A piercing meditation on identity and race in contemporary Britain.

ASSEMBLY

A young Black woman considers her options.

At the center of this brilliant debut is a young Black British woman who works in finance. She works, and for as long as she can remember she has worked, in relentless pursuit of achievement, success, excellence. “I am everything they told me to become,” she says. Her White boyfriend comes from a moneyed old family, and an invitation to his parents’ anniversary party—a gargantuan affair—frames one end of this slim, swiftly moving novel. On the other end is a visit the narrator pays to her oncologist, where she discovers she has a decision to make. Between the oncologist and the party is an intense rumination on her choices, her life, and the pieces from which she’s managed to assemble an identity, however flawed. “I have emotions,” she says. “But I try to consider events as if they’re happening to someone else. Some other entity.” Indeed, the narrator seems painfully distant from both the people around her and the changes taking place in her life. She is constantly aware of how her appearance is utilized by others—part of her job, for instance, involves giving talks on diversity, for which her very presence is considered proof of her company’s success. In just over a hundred pages, Brown tackles not only race, but class, wealth, and gender disparities, the lingering effects of colonialism, and the limits of language (“How can I use such a language to examine the society it reinforces?” the narrator wonders). This is Brown’s first novel, and it has all the jagged clarity of a shard of broken glass.

A piercing meditation on identity and race in contemporary Britain.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-26826-4

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

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THE STRANGER IN THE LIFEBOAT

An inspirational novel about a disaster and an answered prayer by the author of The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003).

What if you call out for the Lord and he actually appears before you? Days after billionaire Jason Lambert’s luxury yacht Galaxy suddenly sinks in the North Atlantic with many illustrious passengers aboard, a few survivors float in a life raft. Among them is Benji, a deckhand who narrates the ordeal in a notebook while they desperately hope for rescue. Lambert is a caricature of a greedy capitalist pig who thinks only of himself and his lost ship and mocks Benji as “scribble boy,” but the main character is a young stranger pulled out of the water. “Well, thank the Lord we found you,” a woman tells him. “I am the Lord,” he whispers in reply. Imagine the others’ skepticism: If you’re not lying, then why won’t you save us? Why don’t you answer our prayers? I always answer people’s prayers, he replies, “but sometimes the answer is no.” Meanwhile, the ship’s disappearance is big news as searchers scour the vast ocean in vain. The lost survivors are surrounded by water and dying of thirst, “a grim reminder of how little the natural world cares for our plans.” Out of desperation, one person succumbs to temptation and drinks ocean water—always a bad mistake. Another becomes shark food. The Lord says that for him to help, everyone must accept him first, and Lambert, for one, is having none of it. The storyline and characters aren’t deep, but they’re still entertaining. A disaffected crew member might or might not have sunk the ship with limpet mines. And whether the raft’s occupants survive seems beside the point—does a higher power exist that may pluck believers like Benji safely from the sea? Or is faith a sucker’s bet? Lord knows.

Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-288834-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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