Roxanne Reeves, a restoration expert and director of the Clarksville Pilgrimage Tour of Antebellum Homes, is asked to...

CATFISH ALLEY

A well-intentioned debut of a woman finally rejecting the social and racial dictums of small-town Mississippi. 

Roxanne Reeves, a restoration expert and director of the Clarksville Pilgrimage Tour of Antebellum Homes, is asked to research the possibility of offering an African-American tour of her town (suggested by the group’s newest member, a Connecticut transplant who doesn’t understand the nuanced tension between the blacks and whites in Clarksville). Hesitantly, Roxanne contacts Grace Clark, an 89-year-old ex-schoolteacher to help her uncover Clarksville’s neglected history. Roxanne has no interest in the town’s black history; according to her “the War is over and the blacks got their rights, so why do we have to dwell on the past?” But she does want to impress Louisa Humboldt (who needs her mansion restored) and so Roxanne is willing to traipse around Clarksville with Grace as she is shown ramshackle testaments to the hardships faced by Mississippi blacks during segregation. Grace shows Roxanne the old schoolhouse for black children, now the lumberyard’s warehouse (whose owner, Del Tanner sadly discovers his father was in the KKK and involved in a lynching); the house of her best friend, Adelle Jackson, whose father was the town’s first black doctor; and the black-owned Queen City Hotel, where Louis Armstrong played. Grace’s youth is revisited through these tours, allowing Roxanne, who seems woefully uninformed regarding Jim Crow, to gain appreciation for the black community she and her social circle prefer to ignore. Along the way, Grace’s tragic story unfolds, centering on the tale of her brother Zero, his quest to become a doctor and the violent fate he met at the hands of Del Tanner’s father. Roxanne builds powerful bonds with the strong black women she encounters, which enables her to finally reveal the secret of her own less than glorious family origins.

Pub Date: April 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-451-23228-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: NAL Accent/Berkley

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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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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Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.

A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS

This Afghan-American author follows his debut (The Kite Runner, 2003) with a fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women.

Mariam is a bastard. Her mother was a housekeeper for a rich businessman in Herat, Afghanistan, until he impregnated and banished her. Mariam’s childhood ended abruptly when her mother hanged herself. Her father then married off the 15-year-old to Rasheed, a 40ish shoemaker in Kabul, hundreds of miles away. Rasheed is a deeply conventional man who insists that Mariam wear a burqa, though many women are going uncovered (it’s 1974). Mariam lives in fear of him, especially after numerous miscarriages. In 1987, the story switches to a neighbor, nine-year-old Laila, her playmate Tariq and her parents. It’s the eighth year of Soviet occupation—bad for the nation, but good for women, who are granted unprecedented freedoms. Kabul’s true suffering begins in 1992. The Soviets have gone, and rival warlords are tearing the city apart. Before he leaves for Pakistan, Tariq and Laila make love; soon after, her parents are killed by a rocket. The two storylines merge when Rasheed and Mariam shelter the solitary Laila. Rasheed has his own agenda; the 14-year-old will become his second wife, over Mariam’s objections, and give him an heir, but to his disgust Laila has a daughter, Aziza; in time, he’ll realize Tariq is the father. The heart of the novel is the gradual bonding between the girl-mother and the much older woman. Rasheed grows increasingly hostile, even frenzied, after an escape by the women is foiled. Relief comes when Laila gives birth to a boy, but it’s short-lived. The Taliban are in control; women must stay home; Rasheed loses his business; they have no food; Aziza is sent to an orphanage. The dramatic final section includes a murder and an execution. Despite all the pain and heartbreak, the novel is never depressing; Hosseini barrels through each grim development unflinchingly, seeking illumination.

Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.

Pub Date: May 22, 2007

ISBN: 1-59448-950-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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