As thought-provoking a domestic novel as we have seen this year.

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

A big, brave, messy modern family struggles with the challenges of raising a transgender child.

“This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make it happen. If…you make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake.” Claude Walsh-Adams is all of 3 years old when he announces what he wants to be when he grows up—a girl. It’s a particularly tricky case of “be careful what you wish for” for his doctor mom and novelist dad, already the parents of four boys when they roll the reproductive dice one last time. At home, barrettes and dresses are fine, but once he starts kindergarten as a boy, Claude becomes so miserable that, with the advice of a “multi-degree-social-working-therapist-magician,” his parents decide to let him become Poppy. “So, gender dysphoria,” says the bizarrely bouncy therapist. “Congratulations to you both! Mazel tov! How exciting!” The excitement takes a nasty turn when horrifying homophobic incidents convince Rosie that the family must leave Madison, Wisconsin, for the reputedly more enlightened Seattle, Washington. But rather than putting Seattle’s tolerance to the test, they keep Poppy’s identity a secret from even her closest friends, a decision that blows up in their faces when she hits puberty. Though well-plotted, well-researched, and unflaggingly interesting, the novel is cloying at times, with arch formulations, preachy pronouncements, and a running metafictional fairy tale. It’s worth putting up with the occasional too-much-ism for all the rest of what bright, brave author Frankel (Goodbye for Now, 2012) has to offer as the mother of a transgender second-grader in real life.

As thought-provoking a domestic novel as we have seen this year.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08855-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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