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

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

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A moving story of what it means to fight for the right to live the life you choose.

THE GIRL WITH THE LOUDING VOICE

A Nigerian teenager determined to get an education escapes an arranged marriage in her village but finds that life in the city is dangerous, too.

Adunni, the 14-year-old protagonist of Daré’s moving first novel, longs to be educated and dreams of one day becoming a teacher. “I even been teaching the small boys and girls in the village ABC and 123 on market days,” she says. “I like the way their eyes be always so bright, their voices so sharp.” But in her village, girls are supposed to marry early, have babies, and take care of the men. With her supportive mother dead and a father who doesn’t believe daughters need schooling, she is forced into a brutal, unhappy marriage with a much older man who already has two wives. One wife befriends her and tries to ease Adunni’s loneliness and suffering. But when tragedy ensues, Adunni flees to the crowded city of Lagos in hopes of finding a better future. Instead, she ends up as an indentured servant in an abusive household, where her hopes for learning are further stifled. Daré, who grew up in Lagos and now lives in the U.K., paints a bleak and vivid portrait of the expectations and sexual dangers for rural Nigerian girls, who are exploited as workers and punished for having “a louding voice” (meaning they dare to want a say in their own future). Adunni’s dialect will be unfamiliar to some readers, but the rhythm of her language grows easier to follow the more you read, and her courage and determination to make her own way in life despite terrible setbacks are heartbreaking and inspiring. Daré provides a valuable reminder of all the young women around the world who are struggling to be heard and how important it is that we listen to them.

A moving story of what it means to fight for the right to live the life you choose.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4602-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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