A gripping novel to read alongside the work of contemporary Latinx writers.

THE NEW AMERICAN

Emilio, a "dreamer" and U.C. Berkeley student who has been deported to Guatemala, a country foreign to him, tries to return to the Bay Area home where he was raised.

Emilio’s mother, in Northern California, wants her son to stay put with a relative in rural Guatemala while an immigration attorney in the United States works on his case. But Emilio is young, bright, and afraid—that his life will pass him by waiting for the U.S. to get its immigration-policy act together and that he’ll never see his mother, two sisters, and girlfriend again. He embarks on the perilous journey back to California secretly, hoping he can make most of the trip before having to call his mother for help. Along the way, he befriends four Hondurans—Mathilde, Jonatan, Pedro, and William—and together they cross into Mexico, ride atop The Beast, the infamous freight train that travels north, and traverse the Sonoran Desert to cross the U.S.’s southern border. Marcom has crafted a harrowing, heartbreaking story. Emilio and his friends experience extreme violence and terror as well as deep wells of courage, resilience, and hope. The author explores the many ways people preserve their dignity in circumstances in which others with more power would reduce them to animals. While people do monstrous things, no one here is all monster. For every cartel henchman who abuses the migrants, there is a volunteer who offers them food, water, clothing, shelter, or words of comfort. Marcom’s plotting and pacing are well honed, and her prose is often revelatory, but a romance between Emilio and Mathilde feels jarring in its insistence on their inexhaustible nobility. Likewise, stories from other migrants riding the train, though well-told, feel like reportage conspicuously dropped into the story. The author's effort to “humanize” Emilio the Dreamer and the other Central American migrants raises questions about whom this novel is for and what it’s assuming about whose voices will be heard on migration.

A gripping novel to read alongside the work of contemporary Latinx writers.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2072-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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