An ambitious, imaginative, and important tale of Black queerness through history.


An epic attempt to imagine a history of Black queerness from the African past to the antebellum American South.

In his debut novel, Jones—perhaps better known to readers as the blogger Son of Baldwin—delivers an ambitious tale of love and beauty in the face of brutality. Samuel and Isaiah are two young men enslaved on a Mississippi plantation known as Empty. Isaiah is haunted by fragmented memories of the mother he was stripped from as a child; Samuel became Isaiah's first friend on the plantation when he was brought there in chains, and their relationship has bloomed into a love affair that sets them apart from the other slaves and disrupts the plantation's functioning. The plantation's owner is Paul, a White man who forces his slaves into having sex so the women will produce new slaves. Samuel’s and Isaiah's sexuality throws a wrench in Paul's cruelty, and the consequences of their love send ripples through the novel's vast cast of vividly rendered characters. There's Essie, for instance, the female slave Isaiah can't impregnate and who eventually is raped by Paul. She becomes pregnant with Solomon—whom she can't bring herself to love—and this infuriates Amos, an older slave who loves her and schemes to turn the plantation against Isaiah and Samuel for what he thinks of not only as their selfishness, but their unnatural love. "There was no suitable name for whatever it was that Samuel and Isaiah were doing," he reflects after seeing them coiled together in the barn they share. Jones spins a sprawling story of jealousy and passion that foregrounds Black queerness, asserting that queerness has always been part of the Black experience—not just in the slave past, but the African one as well. The novel stretches itself to the point of disbelief when Jones dips his toe into that African past, and there are too many balls in the air for the details of life on Empty to cohere into a satisfying plot. For all its faults, though, this is an inspired and important debut.

An ambitious, imaginative, and important tale of Black queerness through history.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-08568-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.


An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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