by Sidik Fofana ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 16, 2022
A potentially significant voice in African American fiction asserts itself with wit and compassion.
Eight interconnected stories set in a low-income Harlem high rise give faces, voices, and meaning to lives otherwise neglected or marginalized.
The Banneker Terrace housing complex doesn’t actually exist at present-day 129th Street and Frederick Douglass Avenue in Harlem. But the stories assembled in this captivating debut collection feel vividly and desperately authentic in chronicling diverse African American residents of Banneker poised at crossroads in their overburdened, economically constrained lives. In “The Okiedoke,” a 25-year-old man named Swan is excited about the release of his friend Boons from prison; maybe too excited given that an illegal scheme they’re hatching could endanger the fragile but peaceful life he’s established with Mimi, the mother of his child, who’s been struggling to balance waitressing at Roscoe’s restaurant with doing hair on the side. Helping her learn the hairdressing trade is Dary, the “gay dude” in apartment 12H, who, in “Camaraderie,” goes over-the-top in his obsession with a pop diva by getting too close to her for her comfort. “Ms. Dallas” may well be the collection’s most caustically observant and poignantly tender story; the title character, Verona Dallas, besides being Swan’s mother, works as a paraprofessional at the neighborhood’s middle school while working nights “at the airport doin’ security.” Her testimony focuses mostly on the exasperating dynamics of her day job and the compounding misperceptions between the White Harvard-educated English teacher to whom she’s been assigned and the unruly class he’s vainly trying to interest in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. (The keen perceptions and complex characterizations in this story may be attributed to the fact that its author works as a teacher in New York City’s public schools.) All these stories are told in the first-person voices of their protagonists and thus rely on urban Black dialect that may put off some readers at first, with the frequent colloquial use of the N-word and other idiomatic expressions. But those willing to use their ears more than their eyes to read along will find a rich, ribald, and engagingly funny vein of verbal music, as up-to-the-minute as hip-hop, but as rooted in human verities as Elizabethan dialogue. The publisher compares this book to Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. One could also invoke James Joyce’s Dubliners in the stories’ collective and multilayered evocation of place, time, and people.A potentially significant voice in African American fiction asserts itself with wit and compassion.
Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2022
Page Count: 192
Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022
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by Lauren Groff ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 12, 2023
The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.
This historical fever dream of a novel follows the flight of a servant girl through the Colonial American wilderness, red in tooth and claw.
As in her last novel, Matrix (2021), Groff’s imaginative journey into a distant time and place is powered by a thrumming engine of language and rhythm. “She had chosen to flee, and in so choosing, she had left behind her everything she had, her roof, her home, her country, her language, the only family she had ever known, the child Bess, who had been born into her care when she was herself a small child of four years or so, her innocence, her understanding of who she was, her dreams of who she might one day be if only she could survive this starving time." Those onrushing sentences will follow the girl, “sixteen or seventeen or perhaps eighteen years of age,” through the wilderness surrounding the desperate colony, driven by famine and plague into barbarism, through the territory of “the powhatan and pamunkey” to what she hopes will be “the settlements of frenchmen, canada,” a place she once saw pointed out on a map. The focus is on the terrors of survival, the exigencies of starvation, the challenges of locomotion, the miseries of a body wounded, infected, and pushed beyond its limit. What plot there is centers on learning the reason for her flight and how it will end, but the book must be read primarily for its sentences and the light it shines on the place of humans in the order of the world. Whether she is eating baby birds and stealing the fluff from the mother’s nest to line her boots, having a little tea party with her meager trove of possessions, temporarily living inside a tree trunk that comes with a pantry full of grubs (spiders prove less tasty), or finally coming to rest in a way neither she nor we can foresee, immersion in the girl’s experience provides a virtual vacation from civilization that readers may find deeply satisfying.The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.
Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023
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by Barbara Kingsolver ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 18, 2022
An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2022
New York Times Bestseller
Pulitzer Prize Winner
Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.
It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022
Page Count: 560
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022
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