A daring exploration of a touchy subject, but with less emotional force than its setting would suggest.

READ REVIEW

CHILDREN OF THE SUN

Two men come of age in different eras of Britain’s brash, violent and highly neurotic gay skinhead culture.

Schaefer’s debut novel is built on two alternating narrative threads. The first focuses on Tony, a teenager whose sexual awakening occurs at nearly the same time he becomes involved in England’s white-power movement of the '70s. The scene is defined by hypermasculine trappings—heavy boots, violence and aggressive punk rock—and though homosexuality within the tribe is an open secret, Tony has to be careful while negotiating it. The second thread, set in 2003, concerns James, a young writer researching the very movement that Tony was involved in. Alternating between the two time periods is a revealing conceit: It shows how time transformed skinhead culture from something that was brutally racist to a relatively benign sex fetish. Where Tony furtively negotiated hookups in bathroom stalls and participated in group melees with blacks and Asians, James spends time on personals sites online where men merely play-act as Nazis. Still, the role-playing has a virulent power of its own, and as James becomes more involved in his research, his friends have legitimate concerns that he’s gone native. The book is based on plenty of research—the text is interspersed with reproductions of fanzine articles, flyers for white-power bands like Skrewdriver and news stories, with a particular focus on the life of Nicky Crane, a neo-Nazi who had a complicated relationship with the movement before dying of AIDS in 1993. That historical verisimilitude is matched by Schaefer’s skill at showing how racists come to rationalize their hate. Too often, though, James’s dialogue lapses into history lessons about the white-power movement, and in the same way that James’s obsession overwhelms his friendships, secondary characters in the book—musicians, party leaders, boyfriends—rarely feel like more than tokens. By the novel’s end, Tony and James’s lives have moved in surprising ways, but the subplots and detail sap some of the climax’s dramatic power.

A daring exploration of a touchy subject, but with less emotional force than its setting would suggest.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-297-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more