An eloquent historical novel that explores race and heritage.

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SHADOWS IN OUR BONES

Early 20th-century history informs a fictional family tale about racial prejudice and identity.

In this novel, Georgia O’Brien believes that her ancestors are white and Irish until her mother suffers a medical crisis. Her mother’s cancer diagnosis leads doctors to investigate the family’s genetic background in search of a cell donor. Georgia’s family is shocked to learn that an African American donor would be the best match. Unfortunately, Georgia’s mother does not recover after the treatment. Following her death, the hospital connects Georgia with the donor, a distant cousin named Lawrence McKenny. He explains that their family was descended from siblings born on Malaga Island, Maine. After the Civil War, the island was populated by a mix of white, African American, and East Indian denizens whose intermarriage resulted in a spectrum of complexions. The islanders lived in poverty as “a heathen mix of races” deemed undesirable by authorities and a burden on society. When the islanders were threatened with eviction in 1912, they fled. Those who could pass as white usually did. Intermittent flashbacks peppered throughout the narrative tell the story of the Malagaites in the decade before leaving the island, largely through the eyes of wealthy patrons who bring education to the island. Unfortunately, ingrained views about race and eugenics prevail (“Something had to be done to correct the blight that this degenerate community of half-breeds was casting”), ending with the community disbanding. The revelation of this surprising background blesses Georgia with a new family through her cousins. Ultimately, a greater understanding of the harrowing past causes her to redefine the present. In this illuminating and lucid novel, Merrill (Magic, Mystery & Murder, 2019, etc.) deftly fictionalizes a shameful episode in American history that recently received limited exposure through research projects and public radio broadcasts. Her impressive dedication to thoroughly researching the subject is demonstrated by her inclusion of 50 pages of reproduced original source articles that are intriguing ancillary material. The author’s powerful generational story skillfully questions whether people in modern times have become more enlightened in their views on race and identity. This is a valuable look at an American tragedy. Few books on the Malaga Island calamity exist. Hemingway’s The Malaga Chronicles tells a tale that’s more metaphysical than historical.

An eloquent historical novel that explores race and heritage.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73385-550-1

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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