A truly fantastic novel in which the blurring of natural and supernatural creates a stirring, visceral conclusion.

MR. SPLITFOOT

Foster children, abandoned houses, and craters left by meteorites weave together a strange and frightening ghost story.

In Hunt’s surreal third novel (The Invention of Everything Else, 2008, etc.), 17-year-olds Nat and Ruth cleave to each other at The Love of Christ! Foster Home, Farm, and Mission in upstate New York. Nat’s “ability” to talk to the dead catches the attention of Mr. Bell, a con man, who convinces them to take their show on the road. A strange man offers to buy Ruth from her fanatical foster father, but Ruth gets Mr. Bell to marry her instead, creating a series of fraught and unsettling triangular relationships. Fourteen years later, Cora, Ruth’s heavily pregnant niece, stumbles through woods and along highways, following her now mute and enigmatic aunt without understanding why. Wry, absurd, and occasionally silly humor punctures the weighty themes of motherhood, aging, and loss. “We’re the Society for Confusing Literature and the Real Lies,” a woman explains to Cora at an event on the Erie Canal in which Captain Ahab and Huck Finn compete with Lord Nelson and a German U-boat. Apparent non sequiturs pepper the dialogue throughout, and while at first they give the story a stilted quality, the seemingly random details soon stitch together into a larger meaning. Cora’s pregnancy is a natural metaphor for bridging the tiny with the universal, and the novel is rife with chewy metaphors and similes that require careful parsing. At times, the novel’s murky obscurity may be vexing—a passage featuring a tight-lipped runaway nun is particularly gnomic—but the drip of information and layers of potent imagery keep the pages turning.

A truly fantastic novel in which the blurring of natural and supernatural creates a stirring, visceral conclusion.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-52670-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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