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A KIND OF FREEDOM

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

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 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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