No surprises in this story of slow, achingly anticipated self-discovery, but the journey is engaging.

MONA IN THREE ACTS

Three episodes in a young woman’s life expose the parental pressures that shape her personality and the consequences as she moves into adulthood.

The long chain of cause and effect within families is exposed in all its subtle, cumulative force in Flemish author op de Beeck’s second novel, her first to be translated into English. Spanning some 25 years, it opens in 1976 with Mona, a 9-year-old middle-class girl, shut in the dark, a punishment inflicted by her strict mother, Agnes. But then Agnes dies in a car accident, and her withdrawn husband, Vincent, quickly remarries, delivering a needy, manipulative stepmother, Marie, to Mona and her young brother, Alexander. Sensitive Mona, constantly anxious not to disappoint or anger her parents, feels responsible for taking care of Alex and, later, her new half sister, Anne-Sophie—even, at times, Marie too. In the second section, Mona is 24, living independently and holding down a prestigious job in the theater. She has friends and a lover who’s an established writer, but people treat her poorly and she permits it, tolerating second-rate relationships rather than confronting them. The last section heralds change, as Vincent succumbs to a life-threatening illness and begins to open up to his daughter about his real affections, about Agnes’ abusive father, and about the circumstances of Mona’s birth. These revelations, and a stranger’s pointed advice—“We forget what we’re worth and don’t dare believe that we genuinely deserve something good”—help Mona to begin the process of change. It’s a simple, predictable scenario and a long one, but there are poignant moments, especially in the late scenes with Victor; and seeing boundaries finally being drawn brings perennial satisfaction.

No surprises in this story of slow, achingly anticipated self-discovery, but the journey is engaging.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0544-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Amazon Crossing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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