Funny, fresh, and not afraid to draw blood, this is an unusual gem of a book.

READ REVIEW

RED BIRDS

A satire of American military power that skirts didacticism while skewering our nation's misadventures in the Middle East.

Hanif (Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, 2012, etc.) sets us down in an unidentified Middle Eastern country, where a darkly cynical American fighter pilot named Ellie has been sent on a possibly unethical bombing run by a mysterious institution called Central Command. Ellie—whose military training combined deadly firepower with cultural sensitivity lessons like "Eat and Drink with the Enemy"—bows to pressure from Col. Slatter to flatten a compound he insists is "a real bad place full of bad bad people. You can smell the evil from the skies." Ellie crash-lands on his way to the compound, though, and finds himself wandering the desert, desperate to survive. That bad, bad compound turns out to be a refugee camp for victims of the American war. Momo, a wisecracking teenager with delusional schemes of capitalist grandeur and a world-weary suspicion of everything around him, lives there with his grieving mother, feckless father, and brother, Ali. Momo is given to dark proclamations on the world's moral state. "How're you gonna keep your integrity in a place where thievery is not only accepted but also expected?" he asks early in the book. He tromps around the camp wearing an "I Heart NY" cap and drives a Jeep through the desert. By the time the novel opens, Ali, who was an informant giving bombing targets to the Americans, has gone to work at a nearby American military facility known simply as the Hangar—and never returns. Ever since he's disappeared, American bombings have ceased. Momo is determined to figure out what's behind Ali's disappearance, and when Ellie arrives at the camp at the same time as an American aid worker and academic nicknamed Lady Flowerbody, the boy hatches a plan to retrieve his brother. Amid all this, supernatural occurrences are happening in the desert beyond the compound. Momo's journey to get his brother back will take him into the heart of the American presence in his country—and that presence is not at all what he expects. Narrated in the first-person from multiple perspectives—Ellie's, Momo's, and even that of Momo's dog, Mutt—Hanif's novel maneuvers between compelling, hilarious voices with the fast pace of a slapstick comedy, albeit a comedy with teeth. In a surreal flourish, the book climaxes with a final act that is a little too frantic for its own good. Thankfully, by the time the ending arrives, we've gotten to spend quality time with Hanif's indelible characters.

Funny, fresh, and not afraid to draw blood, this is an unusual gem of a book.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4728-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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