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

READ REVIEW

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more