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CHINATOWN

An ambitious experimental novel that succeeds in form and subject but is sometimes tedious to read.

A Vietnamese novelist contemplates the complexities of her life, culture, and lost marriage while waiting on a stalled Paris Métro train.

At the heart of this novel is a single mother unable to let go of the memory of her former husband, Thụy, and her conviction that their marriage back in Vietnam was doomed from the start due to the clash between their cultural backgrounds. The book takes place in 2004. When an abandoned duffel bag is discovered on the Métro, the novelist and her 12-year-old son—heading to a table tennis match—are caught in an indefinite delay as they wait for the authorities to arrive and investigate the potential terrorist threat. With the possibility of their lives being in danger creating a tension with the interminable limbo of waiting for the police, she recalls falling in love with Thụy when they were teenagers in the 1970s, in the run-up to the Sino-Vietnamese War, despite the fact that he was from an ethnically Chinese family in Saigon. When Thụy leaves her and their baby, she immigrates to Paris and works as an English teacher, eventually meeting another man whom she identifies only as “the guy,” seeks connections to Thụy through Parisian Chinese culture and people, and continues to resist her parents’ pleas to finish her abandoned dissertation and marry her beau. The novel’s form mimics both the narrator's situation of being suspended in a liminal state of waiting and the natural circuitous path of a person's thoughts, with sentences being repeated and scenes frequently circling back to the same places. Unfortunately, the book’s style comes at the cost of real poignancy, as the reader tends to be lulled into a state of disconnected boredom.

An ambitious experimental novel that succeeds in form and subject but is sometimes tedious to read.

Pub Date: June 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8112-3188-6

Page Count: 184

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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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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JUST FOR THE SUMMER

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Two people with bad luck in relationships find each other through a popular Reddit thread.

Emma Grant and her best friend, Maddy, are travel nurses, working at hospitals for three-month stints while they see the country. Just a few weeks before they’re set to move to Hawaii, Emma reads a popular “Am I the Asshole” Reddit thread from a Minnesota man who thinks he’s cursed—women he dates find their soulmates after breaking up with him, and the latest one found true love with his best friend! Emma has had a similar experience, which inspires her to DM the man and commiserate. She’s delighted by her witty, lively interactions with software engineer Justin Dahl, and is intrigued when he suggests that if they date each other, maybe they’ll each find their soulmate afterward. Emma upends the Hawaii plan and convinces Maddy to move to Minneapolis for the summer so she can meet Justin in person. The overly complex setup brings Emma and Justin together and the two hit it off, with Justin immediately falling head over heels for Emma. Jimenez then pivots to creating romantic roadblocks and melodramatic subplots centering on each character’s family of origin. Justin’s mother is about to serve six years in prison for embezzlement, which means Justin must move back home to care for his three much younger siblings. Emma was traumatized by her own mother for much of her childhood, left to fend for herself and eventually abandoned in the foster system. When her mother shows up in Minnesota, Emma must face her traumatic childhood and admit that she has prioritized her mother’s well-being over her own. There is little time devoted to Emma’s painful efforts to heal herself enough to accept Justin’s love, which leaves the novel feeling unsatisfying.

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781538704431

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forever

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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