Powerful and disturbing, though not always coherent.

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THE KID

The larger audience attracted by the award-winning adaptation of the author’s debut novel (Push, 1996, adapted into the film Precious) will recognize this sequel as "Son of Precious."

A poet and teacher, Sapphire created a literary sensation with the publication of Push. Yet that novel had even greater impact more than a decade later as the source material for Precious, the success of which might well have spawned this longer, more ambitious follow-up. Readers might remember the birth of a son in that novel, the second baby for the precocious teenager who was repeatedly raped by her father. The boy mainly existed in the margins of Push, and this is his story, one of adolescent turbulence and shifting identities, from a narrator who has difficulty distinguishing his dream life from the shifting realities of his existence. And so will readers. Those hoping for more of Precious will be disappointed to learn that the novel opens with mention of her funeral, as the narrator quickly finds himself shunted from one of his mother’s friends to a foster home to a Catholic orphanage, from which he is delivered to his great-grandmother (who delivers an impassioned soliloquy on her migration from Mississippi to New York) after the discovery of a bureaucratic foul-up. Various names accompany his abrupt changes of address, with “Abdul,” “Crazy Horse” and “J.J.” among the labels attached to a boy who at 13 could pass for an adult. His sexuality is equally ambiguous; though he doesn’t think of himself as gay, he finds himself prey for older men and develops an appetite for smaller boys. He’s also smart, articulate and a gifted dancer, as he moves from the patronage of a dance teacher (who takes sexual or at least emotional advantage) to an experimental company where both his sexuality and hold on reality are challenged. The author plainly embraces an aesthetic she ascribes to a dance piece—“It’s controlled where it needs to be and wild and free where it can be”—though the novel might benefit from a little more of the former at the expense of the latter.

Powerful and disturbing, though not always coherent.

Pub Date: July 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59420-304-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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