A deeply emotional, but unsteady first novel.

TWENTY-SEVEN

Others live over a century—Sophia Nolan is expected to die at 27 in Woodsmith’s cautionary sci-fi novel.

The author confronts present-day obsessions with longevity and wellness in a future world where the human life span is almost doubled and the date of death can be foretold. Sophia is born with a life expectancy of 27 years. The story follows her from infancy to adulthood as she and her loved ones contend with the approach of inevitable death. As the pressure grows, family members and others show their true personalities, Sophia faces still more painful truths, and she resolves to try and outlive her PDA—Projected Death Age—despite all expectations. Most of the people in Sophia’s society value the quantity of years lived to a nearly obsessive degree; Sophia has no choice but to appreciate the quality of life and to question the validity of predicting its end. She becomes a sort of rallying figure for a divided society, and the story builds through 27 chapters to a thought-provoking end. Despite showing a future world that has a sprinkling of robots and “thanatometers” attached to people’s wrists (in an apparent nod to Logan’s Run), the author hews closely to a naturalistic account of everyday life among ordinary people. The central conceit of Sophia’s short life expectancy is an intriguing metaphor for terminal illness. Sophia herself is sympathetic and fairly multifaceted, as are most of the characters. The book is marred by some uninspired passages and somewhat awkward “infodump” sections, but the pace and tone are well-served by its deliberate brevity and urgency. Woodsmith seeks to tell a very human and topical science fiction tale that calls into question our expectations of life and medicine, faith and mortality. Although slightly unpolished, the novel has fiber.

A deeply emotional, but unsteady first novel.

Pub Date: June 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1470068004

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

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Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

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OUR MISSING HEARTS

In a dystopian near future, art battles back against fear.

Ng’s first two novels—her arresting debut, Everything I Never Told You (2014), and devastating follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)—provided an insightful, empathetic perspective on America as it is. Her equally sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn latest effort, set in a dystopian near future in which Asian Americans are regarded with scorn and mistrust by the government and their neighbors, offers a frightening portrait of what it might become. The novel’s young protagonist, Bird, was 9 when his mother—without explanation—left him and his father; his father destroyed every sign of her. Now, when Bird is 12, a letter arrives. Because it is addressed to “Bird,” he knows it's from his mother. For three years, he has had to answer to his given name, Noah; repeat that he and his father no longer have anything to do with his mother; try not to attract attention; and endure classmates calling his mother a traitor. None of it makes sense to Bird until his one friend, Sadie, fills him in: His mother, the child of Chinese immigrants, wrote a poem that had improbably become a rallying cry for those protesting PACT—the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act—a law that had helped end the Crisis 10 years before, ushering in an era in which violent economic protests had become vanishingly rare, but fear and suspicion, especially for persons of Asian origin, reigned. One of the Pillars of PACT—“Protects children from environments espousing harmful views”—had been the pretext for Sadie’s removal from her parents, who had sought to expose PACT’s cruelties and, Bird begins to understand, had prompted his own mother’s decision to leave. His mother's letter launches him on an odyssey to locate her, to listen and to learn. From the very first page of this thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving novel, Bird’s story takes wing. Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine—and persuasively posits that the antidotes to fear and suspicion are empathy and love.

Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49254-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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An unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

TENDER IS THE FLESH

A processing plant manager struggles with the grim realities of a society where cannibalism is the new normal.

Marcos Tejo is the boss’s son. Once, that meant taking over his father’s meat plant when the older man began to suffer from dementia and require nursing home care. But ever since the Transition, when animals became infected with a virus fatal to humans and had to be destroyed, society has been clamoring for a new source of meat, laboring under the belief, reinforced by media and government messaging, that plant proteins would result in malnutrition and ill effects. Now, as is true across the country, Marcos’ slaughterhouse deals in “special meat”—human beings. Though Marcos understands the moral horror of his job supervising the workers who stun, kill, flay, and butcher other humans, he doesn’t feel much since the crib death of his infant son. “One can get used to almost anything,” he muses, “except for the death of a child.” One day, the head of a breeding center sends Marcos a gift: an adult female FGP, a “First Generation Pure,” born and bred in captivity. As Marcos lives with his product, he gradually begins to awaken to the trauma of his past and the nightmare of his present. This is Bazterrica’s first novel to appear in America, though she is widely published in her native Argentina, and it could have been inelegant, using shock value to get across ideas about the inherent brutality of factory farming and the cruelty of governments and societies willing to sacrifice their citizenry for power and money. It is a testament to Bazterrica’s skill that such a bleak book can also be a page-turner.

An unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982150-92-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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