Not one of Hegi’s best, but this thoughtful writer’s work always merits attention.

THE PATRON SAINT OF PREGNANT GIRLS

A folklore-inflected tale focused on three mothers, a highly unusual group of nuns, and a chorus of Old Women who comment on everything.

The main narrative unfolds in the wake of a freak wave that breaks over the beach on the island of Nordstrand in August 1878, sweeping away Lotte and Martin Jansen’s three oldest children. Devastated and even unable to love their remaining baby, Wilhelm, Martin literally runs away with the circus, in this case the Ludwig Zirkus, a traveling band of free spirits in the harshly judgmental society of 19th-century Germany. Among its denizens is Sabine, abandoned by her husband and fiercely protective of her developmentally disabled daughter. Another Nordstrand refuge for misfits is the St. Margaret Home, founded by art-loving Sister Hildegunde, where nuns care for unmarried pregnant girls with love and without judgment. Grieving for her newborn given up for adoption, 11-year-old Tilli becomes Wilhelm’s wet nurse while he and his near-catatonic mother are temporarily staying with the nuns, and her devotion becomes an issue with Lotte. That’s a lot of plot to launch a novel, particularly since Hegi intersperses Sabine’s and St. Margaret’s backstories in chapters dating back to 1842. The Old Women’s interjections sometimes seem unnecessary, though it’s a pleasure to hear of them giving a brutal husband his comeuppance. Hegi’s contrast between the censorious, sanctimonious pillars of society and the kind, tolerant nuns and circus folk is a bit pat, particularly in both groups’ anachronistic acceptance of open homosexuality. The vaguely magical realist elements aren’t a strong point for this author, who has excelled in probing the moral complexities of both personal and political relations in such previous works as Children and Fire (2011) and Salt Dancers (1995). Still, her characters in this less satisfying book are still full-bodied, and their various conflicts lead to tender final resolutions for the three protagonists.

Not one of Hegi’s best, but this thoughtful writer’s work always merits attention.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-15682-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

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TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW

The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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