A readable but frustrating critique of contemporary politics that lacks bite.

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Over the course of a week, an Indian American professor’s life spirals out of control.

University lecturer Raj Bhatt loves the exclusive Tennis Club, TC for short, to which he and his family belong even though he has always felt uncomfortable as one of its few nonwhite members. When, in an effort to connect with a black couple who want to join the club, he lets slip a slur in front of the membership committee, the other members of the TC are horrified. Raj feels awful, but he can't help wondering why the racial slights he’s faced during his time there haven’t received the same attention. Meanwhile, after students in his anthropology class send video of him supposedly criticizing Christianity and the West to a right-wing website, he finds himself in the middle of an internet firestorm that threatens his job. Suddenly, he's being labeled a racist and a reverse-racist simultaneously. This first novel from Pandya (The Blind Writer, 2015) aims to skewer both the upper-crust milieu of exclusive country clubs and conservative campus culture, and it partially succeeds. Pandya is sharply critical of right-wing “news” sites and conservative students who argue against any critique of the West, but his depiction of these phenomena is not totally believable. Pandya focuses on website comments, not social media or Reddit (the hubs of online hate today), and Raj’s outraged students feel more like convenient obstacles than real people. Also, while he captures the details of the country-club setting, he doesn't examine the politics of those characters as closely. The novel’s satirical edge might have been more effective if Raj were either more sympathetic or more odious. The novel ultimately sides with him, but he causes many of his problems himself and is irritating enough that it's hard to feel too sorry for him.

A readable but frustrating critique of contemporary politics that lacks bite.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-37992-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE

After facing tragedy and betrayal in New York, an aspiring fashion designer escapes to her idyllic Pacific coast hometown to raise her best friend’s two young children and finds inspiration, redemption, and love in the unexpected journey.

Caroline Shelby always dreamed of leaving tiny Oysterville, Washington, and becoming a couturier. After years of toil, she finally has a big break only to discover a famous designer has stolen her launch line. When she accuses him, he blackballs her, so she’s already struggling when her best friend, Angelique, a renowned model from Haiti whose work visa has expired, shows up on her doorstep with her two biracial children, running from an abusive partner she won’t identify. When Angelique dies of a drug overdose, Caroline takes custody of the kids and flees back to her hometown. She reconnects with her sprawling family and with Will and Sierra Jensen, who were once her best friends, though their relationships have grown more complicated since Will and Sierra married. Caroline feels guilty that she didn’t realize Angelique was abused and tries to make a difference when she discovers that people she knows in Oysterville are also victims of domestic violence. She creates a support group that becomes a welcome source of professional assistance when some designs she works on for the kids garner local interest that grows regional, then national. Meanwhile, restless Sierra pursues her own dreams, leading to Will and Caroline’s exploring some unresolved feelings. Wiggs’ latest is part revenge fantasy and part romantic fairy tale, and while some details feel too smooth—how fortunate that every person in the circle has some helpful occupation that benefits Caroline's business—Caroline has a challenging road, and she rises to it with compassion and resilience. Timelines alternating among the present and past, both recent and long ago, add tension and depth to a complex narrative that touches on the abuse of power toward women and the extra-high stakes when the women involved are undocumented. Finally, Wiggs writes about the children’s race and immigration status with a soft touch that feels natural and easygoing but that might seem unrealistic to some readers.

A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-242558-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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