A sophisticated and darkly glittering gem of a debut.

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WHITE IVY

Reconnecting with her grade school crush isn’t quite the fairy tale Ivy Lin had hoped for.

Ivy's parents moved to the U.S. from China when she was only 2, leaving her in the care of her maternal grandmother, Meifeng. At 5, she flew to Massachusetts to live with her parents and new baby brother, Austin. When Meifing, a prolific petty thief, followed a few years later, she taught Ivy the tricks of the trade and the fine art of deception. Ivy’s childhood wasn’t particularly happy. She didn’t fit in and constantly felt that she would have “traded her face a thousand times over for a blue-eyed, blond-haired version…instead of her own Chinese one with its too-thin lips, embarrassingly high forehead, two fleshy cheeks like ripe apples before the autumn pickings.” Her insecurities weren’t helped by her mother, a bitter woman whose vicious mean streak was usually aimed at her daughter. A big reader, Ivy turned inward and fantasized about her future. Now, Ivy is a decidedly unfulfilled first grade teacher in Boston. When she happens to run into Sylvia Speyer, the sister of her childhood crush, Gideon, Ivy is propelled into the orbit of Gideon’s wealthy family—and into Gideon’s heart. She’s especially thrilled when Gideon finally invites her to Finn Oaks, his family’s summer cottage on the New England coast. Ivy senses a new distance between her and Gideon, though, and when blast-from-her-past Roux Roman appears, she’s afraid his knowledge of her dirty secrets may threaten her new status, even as he stirs a dark desire within her that will lead her to a shocking act. The intelligent, yearning, broken, and deeply insecure Ivy will enthrall readers, and Yang’s beautifully written novel ably mines the complexities of class and privilege.

A sophisticated and darkly glittering gem of a debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-98210-059-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A midlife crisis story stifled by enough material for several TED talks.

THE BOOK OF TWO WAYS

An Egyptologist-turned–hospice worker contemplates the mysteries of fate, mortality, and love.

Picoult’s obsession here is the power of choices and what can happen when they are made under pressure. Dawn, a graduate student in Egyptology, is abruptly called back to Boston from a dig in Egypt by a family emergency. Her mother, who raised her and her brother, Kieran, alone, is in hospice, dying. This death and other circumstances conspire to derail Dawn’s cherished career—now she must raise Kieran, who is only 13. Security is offered by Brian, a physicist at Harvard, whom she marries after discovering she's pregnant. For 15 years, she curates a different life than the one she had planned. She’s now a “death doula,” a concierge hospice worker contracted by the moribund to help wind up loose ends. For Dawn’s client Win, winding up involves getting in touch with a lost love, abandoned for another life. Win’s situation evokes in Dawn renewed longing for her own lost love, Wyatt, an English earl she left behind at the dig. When fault lines emerge in her marriage and teenage daughter Meret is being extra surly, might-have-beens beckon. The nonlinear narrative ricochets between Dawn’s Boston life and her sojourns—past and present—in Egypt. The chronology can be confusing—and, in the case of the prologue, deliberately misleading, it seems. There are no datelines or other guideposts except for periodic headings like "Water/Boston” and “Land/Egypt.” Water and Land reference the “Two Ways,” alternate routes to the afterlife in Egyptian mythology. Whether on death and dying, archaeology, or quantum physics, Picoult’s erudition overload far exceeds the interests of verisimilitude or theme. Do lectures on multiverses bring us any closer to parsing Dawn’s epiphanous epigram—“We don’t make decisions. Our decisions make us”? This much is clear: The characters’ professions are far better defined than their motivations.

A midlife crisis story stifled by enough material for several TED talks.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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