Boasting a fearlessly self-possessed child narrator, this is one of those books you stop what you're doing to finish, take a...

THE ASSEMBLER OF PARTS

In this astonishing first novel, 7-year-old, physically disabled Jess reviews her brief, tumultuous life from heaven via films provided by The Assembler, a supreme being who, for mysterious reasons, declined to give her thumbs, several bones, a whole heart and the gift of hearing.

For all her defects, hers is a miraculous childhood. With the loving support of her Catholic family, and following several surgeries, she is able to become a vital, expressive, delightful girl. But for all the care she receives from her mother, Kate, and father, Ford—and all of the doting of Joe Cassidy, Ford's bighearted post office co-worker, who was driven to drink by the loss of his wife and young son in an accident—she is darkly shadowed by fate. The events leading to her death are told with an exquisite attention to detail, emotional and physical. The subsequent narrative, which turns on a wrongful death suit filed by her parents against a cardiologist who failed to spot the vascular anomaly that caused Jess to stop breathing, unfolds with the tension of good detective fiction. Callously investigated for parental neglect, Ford and his pregnant wife are forced to attend parenting sessions along with child abusers and drug addicts who ridicule and assault them. They sign on with a personal injury firm in pursuit of justice, only to have the profit-minded lawyers violate Jess' memory by building a case that portrays her as helpless and pathetic. The Assembler, who has a sardonic streak, keeps Jess in the dark about where these posthumous events are leading, but she isn't afraid to call his number. The low-key conclusion is a bit of a letdown after all that has gone before, but Virginia-based author Wientzen, a pediatrician, imparts so much about the preciousness of life and the power of forgiveness that this is a minor shortcoming.

Boasting a fearlessly self-possessed child narrator, this is one of those books you stop what you're doing to finish, take a breath to ponder its profundities, and start again.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61145-891-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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