A warmhearted domestic drama with political undercurrents makes for fun reading.

L.A. WEATHER

Twelve pivotal months in the life of a Jewish and Catholic Mexican American family in West Los Angeles.

It's 2016. Three-year-old twins miraculously survive drowning in the first scene, setting the tone of melodrama cut with comedy that Escandón maintains throughout her homage to Mexican telenovelas. Expect financial and medical catastrophes, marital discord, sexual passion, brand name dropping, and mouthwatering meals. At center are the Alvarados. Oscar’s ancestors became landowners in California while it was still part of Mexico; artist Keila’s Jewish parents escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to Mexico as children. Their heritages have merged into a seemingly idyllic marriage for almost 40 years. But recently, Oscar has retreated from involvement with his family, becoming obsessed with The Weather Channel instead. Frustrated and furious, Keila announces she wants a divorce, but the grown Alvarado daughters convince their parents to work on the marriage for one year. Meanwhile, all three daughters hide their own private problems and marital issues. Celebrity chef Claudia has a little stealing habit. Architect Olivia, who conceived her twins through in vitro fertilization, is fighting with her cartoonishly awful husband about the remaining embryos. Despite a husband in San Francisco, social media maven Patricia still lives with her parents along with the son who was conceived when she was raped at 14. As the Alvarados fight and unite repeatedly, the plot incorporates broader issues including climate change, gender politics, immigration, and a presidential election.

A warmhearted domestic drama with political undercurrents makes for fun reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-80256-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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An enthralling dystopian drama that makes complex points about parenting with depth and feeling.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD MOTHERS

Current ideas about parenting are held up to scrutiny in a dark satire that's also a dramatic women-in-prison story.

"There are seventeen women tonight, including Frida. In one lit corner, they sit on cold metal folding chairs, arranged in a circle....They could be stars of a slasher film or the world's saddest hip-hop video." But in fact, they are mothers who have been separated from their children and incarcerated for one year at a former college campus outside Philadelphia. Recalling The Handmaids' Tale, Orange Is the New Black, and Clockwork Orange, Chan's debut features Frida, a 39-year-old Chinese American mom with a part-time job in academia and an 18-month-old named Harriet. Left for a younger woman by her husband, Gust, soon after their daughter was born, Frida is struggling with exhaustion and loneliness when she has her "very bad day"—she leaves Harriet alone in the house while she goes out to get coffee and pick up papers at work. Harriet is taken into custody, then sent to live with Gust and his girlfriend while Frida is surveilled in her home and on supervised visits to determine her fitness to parent. When she fails, she is remanded to reform school with other mothers who have looked away at the wrong time, who have given in to anger or selfishness, who must now repent and relearn. "I am a narcissist. I am a danger to my child," they are trained to recite, along with "I am a bad mother, but I am learning to be good." They are paired with lifelike robot dolls on whom they practice "Fundamentals of Care and Nurture" and study "Dangers Inside and Outside the Home." They are taught to speak "motherese" and to disregard their own needs and desires; they are tested, monitored, scanned, and evaluated. Friendships and romances bloom; desperation spreads; trouble brews. If this doesn't become a miniseries, nothing will.

An enthralling dystopian drama that makes complex points about parenting with depth and feeling.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982156-12-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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