Although the regime’s free fall is vividly brought to life, the two principals are more archetypal than real. Still, a...



A grim follow-up to Alexander’s other novels about the twilight of the Romanovs (Rasputin’s Daughter, 2006, etc.).

In this reverent account of the life of Grand Duchess Elisavyeta (known as Ella), her point of view alternates with that of Pavel, a peasant turned Red turned Gulag detainee, whose path crossed Ella’s at crucial points in her doomed existence. A German granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Ella marries Sergei, the uncle of Tsar Nikolai II. Ella’s sister Alexandra weds the Tsar. Grand Duke Sergei, a homosexual, rebuffs his wife’s affections—the childless couple adopts Sergei’s niece and nephew. “Alicky and Nicky,” Tsar and Tsaritsa, are mostly offstage, although Nicky’s loosening grip on his realm is all too apparent. In 1905, a large contingent of peasants and clerics marches peaceably on the Palace to beg the Tsar for economic relief. Soldiers fire into the unarmed crowd, killing hundreds, including Pavel’s pregnant wife. In despair, Pavel joins the revolutionaries. An attempt on Sergei’s life is thwarted by Pavel’s reluctance to kill Ella and the children. But an assassin’s bomb eventually catches Sergei alone. Ella forswears her opulent life to found a religious order. She establishes a convent hospital in Moscow to serve the poor. Pavel secretly trails her, marveling at her selflessness and daring as she ventures into Moscow’s seamier slums. Just as conditions for the underclass are improving—Nicky’s ministers have instituted reforms while wiping out thousands of communists—along comes World War I. During the February 1917 uprising, Ella’s convent narrowly escapes destruction, but she rejects all offers of asylum and continues to aid the war-wounded, sick and hungry. After the October 1917 revolution, Ella’s arrest is inevitable. Pavel follows Ella to Siberia as her guard, and they exchange their life stories, but death is on the horizon.

Although the regime’s free fall is vividly brought to life, the two principals are more archetypal than real. Still, a moving testament to a saintly woman’s sad end.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01881-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A gut-wrenching debut.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


The #MeToo movement forces a struggling young woman to confront the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past.

At 15, Vanessa Wye falls for her English teacher at Browick, a private boarding school. Jacob Strane is 42, "big, broad, and so tall that his shoulders hunch as though his body wants to apologize for taking up so much space." Strane woos Vanessa with Nabokov's novels, Plath's poetry, and furtive caresses in his back office. "I think we're very similar, Nessa," Strane tells her during a one-on-one conference. "I can tell from the way you write that you're a dark romantic like me." Soon, Vanessa is reveling in her newfound power of attraction, pursuing sleepovers at Strane's house, and conducting what she feels is a secret affair right under the noses of the administration. More than 15 years later, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Taylor Birch, another young woman from Browick, publicly accuses Strane of sexual abuse. When a young journalist reaches out to Vanessa to corroborate Taylor's story, Vanessa's world begins to unravel. "Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it," Vanessa tells herself. Russell weaves Vanessa's memories of high school together with the social media–saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Russell's debut is a rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse, and her novel asks readers both to take Vanessa's assertions of agency at face value and to determine the real, psychological harm perpetrated against her by an abusive adult. What emerges is a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. "The excuses we make for them are outrageous," Vanessa concludes about abusive men, "but they're nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves."

A gut-wrenching debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294150-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled...


A riveting, potentially redemptive story of modern American suburbia that reads almost like an ancient Greek tragedy.

When the Whitmans, a nouveau riche white family, move into a sprawling, newly built house next door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor of forestry and ecology, and her musically gifted, biracial 18-year-old son, Xavier, in a modest, diverse North Carolina neighborhood of cozy ranch houses on wooded lots, it is clear from the outset things will not end well. The neighborhood itself, which serves as the novel’s narrator and chorus, tells us so. The story begins on “a Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them,” we are informed in the book’s opening paragraph. “Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who’s to blame.” The exact nature of the tragedy that has been foretold and questions of blame come into focus gradually as a series of events is set inexorably in motion when the Whitmans’ cloistered 17-year-old daughter, Juniper, encounters Xavier. The two teenagers tumble into a furtive, pure-hearted romance even as Xavier’s mom and Juniper’s stepfather, Brad, a slick operator who runs a successful HVAC business and has secrets of his own, lock horns in a legal battle over a dying tree. As the novel builds toward its devastating climax, it nimbly negotiates issues of race and racism, class and gentrification, sex and sexual violence, environmental destruction and other highly charged topics. Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman, 2018, etc.) empathetically conjures nuanced characters we won’t soon forget, expertly weaves together their stories, and imbues the plot with a sense of inevitability and urgency. In the end, she offers an opportunity for catharsis as well as a heartfelt, hopeful call to action.

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled times.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-23727-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet