A cleverly written tale with a social conscience featuring themes of family, inclusiveness, racial divides, and the...

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A CALIFORNIA STORY

A young man contemplates West Coast life and his technology career in Silicon Valley while family and interpersonal tensions simmer. 

This novel by an author, essayist, travel photographer, and former computer engineer follows India-born Ved, a disillusioned, soft-skilled marketing manager. Ved works at the multinational computer networking behemoth Omnicon. At 36, considered “late middle age in Silicon Valley terms,” he has become restless and anxious to venture elsewhere. His three-year tenure with the tech firm is already stale. Mostly unattached throughout his 15 years in America, he begins dating Liz, whom he met on an online matchmaking site. She’s a spiritually conscious woman who is the polar opposite of Sasha, a 28-year-old Russian escort who satisfies Ved’s carnal needs until real romance can break through the monotony of singledom. More dates with Liz open up their personalities further and explore their differing opinions on contentious issues alongside an amusingly silly intimate moment involving a scene-stealing moth. Still, Ved’s own internal concerns over death, aging, and whether or not he will grow old alone make the narrative relatable. Meanwhile, he contemplates his future while reuniting with his graduation buddies from India who perceive his life to be more exciting and provocative than it really is, callously calling him “too much of a California liberal, with too many un-Indian tastes and manners.” After several chapters of interoffice melodrama that threaten to dampen the novel’s pace, Arora (The Lottery of Birth, 2017) ratchets up the intensity with a plot twist involving a visit from Ved’s parents. Obsessed with their son’s health and happiness, they share updates on the state of modern India and impart their wisdom and opinions on American culture, which contort and challenge Ved’s ever eroding resolve about remaining in the United States. A vicious hate crime assault happens while Ved and his parents venture out together. This strikes terror in their hearts, and his parents draw their own conclusions as Ved’s overall impression of his safety in California is called into question. Light on plot but engrossing nevertheless, the book keeps the momentum flowing as Ved tries to enjoy working for a sinking company he doesn’t particularly support or like while processing the abundant emotions linked to suffering an attack for being an Indian immigrant in America. Arora’s narrative is structurally sound and capably written, with a protagonist who is endearing. Ved will give pop fiction readers someone to cheer for as he navigates the precarious world of online dating, job dissatisfaction, and, perhaps most socially significant and politically relevant, the rampant discrimination and violent racism coursing through the streets of America. Indian culture is knowledgeably and effectively personified through Ved’s character as the story explores the nature of the immigrant journey in the United States: how it shapes lives and can make or break both personal and professional experiences.

A cleverly written tale with a social conscience featuring themes of family, inclusiveness, racial divides, and the theatrics of love.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950437-83-2

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Adelaide Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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

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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

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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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

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