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HELEN'S ORPHANS

An enjoyable, inventive Trojan War tale with an intriguing final twist and a serious message.

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A novel offers a revisionist version of the Trojan War alternatingly narrated by Helen and a teenager in the Sparta orphanage that the beautiful woman supports.

Almost all of the characters, conveniently identified upfront, in Fritsch’s novel can be found in Homer’s The Iliad, but this is not an adventurous war tale extolling the glory of great warriors. And whereas in the traditional story the jealousies and pettiness of the Greek gods and goddesses played key roles in fomenting the war between the Greek kingdoms and the walled city of Troy, they are virtually absent in this narrative. It is human avarice, blood lust, arrogance—and love—that propel Fritsch’s anti-war story. Timon, a 17-year-old orphan, introduces himself to readers and begins the narration. It is 18 years after Helen (“the face that launched a thousand ships”), on what was to be the day of her marriage to King Menelaus, sailed away from Sparta with the Trojan Prince Paris, precipitating the 10-year sacking of Troy. Most of the children in the Sparta orphanage lost their parents in that war. Only Timon is of totally unknown parentage. As a young child, he bonded with Lukas, another orphan his age: The two were “always side by side like a pair of young oxen.” Now, they are lovers and musical soul mates, committed to spending their lives together. Singers and eventually composers, they write ballads mourning the tragic aftermath of an unnecessary war. Their love story offers the most joyous, tender, and poignant sections of the tale. Fritsch quickly sets up the back-and-forth narrative pattern for the imaginative novel, immediately leaping 18 years into the past and handing narration over to Helen. She has just arrived in Troy with Paris and asserts that she does not want to be returned to Greece. Helen is convinced that the Greek kings would never be so foolhardy as to start a war over her. Readers witness the battles through the eyes of this young woman who has allegiances to both sides but is determined to help the Trojans defend their city. Late in the tale, the author offers readers a surprise. Proficient, modern prose and dialogue, enhanced by lifestyle details, make an ancient epic especially accessible.

An enjoyable, inventive Trojan War tale with an intriguing final twist and a serious message.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9978829-9-5

Page Count: 161

Publisher: Asymmetric Worlds

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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