A blistering sendup of startup culture and a sprawling, ambitious, tender debut.

NEW WAVES

Startup culture and science fiction collide in this debut novel about love, loss, and coming-of-age.

Lucas and Margo are best friends, or something like it. The two cynical 20-somethings brave the oppressive Whiteness of startup culture together, downing beers at the bar around the corner from their office and commiserating about their clueless, immoral bosses. "Being black means you're merely a body—a fragile body," confesses Margo, a talented engineer with a penchant for SF, over drinks. "If there was a machine that could do it, I'd change places with you right now, Lucas….I would be an Asian man and I would move through the world unnoticed and nobody would bother me." In retaliation for being pushed out of their company, Margo decides to steal user data and convinces cautious Lucas to help. But when she is suddenly struck and killed by a car, Lucas is left to navigate their theft—and the emotional roller coaster of working in big tech as a minority—on his own. Nguyen, a former digital deputy editor for GQ and a veteran of Google and Amazon, has a keen eye for satire. He illuminates how "lean" startup companies led by young White men with little management experience manufacture crises only to dodge responsibilities to their users and staff. "I started Phantom with lofty principles, and I haven't given up on them," says one CEO without irony. "But we'll never achieve those ideals...if we run out of money first." Running alongside the dystopian horrors of Nguyen's workplace satire are the warmth and humor, sadness and vulnerability of Lucas' and Margo's voices. Using text messages, voicemails, message board posts, and short story snippets, Nguyen's novel spirals inward to capture the hang-ups, cultural obsessions, and fuzzy ambitions of his characters. "I'd hoped leaving behind all my material possessions would mean leaving behind all the things I'd become: a cruel friend, a workplace creep, an alcoholic," Lucas muses from his new, nomadic life in Tokyo. "Or maybe I was all those things to begin with." At last confronted with his own poor romantic and workplace behavior, Lucas must decide how he will honor his friend's memory and whether he will work to become a better person in the hazy promise—or possible tragedy—of the future.

A blistering sendup of startup culture and a sprawling, ambitious, tender debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984855-23-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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