Ahmed swings for the fences in this luminously intelligent, culturally magisterial debut.

RADIANT FUGITIVES

A Muslim Indian family, splintered by forces from within and without, attempts to reconnect over one fateful week in San Francisco.

"Oh, Grandmother, you’re not asleep yet. The voices from the kitchen are no lullaby. Your daughters are fighting, and you blame yourself. There must have been something you could have done, before the rifts widened to such chasms." Ahmed's complex, ambitious debut is narrated by a fetus who—like his literary cousin in Ian McEwan's Nutshell—has narrative art to spare. Having just emerged from his mother's lifeless body in the delivery room, he unfolds a tragedy of classic proportions, fluently incorporating the poetry of Wordsworth, Keats, and the Quran and including masterful descriptions of the skies of San Francisco, of Muslim ritual, of LGBTQ+ protests, of Indian cooking and theater, of the volunteer organizations of then–District Attorney Kamala Harris and presidential candidates Howard Dean and Barack Obama. The story unfolds in a confusing manner, with some intent to mislead, but is essentially this: Seema, estranged from her family in India and uprooted to the U.S. when she came out as queer decades ago, briefly married Bill, a Black man. After their rancorous breakup, one instance of farewell sex led to the conception of Ishraaq (the name his mother chooses after learning he's a boy). As Ishraaq's due date draws near, Seema's mother, Nafeesa, comes from Chennai, though she is dying of cancer. Younger sister Tahera, a devout Muslim in hijab and jilbab, a mother of two and an OB/GYN, also arrives from her home in Irvine, Texas—though she is poisonously jealous of her sister and disgusted by her gay friends. Every difficulty and heartbreak takes its place alongside many others in this painful story shaped by both Islamophobia and homophobia.

Ahmed swings for the fences in this luminously intelligent, culturally magisterial debut.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64009-404-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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