A captivating Jewish twist on the classic American campus novel.

THE ORCHARD

In Hopen’s ambitious debut, an Orthodox Jewish high school student finds his world transformed when his family moves to South Florida.

When protagonist Ari Eden leaves his bland life in Brooklyn—where he never felt deeply rooted—for a glitzy, competitive Modern Orthodox day school in the Miami suburbs, both readers and Ari himself are primed to expect a fish-out-of-water narrative. And indeed, Ari finds that his new classmates, though also traditionally observant by many standards, enjoy a lifestyle that is far more permissive than his own (a shade of Orthodoxy that is known as “yeshiva”). Suddenly Ari’s modest, pious world is replaced with a Technicolor whirlwind that includes rowdy parties, casual sex, drinking, drugs, and far more liberal interpretations of Jewish law than he has ever known. With its representation of multiple kinds of traditional Judaism, Hopen’s novel is a refreshing corrective to the popular tendency to erase the nuanced variations that exist under the umbrella of “Orthodoxy.” It also stands out for its stereotype-defying portrayal of Ari and his friends as teenagers with typical teenage concerns. But this is not just a novel about reorienting oneself socially or even religiously; though Ari’s level of observance certainly shifts, this is also not a simple “off the derech” (Jewish secularization) narrative. Ari’s new friend group, particularly its charismatic, enigmatic leader, Evan—a sort of foil for Ari—pushes him to consider new philosophical and existential norms as well as social, academic, and religious ones. The result is an entirely surprising tale, rich with literary allusions and Talmudic connections, about the powerful allure of belonging. This novel will likely elicit comparisons to the work of Chaim Potok: Like Potok’s protagonists, Ari is a religious Jew with a deep passion for literature, Jewish texts, and intellectual inquiry, and as in Potok’s fiction, his horizons are broadened when he encounters other forms of Orthodoxy. But Hopen’s debut may actually have more in common with campus novels like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Tobias Wolff’s Old School; its narrator’s involvement in an intense intellectual community leads him down an unexpected path that profoundly alters his worldview. The novel suffers due to its lamentably one-dimensional, archetypal female characters: the tortured-artist love interest, the ditsy blond, the girl next door. Hopen’s prose, and the scale of his project, occasionally feels overindulgent, but in that sense, form and content converge: This stylistic expansiveness is actually perfectly in tune with the world of the novel. Overall, Hopen’s debut signals a promising new literary talent; in vivid prose, the novel thoughtfully explores cultural particularity while telling a story with universal resonances.

A captivating Jewish twist on the classic American campus novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297474-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

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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