This whole novel comes across like a brash, in-your-face sales pitch leavened with punchy, go-for-broke mother-wit.

BLACK BUCK

A first novel satirically lays out the wretched excesses of turn-of-the-21st-century capitalism as it both enriches and disfigures a bright young Black man’s coming-of-age.

Darren Vender is a 22-year-old product of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood who graduated first in his class at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science but passed on college and is quite happy with his life as a barista at a ground-floor Starbucks on Park Avenue. His life changes on the morning he decides to flash some impromptu genius to a charismatic suit named Rhett Daniels by convincing him to buy a different drink from the one he ordered. “Did you just try to reverse close me?” a flabbergasted Daniels asks before offering Darren a job with a startup sales company called Sumwun located several stories above the coffee shop. Reluctantly, Darren agrees and soon finds himself sharing a lofty, turbulent office suite with several tightly wound Type A White strivers obsessed with closing deals, pleasing Rhett, and rising higher within the company. Because Darren is the first and only African American employee, he has to endure being told by Rhett and other Whites how much he resembles Martin Luther King Jr., Morgan Freeman, Dave Chappelle, and other Black notables who resemble each other hardly at all. He emerges from rigorous, emotionally bruising indoctrination to become a high-octane fast-tracker among Sumwun’s army of sales tyros—and that’s when the money and fame start flowing into Darren’s life along with several layers of trouble, much of it coming when Darren struggles to accommodate his newfound prosperity to the life, along with the family and friends, he’s left behind in Brooklyn. As Darren himself puts it at one point, “The turns in this story are half-absurd, half jaw-dropping, and a whole heaping of crazy.” And, one might add, borderline corny and secondhand in narrative tactics, too. Still, even with its drolly deployed nuggets of sales tips directed at the reader throughout the narrative, the book's biggest selling point is the writing: witty, jazzily discursive, and rhythmically propulsive.

This whole novel comes across like a brash, in-your-face sales pitch leavened with punchy, go-for-broke mother-wit.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-38088-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

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WE BEGIN AT THE END

A police chief who never grew up and a girl who never had a childhood try to solve the murder of someone they love.

A tiny, picturesque town on the California coast is an emotional prison for the characters of this impressive, often lyrical thriller. Its two main characters are a cop with an improbable naïveté and a child too old for her years. Walk (short for Walker, his last name) is chief of the two-person police department in Cape Haven and a native son. He’s kind and conscientious and haunted by a crime that occurred when he was a teenager, the death of a girl named Sissy Radley, whose body Walk discovered. Duchess Radley is that child’s niece, the daughter of Star Radley, the town’s doomed beauty. Most men lust after Star, including several of her neighbors and perhaps a sinister real estate developer named Dickie Darke. But Star is a substance abuser in a downward spiral, and her fatherless kids, Duchess and her younger brother, Robin, get, at best, Star’s benign neglect. Walk, who’s known Star since they were kids, is the family’s protector. As the book begins, all of them are coming to terms with the return to town of Vincent King. He’s Walk’s former best friend, Star’s former boyfriend, and he’s served a 30-year prison term for the death of Sissy (and that of a man he killed in prison). Someone will end up dead, and the murder mystery structures the book. But its core is Duchess, a rage-filled girl who is her brother’s tender, devoted caretaker, a beauty like her mother, and a fist-swinging fighter who introduces herself as “the outlaw Duchess Day Radley.” Whitaker crafts an absorbing plot around crimes in the present and secrets long buried, springing surprises to the very end.

A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-75966-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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