Tugs at the heartstrings while bringing into focus a too often overlooked injustice in U.S. history.

READ REVIEW

GARDENS OF HOPE

In early 1940s Los Angeles, two men’s love for each other faces a further challenge when one is sent to a Japanese-American internment camp.

This historical novel opens in 1941, before the United States has entered World War II. For Jack Henry, life continues as normal—he works in his family’s jewelry shop, studies to become a teacher, and puts off his fiancee, Sally Jenkins, about setting a wedding date. In the dusky hours, Jack wanders the park in Pershing Square, a gathering place for gay men. But one evening he meets Hiro, a handsome nisei, or second-generation immigrant from Japan, whose humor and forthrightness stir in Jack far deeper feelings than the sexual thrills of his usual anonymous hookups. During one clandestine yet intimate date on Santa Monica beach, Jack feels more like himself with Hiro than he ever has. But their bliss is short-lived, as after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. enters the war and forces its Japanese-American citizens into internment camps. Jack turns his energies toward teaching at the Manzanar relocation camp, where he and his new love are reunited. But their relationship is now even more complicated, limited to silent glances under the watchful eyes of armed guards and 1 a.m. rendezvous in the pews of an unlocked church. Perronne’s (Men Can Do Romance, 2013, etc.) tale excels at capturing heartbreak both inside and outside of the camps. A scene of a Japanese woman choosing to break her family’s fine china rather than sell it before being taken away is as disturbing to witness as the dispirited suffering in the cold, dusty conditions of the desert prison. Considering the era, Jack and Hiro’s love is already star-crossed, and the impossibility added by the inhuman circumstances of the camps could easily have become crushing, but small moments of tenderness between the two mediate this hopelessness. The novel doesn’t lack self-awareness, with Jack probing his sudden empathy for Japanese-Americans and the prejudices they face as he wonders why it takes “us getting to know someone branded as other to view them with the humanity they deserved.”

Tugs at the heartstrings while bringing into focus a too often overlooked injustice in U.S. history.

Pub Date: Dec. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-370-43374-2

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Chances Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more