A purposefully digressive and storm-clouded narrative, appropriate for capturing a Syrian expatriate’s mood.

A SKY SO CLOSE TO US

A Syrian woman reckons with personal illness in parallel with the destruction of her homeland.

Syria’s ongoing civil war provides the backdrop for Ujayli’s third novel (Persian Carpet, 2013, etc.) but doesn’t claim center stage; indeed, one theme of this globe-trotting, fatalistic tale is that catastrophes large and small lurk even if we escape a war zone. The narrator, Joumane Badran, is a Syrian native and humanitarian worker in her 30s living in Amman, Jordan, while her father and two sisters have remained in Syria, relating grim news of bombings and power plays by the “squalid archipelago of factions” there. Joumane herself witnesses the impact secondhand, monitoring a refugee camp in Jordan, but the bulk of the novel focuses on two more interior concerns: her budding relationship with Nasser al-Amireh, a climate expert, and a cancer diagnosis that leaves her fearing death, wracked from chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Or, in other words, she’s focused on love and mortality, and her narrative sinuously moves from moments of grace to calamity and tragedy, past and present. Tales of coincidence and harsh irony abound, as when Joumane recalls that she'd met her oncologist decades earlier on family trips to Italy and that he’d gotten his degree in time to monitor his stepfather’s death. That’s just one case in which Ujayli ties up plotlines with a jet-black bow, but for all its concern with mortality and entropy, there’s plenty of narrative and intellectual energy in the story, as when Joumane recalls her father’s travels (he witnessed the 1963 March on Washington) or her friends' and sisters’ love affairs, which are tinged with mythos (Pygmalion, pirates). “The final truth is that your body is your homeland and the greatest treason is for it to betray itself,” she writes, and the novel thoughtfully maps where self, family, and country intersect.

A purposefully digressive and storm-clouded narrative, appropriate for capturing a Syrian expatriate’s mood.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62371-983-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Interlink

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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