A well-crafted—and altogether timely—first novel.

A KIND OF FREEDOM

A multigenerational exploration of systemic racism in America.

Evelyn is 22 and studying to be a nurse. Her family is well-known in New Orleans’ 7th Ward. Her mother is a beautiful Creole woman. Her father’s distinctly African features are offset by the fact that he’s a doctor. It’s 1944, and Evelyn, her family, and her peers are unabashed in their colorism. Evelyn and her sister, Ruby, assess men and other women by the lightness of their skin and the natural straightness of their hair. Among other Negroes—the preferred term in this time and place—Evelyn’s appearance and relative wealth shield her from some of the harsh realities of the Jim Crow South. But what privilege she enjoys becomes an impediment when she falls in love with a man with no money and no family. Over the course of the novel, Sexton follows Evelyn, her daughter, Jackie, and her grandson, T.C., as they negotiate the realities of race and class in the United States. Jackie loses her husband—and her solidly middle-class life—to the crack epidemic of the 1980s. T.C. starts dealing weed after the world he knows is destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Some of the dilemmas these characters face would have been—and will be—recognizable to many African-Americans. For example, Evelyn’s beau (and, eventually, her husband) doesn’t want to risk his life fighting for a country in which he is not a full citizen. And, even though Jackie knows the devastating impact of crack firsthand, she also recognizes that the war on drugs has a disproportionate impact on black people. Some of the nuances are particular to New Orleans—which has a distinct and complicated history with regard to race—but Sexton’s choice of this unique setting is effective, too. There aren’t many places in the country where three generations can take an African-American family from life in an established, upper-middle-class enclave to a hand-to-mouth existence in public housing. Sexton's debut novel shows us that hard work does not guarantee success and that progress doesn’t always move in a straight line.

A well-crafted—and altogether timely—first novel.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-922-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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