After she sets up a world in which racism thoroughly defines every aspect of character and plot, Picoult's conclusion occurs...

SMALL GREAT THINGS

In Picoult’s (Leaving Time, 2014, etc.) latest novel, Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse, struggles to survive claims of murdering a patient while keeping her own family intact.

Picoult has made a name for herself crafting novels of depth and insight, peopled with rich characters and relationships. Here, she explores the intersection of racial bias, medicine, and the law. African-American Ruth Jefferson has been a labor and delivery nurse for more than 20 years, and she's the kind of professional every patient dreams of: she genuinely cares for her patients and takes joy in seeking out ways she can help them—whether it be a back rub or an epidural. But Ruth is completely thrown when a newborn baby’s parents, both white supremacists, demand that she be removed from their care team because they don't want a black person touching their child. In a moment of deliberate plot maneuvering, Ruth is left as the sole nurse on the child’s floor, and the baby goes into cardiac arrest and dies. Ruth, accused of hesitating before performing CPR, is charged with murder. There's no question that Picoult is a talented writer. The plot is suspenseful, the structure and pacing exquisite. But there is also no question that writing a story from the perspective of a black woman requires more racial consciousness than she displays here. At times the plot feels more like an intellectual exercise to understand racism than an organic exploration of a real person's life. The voice is that of a nonblack person discovering all at once that racism exists rather than that of a black person who has lived with racism her whole life. Picoult has drawn upon every black stereotype available: here is the black single mother, the angry black woman, the mammy, the maid, the teenage "thug," the exceptional token, and the grandstanding preacher. Alternating among the points of view of Ruth; the white supremacist father, Turk Bauer; and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy McQuarrie, Picoult is at her best when she lets the novel solidify into Kennedy’s narrative, the tale of a white woman who thinks she's more liberal than she actually is. It's Kennedy's journey of coming to terms with her own racist relatives and white privilege, as she realizes, for the first time, the pervasiveness of American racism, that is the real story here—and the novel would have been stronger if it had been written from this perspective throughout.

After she sets up a world in which racism thoroughly defines every aspect of character and plot, Picoult's conclusion occurs in a separate fairy-tale world where racism suddenly does not exist, resulting in a rather juvenile portrayal of racial politics in America.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-345-54495-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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