A moving social saga of compassion and connection.

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CITIZEN CÁRDENAS

An unlikely friendship forms between a married couple and a disabled veteran in this debut novel.

George and Alexia Demas are middle-aged idealists living in Chicago’s Wicker Park. George is a liberal-minded curmudgeon whose belief in the dignity of the common man makes him willing to go head-to-head with the system, while Alexia’s do-gooder ethos is rooted in her Greek Orthodox faith: “For I was homeless and you gave Me shelter.” They are asked to prove their generosity when Jesus “Gato” Cárdenas, a homeless Cuban émigré and Vietnam vet, enters their lives in need of help. Gato’s Supplemental Security Income has been suspended due to the misconception that Jesus Cárdenas is dead, forcing him out on the street. The Demases agree to become Gato’s payees—to receive his SSI checks on his behalf—and to house him temporarily, despite their reservations. An odd sense of family develops between Gato and the Demases, whom the vet refers to as “Dadi” and “Mami” despite the fact that they are younger than he is. But there are more secrets to the alcoholic, gangland-fluent Gato than meet the eye, and as the Demases become further enmeshed in the life of their new ward, they learn that the misconception surrounding Jesus’ death may not be entirely false. Cole writes in a conversational prose that morphs as the narration alternates among the three protagonists. The chapters read like memoirs: “Our real fear was losing our privacy,” recalls George, “losing our ability to relax in our own home, losing the relative sanity of our lives to the craziness of his.” The plot treks ambitiously into territory rarely covered in fiction, exploring the liminal space between assisted living and homelessness that so many disabled people occupy. The novel successfully evokes the frustrations and rewards that come with trying to help a stranger in a way that is both affecting and educational. Gato’s dialect-heavy narration can induce winces at times, and there is a light Christian undertone to the story that may put off some readers. Even so, Cole digs deep into his subjects to craft a satisfying modern morality tale.

A moving social saga of compassion and connection.

Pub Date: May 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63505-056-1

Page Count: 312

Publisher: North Loop Books

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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