A meticulously constructed and chilling study of desire and influence.

FOUR BY FOUR

The grim truth about a boarding school gradually unfolds through shifting perspectives and various found documents.

Spanish writer Mesa writes of power struggles at Wybrany College, an elite boarding school where the wealthy send their children to protect them from the violence of the city. Part 1 opens with an escape attempt by several of the schoolgirls. Their fear of being caught belies the school’s ambiance of freedom. In subsequent chapters, we learn of the relationships among the headmaster, Señor J., his underlings, and his students. Relationships between adults at the school involve private humiliation and subjugation. The relationships among the children mirror those of the adults. Señor J. takes on a protégé, a boy with disabilities: “The Headmaster is drawn to his submission, that passive acceptance of his fate.” The student, Ignacio, is transformed from passivity to confidence through his relationship with Señor J. and then begins to subjugate his peers. At the school, everyone seems to “barter with love, with desire.” Relationships are transactional. There are hierarchies: between teachers and students and between the regular students and the “Specials,” or students on scholarship. Several students and a teacher go missing. The teacher’s replacement, who's the narrator of Part 2, is a wannabe writer posing as a licensed educator. He senses from early on that something is hidden within the school—a set of rules, perhaps, or something more sinister. “There’s an unhealthy stillness,” he writes, “something crouching behind the silence.” As the substitute gets closer to the truth he learns what danger lies in revealing the school’s secrets. A coda, in the form of fiction written by the teacher whom the substitute replaces, shines a light on the school’s opaque systems and secrets.

A meticulously constructed and chilling study of desire and influence.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948830-14-0

Page Count: 237

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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