A bleak look at a bitter life that may be too much for readers to bear.

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Jesusita

In 1945, a widowed Mexican immigrant faces powerfully difficult conditions in Ruiz’s (A Lawyer, 2012, etc.) latest novel.

With four children to feed and a recently deceased husband, migrant worker Jesusita González struggles to earn a living as a picker following California’s crops. Her children do their best but often exasperate their mother—particularly Paulina, the most frequent recipient of her wrath. Jesusita’s world changes significantly, however, when she’s convinced to attend a pilgrimage to a holy shrine of the Virgen de Guadalupe. There, she has a profoundly religious experience that deepens her faith. She befriends her local priest and becomes active in the church community. Unfortunately, though, she still experiences anger and rage. Poor Paulina is still her primary target, and the beatings are severe; Jesusita simply keeps Paulina out of school until the cuts and bruises fade. One day, Jesusita succumbs to her anger once again—and this time, she goes way too far. After struggling with her daughter on a riverbank, the girl gets swept away by the current. Did Jesusita push her? Was Paulina possessed by the devil? Did Jesusita want her to die? Jesusita struggles with these difficult questions, as well as those of the police and her neighbors, and her efforts take a disastrous toll on her family, on her body, and on her mind. Ruiz vividly displays his knowledge of the harsh conditions experienced by Mexican immigrants. However, his characters are just as harsh, and as a protagonist, Jesusita is about as unsympathetic as they come: she rarely expresses affection for her children, instead seeing them as just a burden to be borne. She feels no remorse for her beatings of Paulina, believing that they “weren’t sins.” But in this novel, things are hard for everyone. One subplot, for example, follows a woman who was being paid for sexual favors at 6 years old. Another tells of a mentally challenged boy who isn’t allowed inside the house of his adoptive family. The misery in this novel is abundant and acute, and as a result, many readers may agree with one character who remarks, “I’ve heard enough about Jesusita and her kids.”

A bleak look at a bitter life that may be too much for readers to bear.

Pub Date: May 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-937484-33-0

Page Count: 249

Publisher: Amika Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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