A nuanced portrait of a woman struggling against herself.

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THE GIRLS AT 17 SWANN STREET

A French expat battles anorexia at an in-patient facility in the American Midwest.

The plot of Zgheib’s debut novel is very simple: Anna, a 26-year-old, checks into a treatment facility for anorexia at the behest of her beloved husband, who cannot continue to pretend she is not starving. It was not always like this: Once, Anna was a ballet dancer in Paris, where she and Matthias exuberantly fell in love. But then Anna got injured and stopped dancing, and Matthias took a job in St. Louis, and she followed, and now here she is in Bedroom 5 at 17 Swann St., amid a crew of other women, in varying states of distress. Some of them will get better. Some of them won’t. “You’re one of the lucky ones,” one of the girls tells her, shortly after her arrival. “You have a reason to survive.” This turns out to be true. Over her weeks of treatment—time is demarcated with medical reports, helpfully summarizing her weight and mental state—Anna fights treatment and then surrenders to it. Most of the novel is concerned with the details of her recovery, which are wrenching, in a quiet sort of way: the agony of eating half a bagel with cream cheese; the guilt over what she’s put her family through. We also get flashbacks to her life before illness: childhood walks with her father; eating crepes on her wedding day. There are heavy hints of past traumas—a bad boyfriend; a dead brother and mother; a stagnant dance career—but mercifully, Zgheib doesn't spend much time connecting these too closely to Anna’s current state, an acknowledgment that the disease, like Anna, is complicated. And yet the novel’s greatest strength is its simplicity. There is no unusually dramatic backstory; Matthias is kind and relentlessly loving; Anna is, in all but her Frenchness, unexceptional. It's a story we've read before; it's moving nonetheless.

A nuanced portrait of a woman struggling against herself.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20244-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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 sweeping romantic tale of thwarted love.

THE STATIONERY SHOP

Sixty years after her first love failed to meet her in a market square, Roya Khanom Archer finally has the chance to see him. But will he break her heart again?

Back in 1953, she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl, raised in a progressive home in Tehran, where her father encouraged Roya and her sister, Zari, to take advantage of the recent reforms that allowed women to go to university. While he hoped she might become a chemist, Roya loved escaping into novels, which sent her to Mr. Fakhri’s stationery and book store every Tuesday afternoon. There she first sees Bahman Aslan, a breathless young man already well-known as a political activist. Kamali (Together Tea, 2013) sets Roya and Bahman’s love against the tumultuous days of Mohammad Mossadegh’s rise and fall as prime minister of Iran, infusing their affair with political passion and an increasingly frantic sense of the shortness of time. Tuesday after Tuesday, the couple falls more deeply in love, and Bahman soon proposes marriage to Roya. While Roya’s family welcomes Bahman—although Zari warns Roya that his heart cannot be trusted—Bahman’s emotionally volatile mother refuses to accept the engagement, because she has already chosen Shahla, the daughter of a man closely allied with the shah, for her son. Roya determines to weather her future mother-in-law’s storms, but when Bahman and his family disappear, she can only turn to Mr. Fakhri for help. Although he cannot tell Roya where Bahman has gone, Mr. Fakhri offers to exchange secret letters between the lovers. The plan works, and the two even plan to elope, but Bahman does not show up in Sepah Square. Sixty years later, Bahman’s confession will finally expose the secrets that cast shadows over the lovers so long ago.

A sweeping romantic tale of thwarted love.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0748-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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