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THE LAUGHTER

A powerful and darkly funny campus novel with an unexpected narrative perspective.

Jha’s new novel examines the political culture of a college in Seattle.

On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Oliver Harding, an aging White professor of literature, laughs at Trump supporters and feels assured of Clinton’s coming victory, like liberals all over the country. But when he begins to develop an infatuation with Ruhaba Khan, a younger Pakistani colleague, he starts to become embroiled in an apparently shady drama surrounding Ruhaba’s teenage nephew, Adil Alam, who's come to stay with her from his home in France. As Oliver grows closer to Ruhaba, campus politics begin to escalate, and these rumblings throw his position into question, his instincts beginning to belie his sense of himself as a liberal, accepting person. Told in a chronology that alternates between a present tense in the aftermath of some awful event (the details of which are as yet unclear) and flashbacks to the weeks leading up to that event, the narrative pulses with a sense of growing unease and inevitable tragedy that perfectly reflects its historical moment. This pacing is very careful, and suspense builds gradually. Oliver’s sheer lack of self-awareness makes for many a comic moment, particularly juxtaposed as it is with his academic grandiosity, although this precise pairing can make him a difficult narrator to spend time with—and indeed, as the novel progresses, he grows more despicable. Yet the overall result is a novel that is both enjoyable and thought-provoking. Jha impressively avoids the trap of preachiness and moralizing that stories of identity politics on campus tend to fall into; rather, hers is a subtle and nuanced look at the subject. The novel plants seeds that turn out to be red herrings, building layer upon layer of assumptions—about campus culture, identity politics, religion, East versus West, racism, and terrorism. These assumptions are subverted and inverted, reminding us that, despite what some campus iconoclasts or national political figures might want us to believe, these matters are not usually black and white.

A powerful and darkly funny campus novel with an unexpected narrative perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-324025-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperVia

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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