A funny, endearing tale anchored by an impeccably drawn narrator.

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Wandering Boy

Kern tells the story of country music through the eyes of an unlikely producer in this debut novel.

In 1927, 15-year-old Mickey Derow is just looking for an escape when he jumps into an idling Cadillac in New York City. He’s just stolen a salesman’s case of ribbons and is running from the cops, but the men in the Cadillac mistake him for a young recording expert they’re expecting and take him along on their journey to Tennessee. As Mickey puts it, “What I’d got involved in, turned out, was a hunt for singing hillbillies.” In Bristol, Tennessee, the hapless Mickey helps (and hinders) his new employers’ efforts to record amateur musicians for the Victor record company. The talent includes future luminaries like Jimmie Rodgers and Maybelle Carter. The singer who really steals Mickey’s heart, however, is 12-year-old Ida Valentine, whose song isn’t even good enough to get preserved in wax. When the Victor men go back to New York, Mickey volunteers to stay behind and help discover new talent for the emerging record industry—and, of course, find Ida. What follows is a Candide-esque adventure through eight decades of country music as Mickey rises to become a producer of note, pining all the while for love of sweet Ida Valentine. Kern is a writer of enormous talents: in Mickey Derow, she’s created an all-American protagonist in the tradition of Studs Lonigan, Billy Bathgate, and Forrest Gump. His voice is an infectious blend of pluck and naiveté, grit and vulnerability. Through his use of language he seeks to beat the world (and himself) into submission: “I’d seen the waves punching and clawing and climbing over each other, just to be the first to smash their brains out on the sand; and then sliding away beat but never defeated, coming right back for another try….They reminded me of me.” While Mickey’s story is littered with many of the unlikely coincidences that propel this brand of winking historical fiction, Kern imbues the peculiarities of country music with a verve that will make even nonfans appreciate the culture as they read.

A funny, endearing tale anchored by an impeccably drawn narrator.

Pub Date: May 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-48-402768-4

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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