely drawn to Kiyomi and follows her. He soon encounters others in limbo and learns that it is possible to communicate with the living. His first thought is to relay intelligence to U.S headquarters, but his unfamiliar emotions for Kiyomi create an opposing pull. Other than the devastating reality that the atomic bomb will be dropped, the reader is given little indication of how the plot will unfold. As Micah observes Japanese civilians, he begins to understand their suffering, as in this elegant description of Kiyomi bathing: “Dirt and grime fell off in black rivulets.…As she eased into the steaming water, he noticed the tautness of her skin, how her stomach concaved and her ribs lay exposed. She’s starving to death, he thought.” The novel becomes in part a thoughtful study of how human connection can challenge racist ideology. Harmon also displays a profound understanding of Japanese culture, drawing on folklore to illuminate what happens beyond the veil: “When a person dies, their soul exits the body in the shape of a bluish ball of light we call a Hitodama.” This is an extraordinarily imaginative and compelling exploration of love, death, race, and patriotism with countless unusual twists to keep the reader guessing.

Thorough research and stylish execution make for a striking tour de force.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-578-59150-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?