Breezy and enjoyable despite some southern-fried clichés.

THE BAD BEHAVIOR OF BELLE CANTRELL

Young widow tosses caution—and bloomers—to the wind in 1920s Louisiana.

After losing her husband Claude the very day he returns from WWI, “flower of southern womanhood” Belle Cantrell bobs her hair in a symbolic gesture of emancipation that transforms her life, and shocks her small town of Gentry. Her narrow-minded neighbors should not be so surprised, since Belle is a remarkably forward-thinking former child bride who named her daughter after pioneering suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and who pays her loyal black employee Luther a “white man’s wage.” With Claude gone, Belle struggles with the guilty belief she may have “killed” her husband, who died in a saloon fight ostensibly defending her honor. (Seems there were some photographs of her being arrested in New Orleans on an “indecency” charge for swimming while wearing a too-revealing wool swimming costume.) Her grief is considerably eased when she takes up with Rafe Berlin, the shell-shocked vet brother of her best friend Rachel, who just happens to be Jewish. And a Yankee. And married. As if that were not enough, Belle tangles with Cajun scoundrel Beauregard “Bourrée” LeBlanc, a sinfully attractive young man she hires to help her run the thriving farm Claude partially left to her. Belle’s ill-advised dalliance with Bourrée—whose idea of a wholesome family outing is to take Belle, her daughter and mother-in-law to a Ku Klux Klan picnic—sets in motion a rip-roaring chain of events. Soon, Belle is called upon to save Rafe and his family after the spurned Bourrée convinces his white-sheeted “brothers” to go after the only Jews in Gentry. In this often funny prequel to The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc (2001), former screenwriter Despres demonstrates a fine ear for witty dialogue, even if the moronic Klansmen and assorted bigots Belle squares off against make easy targets.

Breezy and enjoyable despite some southern-fried clichés.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-051524-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more