An entertaining, uncompromising, often farcical near-future tale that revels in pop culture.

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A MIXTAPE FOR THE END OF HUMANITY

An unnamed narrator details the events that ultimately led to humanity’s extinction on Earth in first-time novelist Bulsara’s sci-fi-infused satire.

Humans are gone, and the apparent sole survivor is this book’s narrator—“the emissary for an extinct race.” According to the narrator, the end of humanity begins with a pop star’s mental collapse, which monopolizes the press. Her agency’s response is to bring a class-action suit against the company where she got started as a child. Other celebrities who began as child stars turn on their former companies as well, and legislators outlaw child labor in the entertainment industry. One entrepreneur’s response is to create an entirely digital singer, from voice to body. The bot, Cyndi Mayweather, becomes a huge star to audiences who believe she’s human. But Cyndi is also the precursor to The Great Disruption—more than 80 percent of jobs become automated and render 71 percent of humans unemployed. Meanwhile, humanity can no longer ignore climate change, which culminates in devastating floods, droughts, and fires in major U.S. cities. The upper class consequently creates geodesic domes that pop up in cities around the world. In America, racism flourishes. Those in a newly minted and domed Metropolis are predominantly white; black and brown Americans live in poverty. As they’re contending with the effects of class conflict, humans also face and are grossly unprepared for viral outbreaks. As humanity is evidently doomed, the narrator has a plan to document its history and find a way to warn the universe, provided there is life on other planets. Despite the author’s opening “Liner Notes” calling this novel a “mixtape” and the narrator “glitchy,” Bulsara’s story is fairly traditional. The narrative, for example, is primarily linear and often focuses on specific characters, such as JA-NL, a young black girl fighting against the wealthy’s attempts to control less fortunate citizens. Likewise, Bulsara so seamlessly incorporates song lyrics—and occasionally movie quotes—that readers who don’t catch a particular reference won’t be lost. Though JA-NL is a standout, other striking characters include Brand-N, whom readers see undergo the Becoming of Age ceremony (an initiation into upper society), and the narrator, who eventually reveals their identity. Bulsara is funny; the international domed nations form the United Federation of City-States (UFoCs), so that the inhabitants are known as UFoCers. Additional signs of satire are much more biting, like celebrity name-dropping and a noticeably dim view on social media (a platform for easily manipulating people into becoming fans of Cyndi). There are also blunt but insightful points on racial discrimination: the Moloch 5000 is a machine that decides a student’s future career and educational path by first scanning said student’s skin color. The novel’s addenda consist of a short but helpful glossary (e.g., dronarazzi, which are essentially paparazzi drones) and a breakdown of the social structure within the story. And notwithstanding the narrator’s assurance to readers that humans are extinct, the ending is not as bleak as some may anticipate.

An entertaining, uncompromising, often farcical near-future tale that revels in pop culture.

Pub Date: April 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73371-256-9

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Posthuman Post

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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