CAMPUSLAND

Been to college lately? Here it is in all its glory, from the trigger warnings and the bias response teams to the hookups and the hashtags, served with plenty of kombucha and seasonally correct vegan stew.

Johnston's debut skewers life at Devon University in Havenport, a body double for Yale, from the buildings and clubs on campus to the white clam pizza in New Haven, including a nod to the 2015 Halloween-costume dust-up. Our hero is Ephraim Russell, a good-looking young white man and professor of English originally from a peanut farm in Alabama who was born to teach 19th-century literature, who "couldn't imagine a place he'd rather be" than Devon, who has a 4.4 out of 5 on RateMyProfessor.com, rare indeed. He has a beautiful African American girlfriend named D'Arcy, and he is up for tenure this year—life could not be better. But the fall semester will bring Eph low. Among the characters who play a role in his downfall are Lulu, a gorgeous, rich, and utterly cynical Manhattan freshman; Red, a seventh-year student not currently enrolled but leading the Progressive Students Alliance; and Milton Strauss, the popular 17th president of the university. The trouble unfolds in short chapters and articles from the Devon Daily, and, in more ways than one, it all starts with Mark Twain. This high-spirited, richly imagined, and brave novel is a delight to read. Here's a trigger warning, though: Since its relentless mockery of the campus political climate never actually acknowledges the reality of racism and sexual violence, it should not be read by those who lack a sense of humor. Also, the ending seems to suggest that the solution is to go back to the idyllic way things used be. That can't be right. But it's a satire! The whole point is to lighten up.

Smart and hilarious.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-22237-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult...

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WRITERS & LOVERS

A Boston-area waitress manages debt, grief, medical troubles, and romantic complications as she finishes her novel.

“There are so many things I can’t think about in order to write in the morning,” Casey explains at the opening of King’s (Euphoria, 2014, etc.) latest. The top three are her mother’s recent death, her crushing student loans, and the married poet she recently had a steaming-hot affair with at a writer’s colony. But having seen all but one of her writer friends give up on the dream, 31-year-old Casey is determined to stick it out. After those morning hours at her desk in her teensy garage apartment, she rides her banana bike to work at a restaurant in Harvard Square—a setting the author evokes in delicious detail, recalling Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, though with a lighter touch. Casey has no sooner resolved to forget the infidel poet than a few more writers show up on her romantic radar. She rejects a guy at a party who reveals he’s only written 11 1/2 pages in three years—“That kind of thing is contagious”—to find herself torn between a widowed novelist with two young sons and a guy with an irresistible broken tooth from the novelist's workshop. Casey was one of the top two golfers in the country when she was 14, and the mystery of why she gave up the sport altogether is entangled with the mystery of her estrangement from her father, the latter theme familiar from King’s earlier work. In fact, with its young protagonist, its love triangle, and its focus on literary ambition, this charmingly written coming-of-age story would be an impressive debut novel. But after the originality and impact of Euphoria, it might feel a bit slight.

Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult four-top.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4853-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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