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THE FEAR OF LARGE AND SMALL NATIONS

Beautifully textured writing in a compelling tale that ponders identity and belonging.

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A bisexual Armenian American writer in the midst of an identity crisis visits her homeland in this explorative novel.

“I’m about to journey to Armenia, to live for a year among people who I resemble,” writes Natalee, a feminist author based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, some of Na’s friends and family had journeyed to “the closest thing we had to a homeland” and returned remarking on the “emotional power” of the experience. In 2006, curious to do the same, Na boards a plane for Yerevan, wondering what the country will think of her. She is met with the troubles experienced by many travelers, such as not being able to figure out the code to call the United States. But she is disheartened to discover that she finds it difficult to assimilate to local life, struggles with the language, and begins to feel forlorn as an outsider. She is also aware that despite a new human rights bill protecting LGBTQ+ people, it is dangerous to be openly gay in Armenia. She discovers that “queer women were invisible.” Wrestling with loneliness, Na meets Seyran, a young, rebellious bisexual leader of a punk band, who shows her around Yerevan. They connect based on the fact that they appear to accept each other’s marginal identities, and Na agrees to marry Seyran so that he can avoid conscription. They return to New York City together, where Seyran’s attitude toward Na rapidly changes and she finds herself caught in an abusive relationship.

Written imaginatively as a series of fragmented narratives, journal entries, blog posts, and meta passages, Agabian’s novel describes Na’s journey from shifting perspectives. First-person accounts reveal Na’s intimate inner monologues as she wrestles with the importance of identity: “Part of the reason I’m here is to find what was lost in me. It’s upsetting to see that the West is already here…with its destructive, homogenizing effects of globalization.” Deeply thoughtful segments of meta-writing will stop readers in their tracks by boldly challenging preconceptions of identity and sexuality using penetrating questions: “How do you explain a gay man who loves his wife and has created a life around a family?” The narrative also comes with a provocative twist, as Seyran shifts from being the oppressed to the oppressor: “The assumption was that the immigrant was the one who was weak, dependent on others. The one vulnerable to beating and rape.” In a passage focusing on Na, the author eloquently and believably captures the thought processes of an abuse victim: “I’d already said no a couple of times, and he didn’t listen to me, he never stopped…chipping away at my resolve where he found my female indoctrination, my hesitancy to say no still ingrained at this late date.” Unfortunately, Agabian does not look often enough toward the Armenian landscape to describe it in great detail—but this matters little, as her attention is elsewhere. This is a courageously fragmented approach to storytelling that depicts a valiant search for self-understanding while challenging traditional gender roles, discrimination, and homophobia. Beautifully textured writing in a compelling tale that ponders identity and belonging.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9798985969238

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Nauset Press

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THIS SUMMER WILL BE DIFFERENT

A steamy, romantic summer read with a charming setting.

A florist attempts to avoid her best friend’s brother—and their powerful chemistry—on Prince Edward Island.

When Lucy Ashby visits her best friend Bridget’s family home on Prince Edward Island for the first time, Bridget gives her three rules: Eat your weight in oysters….Leave the city behind. And, most importantly, Don’t fall in love with my brother. Unfortunately for Lucy, she sleeps with Felix basically the second her plane lands, unaware that he’s Bridget’s brother until it’s too late. Lucy has never felt understood or accepted by her immediate family, and Bridget is one of the very few people she allows into her inner circle, so Lucy’s desperate to abide by these rules. And so she and Felix try to avoid each other on every one of Lucy’s visits to PEI over the years. And, of course, they fail spectacularly, always returning to each other when they’re in between relationships. But it’s never been anything serious…Lucy makes sure of that, backing off whenever her emotions feel too strong. In her “real life” back in Toronto, it’s easier for Lucy to avoid thinking of Felix as she runs a busy floral shop, working herself into the ground. But when Bridget asks Lucy to come to PEI for an emergency girls’ trip less than two weeks before Bridget is supposed to get married, Lucy drops everything to be there for her best friend. She doesn’t expect to find Felix there, along with feelings that are stronger and more difficult than ever to ignore. Even more than jeopardizing her relationship with Bridget, Lucy is afraid that giving in to her feelings could ruin the life she’s worked so hard to build. Fortune, the author of hits like Every Summer After (2022), gives readers another refreshingly summery story full of angst, romance, and sex scenes aplenty. The PEI setting is a beautiful backdrop for Lucy and Felix’s secret hookups and Lucy’s journey of self-discovery as she learns how to stand on her own two feet as a business owner, friend, and daughter. In addition to frequent (and welcome) Anne of Green Gables references, there are oysters galore and many sandy, windy scenes that transport readers straight to the island.

A steamy, romantic summer read with a charming setting.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780593638880

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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