A 21st-century immigrant story that, while intermittently intriguing, falls short of its potential.

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A RIVER OF STARS

A pregnant Chinese woman goes on the run in America to escape her controlling ex.

Scarlett never imagined she would find herself somewhere like Perfume Bay, a posh private accommodation for expectant Chinese mothers in Los Angeles. But when she gets pregnant with her boss’s baby, and that baby turns out to be a boy, everything in her life changes in an instant. Boss Yeung will take no risks with the son he’s always dreamed of…even if that son is illegitimate. Scarlett, who is used to working in factories and fending for herself, is not prepared for life among the pampered women at Perfume Bay who have come to America to secure citizenship for their children. When she finds out that Boss Yeung wants to pay her to give her baby up to his legitimate family, she finally decides to take her life back into her own hands and escape the claustrophobic Perfume Bay. But she doesn’t anticipate being accompanied by Daisy, a spunky and occasionally obnoxious teenager whose parents sent her away when she got pregnant with her beloved boyfriend’s baby. The two women escape north to San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood, where they scrounge together food and money for themselves and their newborns—all while Boss Yeung gets closer and closer to tracking Scarlett down. This debut novel from Hua, who has previously published a collection of short stories (Deceit and Other Possibilities, 2016), paints a vivid picture of Scarlett and Daisy’s unromantic and occasionally squalid, but nevertheless vibrant, life in Chinatown. Scarlett’s fear of being discovered by Boss Yeung never fully dissipates, but it is ultimately overtaken by her fear of being discovered by American authorities who could deport her, and her constant paranoia is palpable. Unfortunately, the novel never fully capitalizes on its strengths. Boss Yeung’s narrative is tedious, and Scarlett’s lacks momentum. And the novel’s saccharine ending undercuts its atmospheric successes.

A 21st-century immigrant story that, while intermittently intriguing, falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: April 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-17878-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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