Part folk tale, part reportage, this moving portrait achieves a dark poetry.

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A GIRL MADE OF DUST

War-ravaged Lebanon, seen through the eyes of a brave, wise child.

Debut novelist Abi-Ezzi, who moved to London in 1983, gives readers the outlines of her homeland’s major conflicts, but she focuses on the intimate wars inside the narrator’s tiny clan. The book concerns eight-year-old Ruba and her family. Maronite Christians, they seek safety for her older brother, already drawn to guns, and for Papi (father), paralyzed by a mysterious trauma. He returned to their village one day from Beirut as a zombie, closed his shop and retreated; now he rarely speaks except to rage at the Palestinians. At Ruba’s birthday party, he frightens her girlfriends and barks at Mami (mother). Even his successful, ever-upbeat brother, who drives a Mercedes so beautiful it makes Mami cry, can’t rouse him, but circumstances and his daughter do. As Israeli troops mount an offensive, Ruba calls upon Papi’s dormant courage and, ultimately, frees him. At the end, “no longer a cactus standing motionless in a pot full of dry cracked earth,” he has reclaimed his life, his dignity and his family’s respect. In order to enact this emancipation, however, Ruba first must exhume the secrets of Papi’s painful past. In lean, lyrical prose, the author juxtaposes scenes of everyday pleasure (eating sugared almonds, hunting snails) with surrealist horrors (playing in a forest, Ruba comes upon a glass eyeball) to depict coming of age in the line of fire.

Part folk tale, part reportage, this moving portrait achieves a dark poetry.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1895-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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