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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-02
- Reviewer: Staff
A stormy family lives through Jamaica’s early 1990s drought in Dennis-Benn’s first novel. Delores sells trinkets at a tourist market; her daughter Margot, whom Delores pimped out when Margot was very young, now works as a front desk clerk at a hotel. Margot turns tricks after hours to make extra money to pay her much younger sister Thandi’s tuition at a Catholic school. Margot’s romantic yearning is directed towards Verdene, a rich woman considered a witch by their village because she is a lesbian. Thandi, the unhappy recipient of her family’s hopes, feverishly tries to bleach her skin white and to resist her attraction to her childhood friend Charles, whose poverty would impede her quest for upward mobility. The novel, with its knife fights and baroque blackmail schemes, often threatens to stray from operatic intensity to soap opera melodrama. But Dennis-Benn redeems it with her striking portrayal of a vibrant community where everyone is related and every action reverberates, and her unstinting description of how shame whips desire into submission. (July)
Six stellar summer debuts
Have you discovered your favorite new author of 2016 yet? If not, we have a few ideas. Though these novels cover a range of settings and genres, they each feature a distinctive new voice readers will want to hear more from.
HERE COMES THE SUN
For fans of: Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Rohinton Mistry.
First line: “The long hours Margot works at the hotel are never documented.”
About the book: Three generations of Jamaican women struggle with love, family and finances in this beautifully complex novel.
About the author: Jamaican-born writer Nicole Dennis-Benn lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York, where she teaches writing.
Read it for: A hard-hitting, realistic portrayal of those who live year-round in paradise.
HOW I BECAME A NORTH KOREAN
For fans of: Adam Johnson, Chang-rae Lee, Yiyun Li.
First line: “Home still begins as an image for me.”
About the book: The lives of a Chinese-American genius, a wealthy North Korean student and a desperate defector collide in a Chinese border town.
About the author: Krys Lee teaches creative writing in South Korea; her story collection, Drifting House, was published to much acclaim in 2012.
Read it for: A masterful portrayal of the personal side of world politics and Lee’s understanding of the complexities of immigrant life.
THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF IVAN ISAENKO
For fans of: Coming-of-age tales with remarkable young narrators, such as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
First line: “Dear Reader, whom I do not know, who may never be, I write not for you but for me.”
About the book: Confined to a children’s hospital in Belarus for all of his 17 years, spunky Ivan Isaenko is determined to transcend his severe physical deformities. His world brightens with the arrival of Polina, an orphaned girl with leukemia.
About the author: Scott Stambach teaches high school and college math and physics in San Diego.
Read it for: An unforgettable lead character and Stambach’s powerful writing, which captures the small acts of kindness and the incidental tragedies that are part of institutional life.
THE LOST GIRLS
For fans of: Jennifer McMahon, Kate Morton, Laura McHugh.
First line: “I found this notebook in the desk yesterday.”
About the book: Sixty years after the disappearance of her younger sister, Lucy Evans bequeaths the family’s Minnesota lake house to her grandniece, Justine—along with a notebook that recounts some devastating family secrets.
About the author: Heather Young practiced law for a decade and raised two kids before turning to fiction. She has an MFA from Bennington College Writing Seminars.
Read it for: The feeling of sinking into the complications of generational skeletons, like a plunge to the bottom of a cold lake.
For fans of: Wilde, Wodehouse, “The Addams Family” and Northanger Abbey.
First line: “My name is Lionel Savage, I am twenty-two years old, I am a poet, and I do not love my wife.”
About the book: A 19th-century London poet blows his fortune on books and must marry for money. When he strikes up a conversation with the Devil at a society soirée, Lionel (accidentally?) sells his new wife—and her soul. Hijinks ensue as Lionel and a band of misfits set off on a half-baked rescue mission.
About the author: A playwright and NYU graduate, Forrest Leo was raised on an actual Alaskan homestead and has practiced dogsledding, carpentry and photography.
Read it for: Monty Python-esque levels of absurdity, endlessly entertaining footnotes, period--appropriate illustrations, swashbuckling adventure and romance.
Adam O'Fallon Price
THE GRAND TOUR
For fans of: Fredrik Backman and Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.
First line: “Sir?”
About the book: Richard Lazar is reluctantly embarking on an alcohol-fueled book tour for his dark horse hit memoir about the Vietnam War. When Richard meets a hopelessly eager fan named Vance, the author surprises himself by letting Vance tag along.
About the author: A former musician and screenwriter, Adam O’Fallon Price grew up in California, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. He currently lives in Iowa with his wife and cat.
Read it for: The oddly tender friendship that develops between the gruff author and the awkward Vance.
Nicole Dennis-Benn photo: Jason Berger
Krys Lee photo: Matt Douma
Forrest Leo photo: Abigail Sparrow