by Marisel Vera ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2020
Vera’s breakout novel is a sweeping, emotional tale that puts her characters, and her readers, through an emotional wringer.
A sprawling family epic that stretches from the mountains of Puerto Rico to Hawaii and across decades of love, famine, and war.
Valentina Sánchez comes from a middle-class, urban family in late-19th-century Puerto Rico. Her family has modest dreams, but Valentina luxuriates in her fantasies of marrying a handsome man and seeing Paris. When the dashing Vicente Vega, son of a very wealthy (or so Valentina assumes) coffee farmer, sweeps her off her feet at a cousin’s wedding, Valentina is determined to go against her family’s wishes and marry for love. However, Valentina’s marriage to Vicente never takes flight. Between fending off the advances of her lecherous father-in-law and dealing with the starkly unromantic realities of being married to a coffee farmer who’s actually quite poor, happiness eludes Valentina. As the novel creeps into the 20th century, Valentina’s suffering increases alongside Puerto Rico’s. Caught in the crossfire of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rican farmers experience Spanish tax hikes, drought, American devaluation of the peso, and finally American occupation. Hurricane San Ciriaco kills thousands and washes away not just farms, but Puerto Rico’s dreams of self-rule. Eventually, Vicente and Valentina are lured by false promises to Hawaii, another U.S. territory described as paradise but rife with violence and exploitation. Vera tells a grand story using innovative techniques. The chapters tend to be short and are frequently interspersed with letters, detours into the past, and theatrical monologues. The Vega and Sánchez families are made up of vivid, fully realized characters, and Vera has a knack for writing dialogue that is full of personality. Her descriptions of Puerto Rico’s natural beauty are impressive: “[Vicente and Valentina] meant only to look up at the stars from the veranda, but the scent of orchids lured them into the garden and soon they were enveloped by coconut palms. Las damas de noches opened their white petals for the moon, and the moon mistook the silver embroidery on Valentina’s dress for stars.” Where the novel runs ashore is in grappling with historical events. Vega chronicles the exploitation of Puerto Rico by the Spanish and then the Americans, and the reader will emerge with a deep sense of Puerto Rican history and suffering that has been lost to most Americans, but at times the author's devotion to historical details and anecdotes pushes the beautifully wrought characters aside.Vera’s breakout novel is a sweeping, emotional tale that puts her characters, and her readers, through an emotional wringer.
Pub Date: June 16, 2020
Page Count: 384
Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020
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by Kristin Hannah ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 6, 2024
A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.
A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.
When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.
Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024
Page Count: 480
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023
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More About This Book
BOOK TO SCREEN
by Barbara Kingsolver ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 18, 2022
An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2022
New York Times Bestseller
Pulitzer Prize Winner
Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.
It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022
Page Count: 560
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022
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