Tender but—miraculously—never sentimental.


Coster, a Kirkus Prize finalist for Halsey Street (2018), returns with an intergenerational saga of two North Carolina families inextricably connected by trauma and love.

In a city in the Piedmont in the fall of 1992, Ray is baking croissants, preparing for the day that's supposed to change his life: A reporter is coming to profile the cafe he co-founded that has since become “his everything.” If business picks up afterward, he already has a list of things he’ll do. Buy his girlfriend, Jade, a ring and marry her. Buy Jade’s 6-year-old son, Gee—who is, for all practical purposes, also his son now—a chest of drawers. Take them on a trip. None of it will happen: That afternoon, Ray is shot and killed. Jade’s cousin owed money to a guy; Ray was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then Coster skips forward a few years, to the outskirts of that city, where a woman named Lacey May Ventura is trying to raise three daughters on no money while her troubled husband is in prison; an unrelated story, on the surface, a single mother making compromises to get by. The story of the past, though, is then interrupted by dispatches from the present: In the Atlanta suburbs, Noelle, the oldest of the Ventura girls, is now a theater director in a disintegrating marriage. Jumping backward and forward in time and bouncing between families, Coster weaves together a gripping portrait of generational pain. But the details of her plot—carefully constructed, if not especially subtle—pale in comparison to her characters, who are startling in their quiet humanity. Coster is an exacting observer but also an endlessly generous one, approaching her cast with a sharp eye and deep warmth. The overlapping pieces fit together, of course, but it’s the individual moments that are exquisite, each chapter a tiny snapshot of a whole world.

Tender but—miraculously—never sentimental.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-0234-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A Cuban family grapples with violence and addiction, but their relationships lack depth.


An affluent Cuban immigrant reckons with her daughter’s drug addiction and her own culpability in their self-destructive choices.

As the book opens, it's 2018, and Carmen is writing in anguish to her daughter, Jeannette, begging her to find the will to live. Then we're immediately swept away to Camagüey, Cuba, in 1866, right before the first Cuban war for independence from Spain, where we meet one of the women's ancestors. María Isabel works at a cigar factory, and, as the war blooms bright and bloody, she's pursued by the factory’s lector, who reads newspapers and Victor Hugo novels to the workers as they roll cigars. If the novel had continued to offer rich scenes like these, it would have been a success, but from this point on, it feels haphazardly stitched together. We meet Jeannette in 2014, and then Carmen's and Jeanette’s voices alternate erratically through different time periods, with little resonance between them—both strands of the narrative center the useless or even abusive men who litter the lives of all the family’s women. Then, as if grafted onto the story, Garcia adds intermittent sections from the points of view of a woman named Gloria and her daughter, Ana, undocumented immigrants from El Salvador. Gloria is picked up by ICE agents while Ana is at a babysitter's house, and when the girl gets dropped off, Jeanette takes her in for a few nights before Carmen convinces her to call the police—a decision that will come to haunt Carmen. Even with snatches of gorgeously compelling prose, the book can't overcome the lack of relationship development among the women of the family in both Miami and Cuba.

A Cuban family grapples with violence and addiction, but their relationships lack depth.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-77668-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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