A strong premise runs aground trying to form a set of convictions into a novel.


A real ship of refugees inspires a novel about the messy consequences of war.

In 2010, Canadian authorities intercepted a rusty Thai freighter carrying 492 refugees from war-ravaged Sri Lanka, the teardrop-shaped island once called Ceylon, off the tip of India. The headlines inspired Bala to write and launch her first novel as books about migrants are at flood tide. This one toggles between Sri Lankan flashbacks and Vancouver, British Columbia, where the passengers come ashore, mistaking the helicopter and Canadian ships for a welcome party. Instead, they're all sent into detention, where many remain through these pages. Mahindan, a minority Tamil mechanic, and his small son are assigned to a well-meaning, alcoholic lawyer and his law student sidekick, Priya, a second-generation Sri Lankan–Canadian pining to do corporate work: “The pungent combination of chili powder, body odour, and urine that wafted ahead of them made Priya hold her breath,” Bala writes. This is never a subtle book. It also features political appointee Grace Nakamura, a Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who, by the last page, has yet to rule on Mahindan’s status. Grace’s mother endured a World War II internment camp, setting up the elder woman’s fixation on the property the family lost. Bala’s writing is generally crisp, with occasional glints of humor. The short, unnumbered chapters march briskly; the dialogue lacks quotation marks. Each chapter heading—“Go Home Terorists!” (the misspelling is intentional); “Welcome to Winter”; “Enemy Aliens”; “Judge, Jury, and Executioner”—is plucked from the text. This first book has a workshopped feel as well as a few memorable passages: Mahindan’s first encounter with a Western shower, the rhythms of a recycled family joke, a chilling scene of United Nations withdrawal. But compared to nuanced recent literature set amid Sri Lankan strife—On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman or The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam—this is thin fare.

A strong premise runs aground trying to form a set of convictions into a novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54229-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.


The daughter of a grifter plans to fund her mother’s cancer treatment with a revenge con.

Rich people suck, don’t they? Nina Ross found this out in her adolescence, when her romance with Benny Liebling was broken up by his status-obsessed, old-money father, who found them screwing in the guest cottage of the family’s Lake Tahoe estate. Back then, Nina had a future—but she’s since followed her con-artist mother into the family business with the help of a handsome blue-eyed Irish confederate named Lachlan. “Here’s my rule,” Nina tells him. “Only people who have too much, and only people who deserve it.” Of course, he agrees. “We take only what we need.” With her art history background, Nina is usually able to target a few expensive antiques they can lift without the rich dopes even noticing they’re gone. But now that Nina's mother is hovering at death’s door without health insurance, she’s going after the $1 million in cash Benny mentioned was in his father’s safe all those years ago. So back to Lake Tahoe it is. The older Lieblings are dead, and Benny’s in the bin, so it’s his sister Vanessa Liebling who is the target of the complicated caper. Vanessa is a terribly annoying character—“I couldn’t tell you how I went from a few dozen Instagram followers to a half-million. One day, you’re uploading photos of your dog wearing sunglasses; and the next you’re begin flown to Coachella on a private jet with four other social media It Girls…”—but, in fact, you’ll hate everyone in this book. That is surely Brown’s (Watch Me Disappear, 2017, etc.) intention as she’s the one making them natter on this way. She also makes them vomit much more than is normal, whether it’s because they’re poisoning each other or because they’re just so horrified by each other’s behavior. Definitely stay to see how it all turns out.

Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-47912-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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