This book is weakened by lack of a driving narrative and details that would bring the main character into clearer focus.

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SHE

A 15-year-old girl runs away from an abusive home to find refuge and new worlds among the varied populations of Los Angeles.

The first pages of this hybrid novel/story collection by Latiolais (Widow, 2011) tell us immediately where we are: in the realm of poetic, gestural, and not always informative writing. The first paragraph relates that the unnamed narrator was home-schooled and “learning to add had been learning to collect any denomination of coin or bill until she'd had enough to buy this one bus ticket”—which suggests a fairly hardscrabble life and not very good home schooling. But on the next page, in a tallying of the resources she has to survive, the narrator thinks of the “addition and subtraction, fractions and the rudimentary algebra she had loved.” So home schooling had been more rigorous than was first suggested, and her math skills go beyond figuring out the price of a bus ticket. Small discrepancies like these keep us from feeling we really understand the girl's background, though other details are well-chosen, such as her love of sugar and her plump figure. There is something appealing about this courageous young girl who escapes a brutal father, but her path is unrealistically smooth, and we don't get to see her coping with adversity. That she is a naif with old-fashioned diction is believable, since she was raised by conservative Christians, but the number of people she meets who take an interest in her is not. From the first man she gets a ride from to a kindly gallery owner to an even kindlier old man, the girl is taken care of in a way that doesn't seem believable for teen runaways today. Undercutting the persuasiveness of this narrative still further are the stories that punctuate it—a strange choice for a book, making it neither novel nor story collection—because the characters in the stories seem more alive than the shadowy “she.” By the end, Latiolais has sketched a broad tapestry of LA characters, which was presumably the point of the book, but it asks a lot of the reader to stay with the shifts in narrators and even genres in this slim volume.

This book is weakened by lack of a driving narrative and details that would bring the main character into clearer focus.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-28505-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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