This portrayal of a ballerina’s transformation and sacrifice burns with the beauty of fire: it’s powerful, it’s destructive,...

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GIRL THROUGH GLASS

Wilson’s debut novel weaves together the past and present of one dancer’s life: first, as a young girl in 1970s New York forgoing her childhood to become an elite ballerina, and then as an adult trying to rebuild her life in the wake of her accumulated sacrifices.

Mira Able is an 11-year-old forced to grow up fast. Her home in Brooklyn is in disrepair, her father disappeared, and her mother is unpredictable at best. Mira takes care of herself, but she wants to be seen. Her ballet classes provide structure as well as an outlet for her anger. The harder she works, the stronger she gets, the more she is praised. Then, she gets her wish. Maurice, a crippled older man and a patron of the ballet, notices her. He sees her talent and wants to nurture it. Some of her fellow students warn Mira that he’s “creepy,” but she thrives on his attention. He instills in her “the understanding of what you have to give up to be beautiful.” Soon, Mira is attending the elite School of American Ballet. She's no longer a child—she's a ballerina, Maurice’s “Bella.” Flash-forward to the present day, and Mira, now Kate, a dance historian, is feeling unhinged after learning she might lose her teaching position. Seeking resolution, she goes back to New York to confront her past self, to heal wounds left by years of sacrifice in the name of beauty and ballet. In these two storylines, Wilson develops a compelling theme of loss and rebirth. Mira’s story is fueled by a rage that burns intensely; the sacrifice, the dark side of her pursuit, will touch readers to the core. Because Mira’s story is so strong, Kate’s pales in comparison, and her first-person narration feels strangely distant. Wilson does close some of this distance in the end, as Kate’s story comes full circle: “He gave me ashes. But first he showed me the fire.”

This portrayal of a ballerina’s transformation and sacrifice burns with the beauty of fire: it’s powerful, it’s destructive, and it dares you to try and look away.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-232627-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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