Poetic compression makes a vivid impact in this generally strong family story.

ROCKING CHAIR MOON

A NOVEL IN VERSE

This novel in verse follows the lives of a brother and sister as they grow, face loss, and find themselves.

Ben Duran is 8 years old, and his sister, Carly, is 11 months his junior as their dual story begins in 1996. The siblings narrate their lives in free verse, trading viewpoints through 2007 and beyond. From the first, their voices establish differing personalities and concerns. Ben’s two years in kindergarten—“Dad smiled his rocking-chair-moon smile / and said it was my redshirt year”—make him “bigger and stronger and wiser and / ready for any challenge” compared to other students. Yet Ben keeps encountering challenges throughout his life, embodiments of his nightmare bogeyman, that can’t be conquered through physical achievements. Carly introduces herself as a “smarty-pants” with “an IQ that can’t be measured.” She deliberately uses advanced vocabulary (signaled with caps and italics) but, like Ben, discovers that strengths don’t mean invulnerability, as in this grief haiku: “To hell with big words. / Not one of them can describe / the pain in my heart.” In the end, both siblings find hope after loss, as seen in Ben’s baby girl’s smile, “the sweetly haunting shape of / a rocking-chair moon.” Patneaude, a prolific writer of children’s books and YA novels, skillfully uses verse to pare the extraneous. After Ben’s college girlfriend dumps him, for example, he suddenly joins the Army; just two lines capture the moment his decision sinks in, his “anger dissolving, / heart drumming.” Images can be quite striking, such as the ominous feel of “a cold slice of yellow light / under your parents’ bedroom door.” But at times, the verse becomes mawkish, as when the siblings’ mother imagines swallows shedding “small but bitter tears” when their “babies aren’t babies anymore.”

Poetic compression makes a vivid impact in this generally strong family story.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-521277-69-8

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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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

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

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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

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