In some ways timely, this quiet, delicate book delivers a truly timeless emotional punch.

WHERE WE COME FROM

A Mexican-American family in Texas finds their home turned into a way station for immigrants smuggled across the border.

Cásares (Amigoland, 2009, etc.) returns to his hometown of Brownsville for a potent novel about the complexities of immigration and the lies we tell ourselves and our families. Twelve-year-old Orly is from Houston, has light skin, and speaks passable Spanish even though he strongly prefers English and sometimes denies knowing Spanish at all. After his mother’s sudden death, Orly is sent by his dad to spend the summer with his aunt Nina in Brownsville. Unbeknownst to him, Nina has a small, pink casita in her backyard being used by coyotes moving human cargo north. Neither Nina nor Orly quite knows how they got into their situations. Orly’s brother is at camp, his father is in Napa with a new girlfriend, and his mother’s absence is a gaping hole so big he can’t see the other side. Just when Nina thinks she’s rid of the smugglers for good, a young boy named Daniel knocks on her back door in the middle of the night after narrowly escaping Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Nina puts him up in the casita and now has to hide her secret from Orly, her elderly mother, and her bossy brother. As Nina, Orly, and Daniel learn each other’s secrets, the reader is treated to a novel that addresses the complexity of immigration, identity, and assimilation while telling close, intimate stories. The novel is told in a roaming third person that turns each character, no matter how seemingly one-dimensional or minor, into a powerful presence. Each voice in this chorus has something urgent to say. Cásares devotes a page or so of italicized backstory to seemingly minor characters who would drift out of a different novel without a second glance: a raspas vendor, a coyote quickly arrested, a Brownsville police officer, Orly’s English teacher, and many more. Whether it’s the teacher about to be deported, a man who doesn’t concern himself with the fact that his own mother used to be undocumented, or the many people making the dangerous crossing who are beset by tragedy, these asides all reveal the sometimes-hidden yet always profound effects of immigration. Helping us learn the truth about who we are individually and as a society is the ultimate goal of this novel.

In some ways timely, this quiet, delicate book delivers a truly timeless emotional punch.

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65543-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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