An intriguing idea for magical realism in Harlem delivers too little of either.

CAUL BABY

A first novel with fertility on its mind.

The book opens in 1998 with a dire prediction for the luckless and pregnant Laila, a brownstone-dwelling member of the Harlem bourgeoisie. Her dismal history near ordains it: “Some of the fetuses grew, saw the dents of their past siblings in her womb, and joined them in the ether.” Laila will end up having a book-length conversation with these spirits after she bloodily and publicly loses this pregnancy, then her mind. Her architect husband skulks away. Laila blames the Melancons, a notorious family of women up from Louisiana way. They refused to sell her a piece of caul, the amniotic membrane that encloses a gestating fetus. (Folk medicine links the caul to healing and protection.) The Melancons know how to fuse these membranes to their newborns’ bodies and cut away chunks as the child grows, always for a hefty price—mostly for White people. As the family line sputters, the Melancons luck into the clandestine adoption of a serene infant with a perfect, intact caul. The child's teenage mother, Amara, names her Hallow and hands her off to an intermediary, eyes instead on her path through Columbia and Yale. The twist arrives two decades later as Amara, now a Manhattan assistant district attorney, seeks to prosecute the reviled and grasping Melancons only to meet her doppelgänger, a grown Hallow. Cultural critic and essayist Jerkins, author of This Will Be My Undoing (2018), is drawn to questions of gender, family, identity, race, and belonging. The trouble lies in her leap to fiction. This novel sinks under the weight of clunky melodrama, a river of tears, an awkward bloom of adverbs, and a plot so far-fetched that interior logic collapses. Readers keen for the indelible links among Black generations would do better with Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's The Revisioners (2019) or any of Toni Morrison's novels.

An intriguing idea for magical realism in Harlem delivers too little of either.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-287308-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

SOOLEY

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball.

What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish moss–dripping milieus of the Deep South is anyone’s guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesn’t quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violence—Sooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of “the largest ethnic class in the country,” pitted against other ethnic groups—and mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its “tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people.” A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a “nonshooting guard.” Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grisham’s novel bounces between Sooley’s on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, “Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country,” though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end.

Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54768-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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The most comforting of comfort-food reading—with a few chills for fun.

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LEGACY

Roberts sticks to formula in this romantic thriller—which should please fans and newcomers alike.

The only daughter of a woman with a wildly successful fitness company, 7-year-old Adrian Rizzo is used to traveling with her mother for videos and photo shoots, the child star of the brand. But everything changes one night when a man breaks into their house, confronts her mother for destroying his marriage, and then dies in a fall down the stairs. Adrian spends the summer with her beloved grandparents, enjoying the idyllic pace of small-town life and making some strong connections. Several years later, teenage Adrian gains the confidence to start her own business with the help of some high school misfits who become her best friends. Fast-forward a few years: Adrian’s grandmother dies in an accident followed by the death of a friend's wife. Adrian decides to move in with her grandfather and to finally make a home. As frequently happens in Roberts’ novels, Adrian's friends all end up living nearby, and they create a loyal, loving network that sees them all through marriage, birth, loss, success, and the other touchstones of maturity. In the background lurks a threat, though: For years, Adrian has been receiving disturbing letters signed only "The Poet," and they begin to arrive more frequently. Adrian’s perfect, messy, successful life—and blossoming relationship—may be in danger from this psychopath, but her friends and family will be there to support and protect her to the happiest of endings. If you're a fan of Roberts’ thrillers, the structure of this novel will bring few surprises, but the familiarity is comforting. Roberts’ strength has always been her ability to create likable, complex characters, and this crew is even more appealing than most—they are never whiny in insecurity or snobbish in success; rather, they provide unwavering support for each other’s ups and downs.

The most comforting of comfort-food reading—with a few chills for fun.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2502-7293-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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