Next book

MARGARET AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING BODY

A fascinating concept that might have been a terrific novel.

Nancy Drew meets The Baby-Sitters Club meets Girl, Interrupted by way of Judith Butler.

This elaborately constructed novel begins with 16-year-old Margaret in her car, listening to Fiona Apple, obsessing about food, and sadly reminiscing about the club for junior detectives she led as a tween. Her one-time friends have long outgrown amateur sleuthing, but Margaret hasn’t found a new identity for herself since Girls Can Solve Anything disbanded. Margaret has become a mystery to herself. After this prelude, the narrative takes us back to a happier time, a time when the mysteries Margaret confronted were much easier to solve. “The Case of the Stolen Specimens” centers on the theft of rare butterflies from the local botanical garden. After beginning in a realist mode, Milks takes a hard left into science fiction. It turns out that the thief Girls Can Solve Anything has been hunting is using butterfly DNA to turn herself into a bug. The case that gives this book its title involves a client who wakes up to discover that she no longer has a body. When the novel shifts gears again, Margaret is in a residential treatment program for teens struggling with disordered eating. And, once again, a realist narrative opens up to the fantastic. The facility where Margaret is staying is haunted, and a ghost leads her and two other patients on a terrifying quest. The final portion of the text is, essentially, an essay explaining the novel. It’s here we learn that the protagonist we met as Margaret no longer identifies as a woman. What Milks presents here is thought-provoking, but the novel they’ve written never quite coheres as the project they describe. “What is the difference between the fantasy of anorexic body mastery and the magic of hormone-based transition? I don’t know,” Milks writes. It’s fine to not know, but it’s odd to append this very interesting question at the end of a novel where it might have been more thoroughly explored. There are a few moments in which we see Margaret struggle with her sexuality and question her gender, but those moments get trampled by distractions like a disembodied brain and a spectral suffragette. The ultimate problem is that the fantastical apparatus doesn’t help the reader understand the novel’s central character; instead, it pushes the reader further away from understanding.

A fascinating concept that might have been a terrific novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952177-80-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: July 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

Categories:
Next book

JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 50


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2022


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

Next book

DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 50


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    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

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

Close Quickview