An important, coming-of-age tale with a sensitive, observant lead.

INDEPENDENCE BLUES

In Garvey’s autobiographical novel, a young Black protagonist (and narrator) learns a lot about his parents and about vicious racism, mostly on a cross-country car trek in the 1960s.

The spine of the novel is the Gardners’ road trip from Los Angeles to Miami in a new Plymouth Valiant. The plan is to ferry the car, father Emerson, mother Madeline, and the unnamed son to a triumphal return to their native Jamaica. Along the way, however, there are many flashbacks. Emerson showed great promise as a medical wannabe, and Madeline is a nurse and outspoken and ambitious. The boy is a precocious only child. Emerson is cautious and submissive when that seems prudent; Madeline is a firecracker, pushing the envelope in the Jim Crow South. The boy (he is reading Wright’s Black Boy in the back seat) is by turns confused, scared by his parents’ bickering, and stunned by the prejudice that was not quite so obvious on the West Coast. The climax of the novel occurs when the civil rights movement is coming to its fevered and most violent pitch. The ending is initially surprising, though not so much, perhaps, on reflection. Garvey is a very good writer, capable of striking similes (crumpled rejection letters “fluttered to the floor like crippled doves”) and the pithy apothegm (“I cannot turn endeavor into penance and pretend it’s virtue”). The changing exposition—shifting between place and time—can be confusing. But one does get used to it. What strikes the reader is the tragic gap—no, chasm—between these Black characters’ obvious talents and indomitable striving and the way that they get rebuffed time and time and time again. It bears mention that the kid in the back seat grew up to be a published writer and accomplished classical violinist.  

An important, coming-of-age tale with a sensitive, observant lead.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9822294-7-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Jonkro Books

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 79

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2021

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

more