Despite the wrenching shift in tone, a soulful exploration of the limits and consequences of familial control.



A family of evangelical Christians is derailed by a daughter’s pregnancy.

In 1970, Jory, 13 going on 14, is growing up befuddled as the middle daughter of the Quanbecks, who contain their children in a religious and moral bubble as impervious as the bomb shelter in their garage. Jory’s father, Oren, a Harvard-educated astronomer, runs midnight laps in the backyard of their Arco, Idaho, home, and her mother, Esther, often takes to her bed with headaches. A bland, macrobiotic, sugar-free diet is rigorously enforced. Grace, 17, eldest daughter and the pride of the family, goes off to Mexico on a church mission but soon returns home, pregnant. She insists that God is the father of her child. The Quanbecks buy an isolated farmhouse on the outskirts of town and send Grace there to wait out her gestation period, with Jory as unwilling companion. Jory is appalled by the prospect of attending the oddly named Schism High School instead of Arco Christian Academy. Not only does Schism require a whole new wardrobe—bell bottoms and T-shirts instead of long skirts and modest blouses—but a whole new lifestyle. As kindly neighbor lady Mrs. Kleinfelter and Grip, a good-hearted ice cream man with a dubious past, act as eccentric mentors, Jory manages to weather her co-exile. Since the novel is told entirely from Jory’s point of view, and Grace does nothing much except stay home, the emphasis is, for some time, on vividly evoked but conventional scenes of teenage angst, as Jory worries about gym class, her first period, her popularity, an upcoming homecoming dance, etc. The action accelerates and so do the stakes when Grip introduces Grace and Jory to a hippie enclave, and Grace—very abruptly, since she has seemed so devout—embraces the counterculture. The repercussions of this for the entire Quanbeck family are dire indeed.

Despite the wrenching shift in tone, a soulful exploration of the limits and consequences of familial control.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42742-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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