Review: Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok (William Morrow & Company 2019)

Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri

In her latest novel, Searching for Sylvie Lee, author Jean Kwok draws on deep personal experience to find inspiration for her work. Searching for Sylvie Lee, begins with a heartfelt dedication to Kwok’s brother, who tragically passed away in an airplane crash after going missing for one week. Kwok channels her family’s pain, grief, and experience into the premise of her novel. After traveling from New York to the Netherlands to care for her dying grandmother, Sylvie Lee goes missing. Her younger sister, Amy, retraces Sylvie’s footsteps in hopes of finding the truth of what happened to her, discovering deep family secrets along the way. The novel examines significant themes like prejudice, immigration, secrets, and societal expectations, but the idea of family and familial love takes center stage.

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Review: How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books 2020)

Review by Lane Berger

C Pam Zhang’s debut novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, follows a Chinese-American family without a name. Ma, Ba (father), Lucy, and Sam are immigrant, migrant, and the children thereof.

Divided into four a-chronological sections, the novel spans America’s Gold Rush Era. In Part One, Ba is dead, “And long gone, Ma.” But for Ba’s body and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam are destitute when they set out to bury their father properly. While Lucy wills every step to take her away from her past, toward a white lace dress and civilization, Sam carries a disparate inheritance and disparate dreams. Begun as a journey to stay a spirit, the siblings take up the mantle of their parents’ search for self and home.

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Review: The Magical Language of Others by EJ Koh

The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E.J. Koh (Tin House Books 2020)

Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen

Asian-American literature is finally having its moment in the United States. In the past four years, books such as Min Jin Lee’s, Pachinko and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We Are Briefly Beautiful have made their way to the New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year lists and have been nominated for a variety of prestigious awards.

As readers, Americans are hungry for new voices in Asian-American literature. While Amy Tan and Haruki Murakami have been the exception rather than the trend, there has been very little representation of voices in contemporary literature. However, authors like E.J. Koh are finally changing things.

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Review: Deacon King Kong By James McBride

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead Books 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

            During such turbulent times, it is important to have a sense of humor. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy has never been as eloquent as in James McBride’s latest novel, Deacon King Kong. McBride’s follow up to his National Book Award winning The Good Lord Bird draws on the same wit and humor as the author observes and records the human condition.

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Review: Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson

Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson (Tor Teen, 2020)

Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio

Jackson’s debut novel tells the story of 17-year-old ballerina Savannah Rose—“Sparrow” to her friends and family. Sparrow has been chosen to dance the role of the Swan Queen, with her best friend and dance partner Lucas as the prince. But dancing isn’t Sparrow’s only talent. Her real talent is keeping secrets—a practice distilled into her by her long dead mother.

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Review: Endlings by Joanna Lilley

Endlings by Joanna Lilley (Turnstone Press 2020)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

“How carefully we preserve the dead and eat the living” (109)

How to write an elegy for animals? Not the ones closest to us, our dogs and cats, chickens, rabbits, the domesticated fauna we use to name and sustain ourselves. How do we write an elegy for the animals we did not save in time; the “endlings,” the final link between past and present? How do we write an elegy for the victims of a murder we won’t even admit we’ve committed?

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Review: OBIT by Victoria Chang

OBIT by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

I wrote my first and only obituary in 2018, for my uncle. His name was Thom. He died quite suddenly, at 48, after decade-old cancer cells appeared again in his colon, took over his liver, swallowed him up.

Which is to say that I am no expert in the articulation of existence. And anyway, how do you go about writing a single document that might convey the precious, imperfect, complicated, wonderful nuances of an entire life? For Victoria Chang, the obituary is not just a death notice, but a mode. In her latest collection, OBIT, she asks: What continues to live when someone we love dies? What dies with them?

“I used to think that a dead person’s words die with them. Now I know that they scatter, looking for meaning to attach to a scent” (18)

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Review: The White Card by Claudia Rankine

The White Card by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf 2019)

Reviewed by Olivia Cyr

There is perhaps no better political climate in which to revel in a book that explores race in America than the one the country is in now. As both a self-proclaimed feminist with a background in black women’s studies, and a white woman, I find that I am both well-versed on current conversations about race and women and where those intertwine, and also, admittedly, still terribly conditioned to accept and lean on my own white privilege. While I do follow much of the debate on abortion, women’s rights in the workplace, intersectionality, police brutality, immigration, and the unfair treatment of black people, there is still so much I do not know. I wonder often if my own whiteness does not allow for me to see the whole picture. I think many white folks in this country try, as Claudia Rankine’s characters Virginia and Charles appear to do, and think we are doing as much as we can with the resources available. But Rankine makes it apparent that we aren’t, simply because we are white.

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Review: This Close to Happy by Daphne Merkin

This Close To Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, straus, and giroux 2017)

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

Not glamorous, not an artistically-hued state of suffering for the more sensitive souls on earth. Not a story that can be told with the dramatic climax and victorious transcendency that characterizes heroic tales. No. Depression is unabated suffering whose victims, often blamed for self-absorption, shunned as social pariahs, writhe in silence. Daphne Merkin, the writer and literary critic, tells her depression tale in the dark memoir, This Close To Happy: A Reckoning With Depression.

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