An artfully crafted story about the connection between a boy and his dog and the deep bond between a son and his mother.

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THE WONDER OF LOST CAUSES

A disfigured rescue dog changes the lives of a single mother and her chronically ill son in this inspiring story.

Eleven-year-old Jasper Blunt volunteers at the animal shelter where his mother, Kate, works as a veterinarian. Jasper has cystic fibrosis, and he endures frequent hospital stays as well as marginalized social status at school. One day, Jasper shows up at the shelter as multiple workers wrestle a badly scarred dog who has just arrived. To everyone’s surprise, the dog calms instantly when Jasper appears. Jasper declares that the animal’s name is Whistler, and when Kate asks how he knows, Jasper responds, “Because he told me.” As Jasper insists that he can communicate wordlessly with this dog, Kate grows concerned that her son might be suffering from psychosis in addition to CF. Yet, as Jasper spends more time with Whistler, his health, social skills, and outlook on life all improve. Unfortunately, if Whistler is not adopted within two weeks of arrival, shelter policy mandates he be put down. Kate continually rejects Jasper’s pleas to keep the dog, primarily because their housing development forbids pets. Kate finally receives a call from a man who claims he’s been searching for Whistler for years. As Kate and Jasper journey from Massachusetts to New Mexico to bring Whistler home, both Jasper and his mother wonder if they can ever return to a life that doesn’t include this special animal. This animal-centric narrative gets off to a slow start, but it gradually rises to an exciting crescendo. The author builds suspense by doling out revelations about Whistler’s past and posing questions as to how this information should affect the dog’s future. Told alternately from the perspectives of Kate and Jasper, the story tugs at the heartstrings by exploring the effects of chronic disease on both the afflicted and their caregivers, touching especially on issues of guilt, grief, and depression. Readers must be willing to suspend a certain amount of disbelief as they get to know Whistler, but the ensuing ride through this engaging tale will be worth the effort.

An artfully crafted story about the connection between a boy and his dog and the deep bond between a son and his mother.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-274794-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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