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NEW WAVES

A blistering sendup of startup culture and a sprawling, ambitious, tender debut.

Startup culture and science fiction collide in this debut novel about love, loss, and coming-of-age.

Lucas and Margo are best friends, or something like it. The two cynical 20-somethings brave the oppressive Whiteness of startup culture together, downing beers at the bar around the corner from their office and commiserating about their clueless, immoral bosses. "Being black means you're merely a body—a fragile body," confesses Margo, a talented engineer with a penchant for SF, over drinks. "If there was a machine that could do it, I'd change places with you right now, Lucas….I would be an Asian man and I would move through the world unnoticed and nobody would bother me." In retaliation for being pushed out of their company, Margo decides to steal user data and convinces cautious Lucas to help. But when she is suddenly struck and killed by a car, Lucas is left to navigate their theft—and the emotional roller coaster of working in big tech as a minority—on his own. Nguyen, a former digital deputy editor for GQ and a veteran of Google and Amazon, has a keen eye for satire. He illuminates how "lean" startup companies led by young White men with little management experience manufacture crises only to dodge responsibilities to their users and staff. "I started Phantom with lofty principles, and I haven't given up on them," says one CEO without irony. "But we'll never achieve those ideals...if we run out of money first." Running alongside the dystopian horrors of Nguyen's workplace satire are the warmth and humor, sadness and vulnerability of Lucas' and Margo's voices. Using text messages, voicemails, message board posts, and short story snippets, Nguyen's novel spirals inward to capture the hang-ups, cultural obsessions, and fuzzy ambitions of his characters. "I'd hoped leaving behind all my material possessions would mean leaving behind all the things I'd become: a cruel friend, a workplace creep, an alcoholic," Lucas muses from his new, nomadic life in Tokyo. "Or maybe I was all those things to begin with." At last confronted with his own poor romantic and workplace behavior, Lucas must decide how he will honor his friend's memory and whether he will work to become a better person in the hazy promise—or possible tragedy—of the future.

A blistering sendup of startup culture and a sprawling, ambitious, tender debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984855-23-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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