BLOCK SEVENTEEN

A 21st-century ghost story offers chills in this uneven but promising debut.

A young woman is haunted by frightening phenomena in a debut novel about the lingering impact of WWII Japanese internment camps in the U.S.

Akiko, the book’s first-person narrator, has long been uncomfortable with her Japanese heritage on her mother’s side, changing her name to Jane as a girl and choosing not to speak Japanese with family. Now in her 30s, engaged to Shiro, Jane is adrift, unemployed, and worried that her mother, Sumi, seems to have disappeared again as she did in Jane’s teens. Jane can’t seem to connect with her in real life, although Sumi has a robust existence on social media. Meanwhile, Shiro, who works for the Transportation Security Administration at the Oakland airport, is so enraged by the racism and sexual harassment he sees on his job that he's secretly making and posting videos about it. As Jane frets about both of them, she is having disturbing dreams, or perhaps hallucinations, or maybe they are memories, but not all her own. She tells her story to a “you” whose identity is only gradually revealed. In brief third-person chapters, we learn about Sumi’s past: As a young child, she was interned with her family during World War II in camps in California and Arkansas, where a secret tragedy occurred. As Sumi drifts into cyberspace and Shiro sinks into paranoia, Jane’s sanity grows ever more tenuous, and the novel suffers from an overload of unreliable narrators. The prose is uneven, sometimes striking in its bizarre images, other times clunky in its exposition. But the surreal story and its linkage of past and present remain compelling even if the dark power they generate is undercut by an oddly cheery ending.

A 21st-century ghost story offers chills in this uneven but promising debut.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982-678-40-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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