An edifying historical saga for readers interested in the evolution of women’s rights.



Russell’s debut historical novel explores the women’s rights movement through the eyes of four successive generations.

In December 1963, great-grandmother Ruby Wright gathers together her daughter, Bess Wright-Pickering; granddaughter, Katy Pickering; and great-granddaughter, Jesi Pickering. She gives them each the task of writing about their “year of awakening,” or, as Bess explains it, “a year of 4 seasons, where the spring seed of an event is born, grows, matures, and becomes winter wisdom as a life-changing realization.” Ruby, who came of age near the turn of the 20th century, discusses her stifling experiences as a Victorian-era housewife and her participation in the nascent women’s suffrage movement. She often brought her bright, obedient daughter, Bess, to the demonstrations, and the girl readily took up her mother’s mantle, later crusading for women’s rights and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Her daughter, Katy, reveals a time in the 1940s when she traveled to Georgia, the site of her father’s plantation. There, she attempted to find out more about her father, who died before she was born. In the process, she uncovered shocking secrets, and around the same time, she became pregnant with Jesi, who was born with leg deformities and still requires the use of a brace. At first reluctant to write, Jesi soon divulges her experiences with a black boyfriend during the 1960s’ civil rights movement. In this ambitious novel, Russell vividly portrays the sexism and sense of powerlessness that all four women experienced. Each woman writes five chapters, and the novel alternates between them, sometimes abruptly. The author devotes most of the novel to the two eldest women, but Katy’s and Jesi’s stories are no less complex, and seem shortchanged by the narrative. It sometimes isn’t clear whether a character is writing, remembering past events or reading from journals or letters. Readers may feel that it takes considerable time to get to know each character, but once the women become familiar, the story reads much more smoothly. Despite a few grammatical errors and a somewhat protracted length, the novel manages to enliven and enhance a momentous period in history.

An edifying historical saga for readers interested in the evolution of women’s rights.

Pub Date: July 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497348936

Page Count: 496

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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