‘ROUND MIDNIGHT: a tapestry of four diverse lives set against 50 years of a changing Las Vegas

’Round Midnight

By Laura McBride

Touchstone/Simon & Schuster: May 2, 2017

374 pages; $25.99

 

In just two novels, Laura McBride has become the unofficial Laureate of Las Vegas, depicting life on and beyond the Strip in vivid, occasionally wrenching detail. Her debut, We Are Called to Rise, made a strong impression with its interwoven narratives of disparate lives coming together in unexpected ways, with profoundly moving results. Her follow-up, ‘Round Midnight, uses a similar structure to probe the the lives of her four characters and the dramatic changes in her hometown since the 1950s.

The novel is told in three parts. The first part introduces the most complex of the characters, June Stein, a 21-year-old unhappily married proto-feminist who flees a life of looming suburban drudgery in 1950s New Jersey to create a life of her own choosing in Las Vegas.

“When she moved to Las Vegas, she was free of her marriage, free of certain expectations (not just those of others, but also her own)—free of a past she had never fully shouldered. And it was Vegas in the fifties, when it was a small town and a big town, when no one she had ever known would be likely to visit, when a young woman who enjoyed men and adventure and the casual breakdown of conventions was something of a community treasure.”

Before long, she is married to Odell (Del) Dibb, with whom she renovates a casino, the El Capitan. With the hiring of a charismatic black singer named Eddie Knox to perform in the Midnight Room, the El Capitan becomes one of the city’s hot spots. McBride perfectly captures the rapidly changing physical and cultural scene in Las Vegas, which is reflected as well in the liberal attitudes of June and Del and their close working relationship with Knox at a time when the city was still segregated. The plot soon becomes somewhat melodramatic, but it sets up one of the other sections of the narrative, which comes into play in the last half of the book.

Part Two of ’Round Midnight, set in 1992-93, tells the story of Honorata, a young woman from the Philippines who is essentially sold by her uncle to a wealthy but socially awkward man from Chicago when Honorata shames her family. He is frequently away on business, stranding Honorata in a world she barely comprehends and intensely despises. Eventually, he takes Honorata, whom he has renamed Rita, with him on a trip to Las Vegas, where she discovers that he is a high-stakes gambler who is well-known to the owners of the El Capitan casino.

As sometimes happens, a few days in Las Vegas changes her life.

Part Two is also the story of a young music teacher named Coral Jackson whose father, Ray, was Del Dibb’s best friend and right-hand man for many years until he died shortly before Coral was born. She had always known that Ray was not her father, for this reason and because she was obviously mixed race, but her mother refused to tell her the identity of her birth father. It didn’t seem important to her mother or her three siblings; as they always said, she was a Jackson through and through. But she always wondered. Through clever but generally plausible plot twists – connected to the El Capitan — Coral and Honorata meet and develop a tentative friendship.

The third part, set in 2010, introduces Engracia, a Mexican immigrant who worked as a maid at the El Capitan until her heartbreaking past caught up with her and set her on a life-altering path. The trajectories of Honorata, Coral, and Engracia intersect, eventually setting up the return to the narrative of an 80-year-old June Stein.

As in We Are Called to Rise, McBride juggles the various narrative strands skillfully, maintaining interest in the current character while holding the other characters in the near distance. At the same time, she seamlessly incorporates the sociocultural issues of each era into the respective characters’ lives: race relations in the 1950s, cultural and geographic displacement in the midst of Vegas’s boomtown years of the 90s, immigration in the last decade, and related racial and ethnic issues that arise out of the characters’ diversity of backgrounds. The real power of ’Round Midnight comes from McBride’s sensitive depiction of a range of internal and external conflicts and in the way these women change each other’s lives. All the while, Las Vegas, like the four protagonists, is steadily transformed.

’Round Midnight combines the best of plot-driven summer fiction with the kind of character studies and social, cultural, and economic context one finds in literary fiction. McBride has suffused this novel with a level of compassion and intelligence that makes the whole greater than the sum of its many parts.

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WE ARE CALLED TO RISE captures intersection of lives in the real Las Vegas, inspires with humanity

We Are Called to Rise paperback U.S.  we-are-called-to-rise-UK paperbackUK

We Are Called to Rise

By Laura McBride

Simon & Schuster: April 28, 2015

320 pages, $15.00

Laura McBride’s debut novel captures the times in which we live with a story that skillfully weaves four narrative strands into a compelling and unforgettable tapestry. Set in the neighborhoods of Las Vegas, We Are Called to Rise tells the stories of a middle-aged woman whose marriage has suddenly collapsed, an eight-year-old Albanian immigrant boy whose family is struggling culturally and economically, and a recently returned Iraq War vet with a head injury and PTSD. The fourth narrator, who appears occasionally, is a social worker who becomes a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for the boy.

The first half of the book introduces us to the lives of the main characters in alternating chapters. Avis is forced to cope with her hotel executive husband’s surprising request for a divorce when she should be overjoyed with the return of her son Nate from Iraq. He has completed police academy training and is about to join the Las Vegas Police Department. Nate’s young wife, Lauren, is even more thrilled to have him home. But something about Nate seems off. He’s impatient, prone to angry outbursts, and abusive to Lauren. So while Avis tries to determine where her marriage went wrong and what she should do next, she tries to save Nate and his marriage.

Bashkim is a sweet-natured, bright boy who is thriving in school and keeping a watchful eye on his little sister, Tirana. His parents own an ice-cream truck, a seemingly failsafe source of income in the Nevada desert; yet the Ahmeti family is in financial trouble. But his father was a political prisoner in Albania and remains hostile and even paranoid. He has isolated the family from everyone, including the local Albanian immigrants. Bashkim’s mother attempts to hold the family together and serve as a buffer between her husband and the children but bears the brunt of her husband’s discontent.

Army Specialist Luis Rodriguez is being treated at Walter Reed Hospital for a head injury and PTSD after two traumatic incidents in Iraq, which have left him wracked with guilt. He hopes to return home to Las Vegas to live with his abuela(grandmother), who raised him, until he can figure out what his options are.

The lives of these characters intersect in a moment of violence that is shocking and yet seemingly inevitable. The second half of the book explores the aftermath of an event that has left Bashkim’s future in limbo. The conclusion, while perhaps stretching the boundaries of plausibility somewhat, is emotionally fulfilling.

McBride’s ability to fully inhabit each of these characters is an act of supreme authorial empathy. The four narrative voices are distinct, idiosyncratic and, most importantly, instantly credible. You will love some of these people and respect others, but you will care about all of them. They are as real as your friends and neighbors.

Another strength of We Are Called to Rise is the pacing. Although alternating narrators can sap the momentum from a novel when not done well, McBride keeps the chapters to a manageable length and never keeps a character offstage for long. As a result, the story moves at a steady, increasingly tense pace.

There is a paradoxical sense of foreboding and hope in these pages; one feels the plot strands coming together inexorably, but McBride’s tone and the reader’s inherent optimism combine to maintain a feeling of hopefulness. These characters have such big hearts and good intentions that one roots for them despite knowing that circumstances rarely turn out as one would like; life so often chews up and spits out people that it can seem as if that is its purpose. But when we doubt the presence of God or an overarching purpose, we can find it if we look for the people who are trying to help. Readers will find those helpers in We Are Called to Rise.

My only quibble with the book is the overuse of names in dialogue. People simply do not use each other’s names this often when they’re talking. It occasionally detracted from the otherwise believable and mostly natural-sounding dialogue.

McBride has used the setting of suburban Las Vegas effectively. A longtime resident, she shows us the real Las Vegas, where working people live, love, go to school, marry, and raise children. Its neighborhoods are both Middle America and sui generis.

“Most Las Vegas children don’t grow up quickly. They aren’t fast like their coastal counterparts. In Vegas, children pass through their novel environment unconsciously, lacing up their cleats or humming to the radio while a parent maneuvers through the traffic on the Strip; while bare-chested men thrust pornographic magazines at open car windows, while women wearing a few feathers leer seductively from billboards, while millions of neon bulbs flash “Loosest Slots in Town” and “Babes Galore.” And still the children don’t notice. They’ve been taught not to notice, and it’s only the transplanted ones – the children who arrive from Boston when they are nine – who think to tell their friends back home about the naked billboards, the “Live Nude” signs, the doggy-sex flyers.”

“The families just off the Strip – the ones occupying mile after mile of nearly identical stucco houses – live conservative lives at home. Dad might be a dealer, mixing with high rollers at Caesar’s five nights a week, Mom might be a waitress, wearing a butt-skimming skirt at forty-seven, but home is for another life….It can be cloying, it can be surprising, but after a while, it simply becomes the way it is. And the good in it, the old-fashioned neighborly niceness of it all, is one of the reasons people stay in Vegas, stay even if they can’t explain quite why, even if they tell their friends they hate it, that the place is a dump, that off the Strip there is nothing to do, even if they worry about schools and bemoan the lack of art and feel stranded in the stark vastness of the Mojave Desert.”

As a lifelong Californian with two family members who’ve lived in Las Vegas for 15-20 years, I can vouch for the fact that this is as accurate a description of the real place as you will ever read.

Roberta, who provides the closest thing to an objective viewpoint, describes how these children go off to war, having been raised in a city with a large military presence.

“In Las Vegas, armed forces recruiting centers dot the landscape like Starbucks shops, across from every high school, near every major intersection. Everyone knows someone in the military. Thousands of people live on the base at Nellis; many thousands owe their livelihoods to it. Schoolchildren thrill to the roar of Thunderbird air shows, commuters estimate their chances of making it to work on time when they see four jets return to base in formation each morning.

“We send our children off, knowing that they will grow up, thinking the military will give them security, hoping they won’t be hurt, praying they won’t die, believing that ours is a patriotic choice. And our children come back with that war deep within them: a war fought with powerful weapons and homemade ones, a war fought by trained fighters and twelve-year-old boys, a war fought to preserve democracy, to extract revenge, to safeguard oil, to establish dominance, to change the world, to keep the world exactly the same. Yes, Vegas children fight America’s wars. These most American, least American of children, these children of the nation’s brightest hidden city: the city that is an embarrassing tic, a secret shame, a giddy relief, a knowing wink.”

McBride can write up a storm and, like the gods of old, she can throw down one perfectly aimed lightning bolt after another. At one point, Nate attempts to describe to Avis what it was like serving in Iraq. His explanation is the most comprehensive fictional depiction I have yet encountered of what it is like to fight in that complicated conflict and how it feels to come home to a completely clueless civilian population with the war still going on in your head.

“You can’t imagine, Mom. What it was like there. What we had to do. I thought I would die every day. Every hour…. You’re afraid of the kids. You’re afraid of the old ladies. You’re scared as hell of any rock you can’t see around, any building with a hole up high, where a gun might come through. You’re looking for it all the time. You’re seeing it even when it isn’t there…. And then you get back. And you’re home…It’s like a dream. Only you’re still so damn jittery. And I’m still looking for that hole in the wall up high, and the rock, and the kid with the bomb. I’m looking for it all the time. I can’t stop. If I hadn’t been looking when I was there, I’d be dead. I wouldn’t be here, Mom.”

Ultimately, though, McBride presents us with a vision of a world in which good people step forward and try to make someone’s life better, in which a “new normal” can come out of a tragedy. In which little things matter immensely.

“It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing. What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”

We Are Called to Rise will carry you away for a few hours, break your heart, and then put it back together tentatively, the fragile pieces held together by hope and love and the little things that matter.

This review was originally posted on June 3, 2014 to coincide with the publication of the hardcover edition of We Are Called to Rise

A conversation with Laura McBride: “To me, a novelist’s research is about picking up tone and voice, and the occasional telling detail. From there, it has to be a work of personal imagination.”

summer book preview clarke winspear morris lusbader mccollough o

Laura McBride’s first novel, We Are Called to Rise, was published by Simon & Schuster on June 3. It is receiving well-deserved acclaim for its powerful depiction of the intersecting lives of four widely varying characters in “off-the-Strip” Las Vegas. It is as timely and relevant as any novel I’ve read in recent years. We Are Called to Rise is one of those special novels that has something for everyone. [Read my review here.]

What inspired you to write We Are Called to Rise? I understand that the book’s turning point is based on an actual event.

I often start thinking about a story from some bit of news that catches my attention.  It is a kind of a mental game – to ask how could that have happened, who would have done it, why – and I have done it for many years.  I can write a hundred pages on hearing an intriguing thirty seconds!  I was inspired to write a novel for the experience of writing one itself.  It is something I had long wanted to do, and the process was something I enjoyed very much.

Did you always conceive of telling the story with multiple narrators, or did that approach occur to you after you’d written a draft in third person or through the eyes of a single character? Why did you opt for the four first-person narrators rather than an omniscient narrator?

I had heard that novels with first person narrators might be more likely to be published. (I have no idea if this is true, but I thought I might as well give myself every chance I can.)  The first person voice is quite restrictive, so I decided to use several narrators in order to be able to tell the full story.

I was so impressed by how convincingly you inhabited four completely different characters in order to make each work as a first-person narrator. That is an act of great imagination and artistic empathy. In particular, what was the key to getting inside the mind of an 8-year-old Albanian immigrant boy?

I’m not sure.  What I did was imagine myself as a child, and put myself into some of Bashkim’s situations.  What would the world look like to him? What would others do, and how would he interpret that?  His voice came very easily, once I committed myself to trying it.  It was so mentally engaging –  to imagine the world from the viewpoint of a child.  I loved writing in his voice.

When most Americans think of immigrants today, they tend to think of Mexicans. Yet we know that immigrants come from nearly every country. Why did you choose to make Bashkim an Albanian boy?

I wasn’t thinking of him as a type, as a typical anything, or even as an immigrant at all.  That’s not the way I approach stories.  He could have been from anywhere, and once I had given him a few details, he just grew into himself.  It’s only when it was time to market  the story that I started to think: oh, it is a book about an immigrant, or about war.  Also I don’t particularly associate the word immigrant with Mexicans.  As you say, the whole history of our nation is immigrants.

While Bashkim is the central character in the plot, I found Avis to be the heart of the novel. She is such a well-conceived and -executed character. Her mother was a nomadic drug addict who neglected Avis and her little brother Rodney. Yet by sheer force of will, we learn through flashbacks, she has created a better life for herself. As the novel begins, she is an upper-middle class suburban wife whose husband suddenly announces he’s leaving her for a younger woman. She is also the mother of a son recently returned from Iraq who does not seem like himself but refuses help, a caring mother-in-law, and part of a circle of close female friends she has known for decades. She has suffered so much, yet she seems to represent the fact that “we are called to rise,” to overcome and be more than what happens to us. Can you talk about your vision of Avis and her role in the novel?

I love Avis too, and I appreciate your comments here.  Avis was very difficult to write.  I saw her as a woman who had spent her whole life very much on her own, having to figure things out without models or people to show her the way. In middle age, she faces challenges that make her think about her life and her choices, and she doesn’t even know if that reflection is something one should do. To me, Avis is brave and reflective and independent.  She relies on herself.  

What kind of research did you do in creating the character of Specialist Luis Rodriguez? You cover his traumatic experiences in Iraq, his long recovery in Walter Reed Hospital, and his relationships with Dr. Ghosh, his abuela, and Bashkim so believably. Have you had college students who were Iraq War vets?

Yes, I often have soldiers in my classes, and while we do not particularly discuss their experiences, things sometimes come out.  I have been paying attention.  I also did a novelist’s sort of research (as opposed to an academic’s); I read blogs by soldiers and went on chat rooms that were populated by people associated with the military.  To me, a novelist’s research is about picking up tone and voice, and the occasional telling detail. From there, it has to be a work of personal imagination.

Another impressive aspect of We Are Called to Rise is your accurate depiction of the Las Vegas where people live their real lives, and your insight into the effect living there has on people. My mother has lived in Henderson for 15 years, so I’ve become familiar with the non-tourist areas of metro Las Vegas, and your descriptions are spot-on, both physically and culturally. There is such a strong sense of place in your book that “off-the-strip Vegas” feels like another character. Tell me about your thinking behind making such an unglamorous place so central to the story.

Well, I have lived here for 25 years, and I think it is a very interesting place, so it was natural to set a story here. Las Vegas is fascinating because it is a boomtown.  It attracts 40 million tourists each year, but it has also attracted millions of new residents in a short period of time.  We came from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds, for all sorts of reasons.  And the place, a dusty desert city, was not ready for us.  That explosion of people, and the lack of infrastructure to accommodate them,  makes for some crazy events.  Those of us who lived here learned how to help each other; we turned to our neighbors – who did not look or talk or think like each other – and created communities.  Las Vegas is not a utopia, but it does succeed at social mobility, it often succeeds at diversity, and it has given many people a second, a third, even a fourth chance.  As far as I’m concerned, it is a novelist’s dream.

When did you write We Are Called to Rise? In your free time during the school year, during breaks from school, at writing retreats like Yaddo? What was Yaddo like for someone who did not have an MFA or move in those literary circles?

I had a sabbatical in the spring of 2012, and I wrote it that semester. I went to Yaddo for a month at the end of that term, and I finished the novel there.  I did some rewriting and additions during the next six months, while I was teaching.  I like to focus intensely on what I am doing, so each of those rewrites was done in a concentrated rush of days, working 10-12 hours at a time, over a weekend or a school break.

How did you come to use a line from an Emily Dickinson poem as the book’s title? It’s so fitting.

It is fitting, and I did choose it, but it was my agent and her assistant who recognized what a great title it would make.  I sent them several possibilities, none of which seemed quite right to me, and they picked We Are Called to Rise.  I’m grateful for their strong sense of that title, because I think the sentiment does fit the book, though it was not what I was thinking about when I wrote it.  Also, I adore Emily Dickinson, particularly for her artistic courage and sureness.

WE ARE CALLED TO RISE captures life in the real Las Vegas, inspires with humanity

We Are Called to Rise

We Are Called to Rise

By Laura McBride

Simon & Schuster, June 3, 2014

320 pages, $25.00

Laura McBride’s debut novel captures the times in which we live with a story that skillfully weaves four narrative strands into a compelling and unforgettable tapestry. Set in the neighborhoods of Las Vegas, We Are Called to Rise tells the stories of a middle-aged woman whose marriage has suddenly collapsed, an eight-year-old Albanian immigrant boy whose family is struggling culturally and economically, and a recently returned Iraq War vet with a head injury and PTSD. The fourth narrator, who appears occasionally, is a social worker who becomes a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for the boy.

The first half of the book introduces us to the lives of the main characters in alternating chapters. Avis is forced to cope with her hotel executive husband’s surprising request for a divorce when she should be overjoyed with the return of her son Nate from Iraq. He has completed police academy training and is about to join the Las Vegas Police Department. Nate’s young wife, Lauren, is even more thrilled to have him home. But something about Nate seems off. He’s impatient, prone to angry outbursts, and abusive to Lauren. So while Avis tries to determine where her marriage went wrong and what she should do next, she tries to save Nate and his marriage.

Bashkim is a sweet-natured, bright boy who is thriving in school and keeping a watchful eye on his little sister, Tirana. His parents own an ice-cream truck, a seemingly failsafe source of income in the Nevada desert; yet the Ahmeti family is in financial trouble. But his father was a political prisoner in Albania and remains hostile and even paranoid. He has isolated the family from everyone, including the local Albanian immigrants. Bashkim’s mother attempts to hold the family together and serve as a buffer between her husband and the children but bears the brunt of her husband’s discontent.

Army Specialist Luis Rodriguez is being treated at Walter Reed Hospital for a head injury and PTSD after two traumatic incidents in Iraq, which have left him wracked with guilt. He hopes to return home to Las Vegas to live with his abuela (grandmother), who raised him, until he can figure out what his options are.

The lives of these characters intersect in a moment of violence that is shocking and yet seemingly inevitable. The second half of the book explores the aftermath of an event that has left Bashkim’s future in limbo. The conclusion, while perhaps stretching the boundaries of plausibility somewhat, is emotionally fulfilling.

McBride’s ability to fully inhabit each of these characters is an act of supreme authorial empathy. The four narrative voices are distinct, idiosyncratic and, most importantly, instantly credible. You will love some of these people and respect others, but you will care about all of them. They are as real as your friends and neighbors.

Another strength of We Are Called to Rise is the pacing. Although alternating narrators can sap the momentum from a novel when not done well, McBride keeps the chapters to a manageable length and never keeps a character offstage for long. As a result, the story moves at a steady, increasingly tense pace.

There is a paradoxical sense of foreboding and hope in these pages; one feels the plot strands coming together inexorably, but McBride’s tone and the reader’s inherent optimism combine to maintain a feeling of hopefulness. These characters have such big hearts and good intentions that one roots for them despite knowing that circumstances rarely turn out as one would like; life so often chews up and spits out people that it can seem as if that is its purpose. But when we doubt the presence of God or an overarching purpose, we can find it if we look for the people who are trying to help. Readers will find those helpers in We Are Called to Rise.

My only quibble with the book is the overuse of names in dialogue. People simply do not use each other’s names this often when they’re talking. It occasionally detracted from the otherwise believable and mostly natural-sounding dialogue.

McBride has used the setting of suburban Las Vegas effectively. A longtime resident, she shows us the real Las Vegas, where working people live, love, go to school, marry, and raise children. Its neighborhoods are both Middle America and sui generis.

“Most Las Vegas children don’t grow up quickly. They aren’t fast like their coastal counterparts. In Vegas, children pass through their novel environment unconsciously, lacing up their cleats or humming to the radio while a parent maneuvers through the traffic on the Strip; while bare-chested men thrust pornographic magazines at open car windows, while women wearing a few feathers leer seductively from billboards, while millions of neon bulbs flash “Loosest Slots in Town” and “Babes Galore.” And still the children don’t notice. They’ve been taught not to notice, and it’s only the transplanted ones – the children who arrive from Boston when they are nine – who think to tell their friends back home about the naked billboards, the “Live Nude” signs, the doggy-sex flyers.”

“The families just off the Strip – the ones occupying mile after mile of nearly identical stucco houses – live conservative lives at home. Dad might be a dealer, mixing with high rollers at Caesar’s five nights a week, Mom might be a waitress, wearing a butt-skimming skirt at forty-seven, but home is for another life….It can be cloying, it can be surprising, but after a while, it simply becomes the way it is. And the good in it, the old-fashioned neighborly niceness of it all, is one of the reasons people stay in Vegas, stay even if they can’t explain quite why, even if they tell their friends they hate it, that the place is a dump, that off the Strip there is nothing to do, even if they worry about schools and bemoan the lack of art and feel stranded in the stark vastness of the Mojave Desert.”

As a lifelong Californian with two family members who’ve lived in Las Vegas for 15-20 years, I can vouch for the fact that this is as accurate a description of the real place as you will ever read.

Roberta, who provides the closest thing to an objective viewpoint, describes how these children go off to war, having been raised in a city with a large military presence.

“In Las Vegas, armed forces recruiting centers dot the landscape like Starbucks shops, across from every high school, near every major intersection. Everyone knows someone in the military. Thousands of people live on the base at Nellis; many thousands owe their livelihoods to it. Schoolchildren thrill to the roar of Thunderbird air shows, commuters estimate their chances of making it to work on time when they see four jets return to base in formation each morning.

“We send our children off, knowing that they will grow up, thinking the military will give them security, hoping they won’t be hurt, praying they won’t die, believing that ours is a patriotic choice. And our children come back with that war deep within them: a war fought with powerful weapons and homemade ones, a war fought by trained fighters and twelve-year-old boys, a war fought to preserve democracy, to extract revenge, to safeguard oil, to establish dominance, to change the world, to keep the world exactly the same. Yes, Vegas children fight America’s wars. These most American, least American of children, these children of the nation’s brightest hidden city: the city that is an embarrassing tic, a secret shame, a giddy relief, a knowing wink.”

McBride can write up a storm and, like the gods of old, she can throw down one perfectly aimed lightning bolt after another. At one point, Nate attempts to describe to Avis what it was like serving in Iraq. His explanation is the most comprehensive fictional depiction I have yet encountered of what it is like to fight in that complicated conflict and how it feels to come home to a completely clueless civilian population with the war still going on in your head.

“You can’t imagine, Mom. What it was like there. What we had to do. I thought I would die every day. Every hour…. You’re afraid of the kids. You’re afraid of the old ladies. You’re scared as hell of any rock you can’t see around, any building with a hole up high, where a gun might come through. You’re looking for it all the time. You’re seeing it even when it isn’t there…. And then you get back. And you’re home…It’s like a dream. Only you’re still so damn jittery. And I’m still looking for that hole in the wall up high, and the rock, and the kid with the bomb. I’m looking for it all the time. I can’t stop. If I hadn’t been looking when I was there, I’d be dead. I wouldn’t be here, Mom.”

Ultimately, though, McBride presents us with a vision of a world in which good people step forward and try to make someone’s life better, in which a “new normal” can come out of a tragedy. In which little things matter immensely.

“It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing. What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”

We Are Called to Rise will carry you away for a few hours, break your heart, and then put it back together tentatively, the fragile pieces held together by hope and love and the little things that matter.

Guest Blogger Laura McBride: My Year with Virginia Woolf

Laura McBride   Virginia Woolf

Laura McBride is the author of We Are Called to Rise, which is published today (June 3) by Simon & Schuster. She is a professor of English at the College of Southern Nevada in Henderson, just south of Las Vegas, where her novel is set. It has received strongly positive notices and is one of this summer’s must-reads. (Look for my review tomorrow and an interview shortly thereafter.) 

About a million years ago, when I was in college, I did my senior thesis on Virginia Woolf.  It was an odd choice of topic – for an American Studies major – but my department was an easygoing place.  They didn’t mind that I was preparing to launch my deepest academic work on a British author I knew nothing about.  They just asked me to find my own qualified advisor (which they might have thought would be limiting) so I queried my friends in the dining hall, and someone recommended J. Hillis Miller (a famed member of the Yale deconstructionists).  I made an appointment, and asked if he would take me on.

I have no idea why he said yes.  I may have struck him as a raw primitive, he may just have been that sort of professor.  On that first day, he established the rules.  Read everything that Virginia Woolf had ever written, several times if possible.  Read the autobiography by her nephew Quentin Bell.  Read not one word of criticism or review.  Not an essay, not a book, not a damn student editorial.  And meet with him, once a week, for an hour, maybe two.  (Can you believe that?  Yale was great.)

I don’t remember any particular form for our sessions. I don’t remember poring over lines from the text, or discussing any literary theory.  I don’t remember any formal analysis at all; mostly, we just chatted about whatever I was reading then.  It was courteous; there was a pretense of intellectual equality.  I remember my youthful enthusiasms; I must have bored him terribly.  And then, when the hour or so was up, Professor Miller said “Alright, Laura, back to your reading.”

And that is how I spent many months, steeped in Virginia Woolf – her life and temperament so different from my own – with no particular expectations and no particular knowledge.  It was magical.  I don’t know how much I remember from that reading – I have that sort of mind – but I did eventually write a brutally long (for the reader, that is) essay on The Waves.  No evidence of it exists – thankfully – but I vaguely remember an experimental beginning in stream-of-consciousness style.  Ouch.

It seems to me that I often don’t know when I am in the middle of an extraordinary moment, when I am doing something I will never do again, and those months reading Virginia Woolf and talking about it with Hillis Miller, in that way, in that delightfully casual way, was such a moment.

I also learned two things.

One, it is a great pleasure to discover something in literature for oneself.  To read a review, a critique, or an analysis is to lose something of one’s own impressions forever.  I am careful of the chatter of other minds, even if they are better than my own.  I try to strike the balance thoughtfully: between reading what others are reading at a given moment, which offers the great pleasure of shared experience, and reading what no-one else is reading at the time, for the different pleasure of silent space.

Two,  when I write, I focus.  I rewrote that senior thesis, all 40-some pages of it, on the day before it was due.  I had woken up with the clear realization that the essay was terrible, and also with a clear idea of how to fix it.  It was a Thursday in December, bitterly cold; I went to the Mudd Library, which had wonderful light, and I sat down at a table in the middle of the reading room and began to write.  I wrote furiously.  I remember my hand cramping several times, and I remember shaking my fingers angrily; I had to hurry.

I started writing when the doors opened at eight, and when I finished, when I wrote the very last word, the first thing I did was look at my watch.  It was after four in the afternoon.  I was relieved that I had finished before the library closed at five, I was surprised that I had been sitting so long.  I remember those two thoughts, and then I remember realizing that I was cold.  I was freezing.  I was so cold that the feet of my chair were banging against the wood floor as my body shook.  I could barely stand up – I was so cold and cramped – and also, I was hungry, I needed a bathroom, and it was getting dark; I could barely see the page on which I had just been writing.  I looked up to see a young man, a graduate student probably, dressed in a winter coat and a stocking cap and gloves, with a red nose.

“Are you finished?” he said.

“I’m cold,” I almost yelled back. “There’s something wrong with the heat in here.  I’m really cold.  And it’s dark.”  I was a bit frantic, not at all polite.

“Yes,” he said. ‘The power went out about ten this morning.  The library’s been closed since noon.  We asked you to leave several times, but you never looked up, so I said I would just wait here until you were done.”

I really wish I knew who that man was.  Wow, I really wish I knew who he was. But then, perhaps you can see why I stopped writing when my children were small.

Summer Reading Preview: 25 can’t-miss reads

Although Summer doesn’t technically begin until June 21, for most people (alright, most North Americans)  it begins in early June when school gets out or Memorial Day weekend is behind them. That means it’s time to preview the many intriguing female-authored novels arriving in the next three months. For once, readers might actually have the time to read most of the books on their TBR (to be read) list. Here are 20 novels worth looking into. 

Chasing the Sun

Chasing the Sun – Natalia Sylvester (Amazon/New Harvest, June 3)

Sylvester’s debut is the story of Andres and Marabella, a long-married couple living amidst the social and political upheavals of Lima, Peru. Andres thinks she has left him again, but he soon learns that terrorists have kidnapped her. How far is he willing to go to get her back? Is their troubled marriage worth saving? Andres works with a mediator to negotiate for her release, all the while caring for their two young children.

Home Leave

Home Leave – Brittani Sonnenberg (Grand Central Publishing, June 3)

The Krigstein family has lived a peripatetic existence, following husband and father Chris’s job to such far-flung locales as Berlin, Singapore, and Shanghai, before eventually settling in Madison, Wisconsin. Wife Elise has enjoyed the advantages of a clean slate every few years, while their daughters have developed an extremely close bond to cope with the constant change. When the family is rocked by a stunning loss, their lives and lifestyle are called into question. Extra bonus: Sonnenberg writes like a house on fire. The opening chapter alone is worth the price of this book.

Sixteenth of June

The Sixteenth of June – Maya Lang (Scribner, June 3)

Lang’s debut novel examines the intimately connected lives of a young married couple and the husband’s young brother over the course of one summer day in Philadelphia. Both a close observation of twenty-somethings and a satire of ambitions dreamed, thwarted, and abandoned, The Sixteenth of June pays tribute to James Joyce’s Ulysses with its single-day time frame and the characters’ attendance at a Bloomsday party.

We Are Called to Rise

We Are Called to Rise – Laura McBride (Simon & Schuster, June 3)

A wide cast of characters, whose lives appear to be falling apart, struggle to survive in Las Vegas during its recent boomtown years. Seemingly unconnected, their paths eventually cross. At the center of this compelling novel are an 8-year-old Albanian immigrant boy, a middle-aged woman whose marriage has just imploded, a lawyer who volunteers as a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate for children), and a recently returned Iraq War veteran. As the title suggests, together they find a way to rise above their troubled circumstances and repair their damaged lives. Haunting and inspiring in equal measure and beautifully written.

The Book of Unknown Americans

The Book of Unknown Americans — Cristina Henriquez (Knopf, June 3)

When their fifteen-year-old daughter Maribel sustains a traumatic brain injury, the successful Rivera family decides to leave everything they have achieved in Mexico behind to go to the United States so Maribel can attend a special school and receive state of the art treatment. They end up living in a dilapidated apartment building that is home to struggling and ambitious immigrants from nearly every Latin American country. The voices of the residents explore what it means to be an “unknown American” while believing intensely in the American dream. The novels is enriched by Panamanian immigrant Mayor Toro’s love for Maribel, which leads to a close relationship between the Toro and Rivera families. This is a sweet, compassionate, and hopeful story.

Euphoria

Euphoria — Lily King (Atlantic Monthly Press, June 3)

King made a big splash with her debut novel, The Pleasing Hour, in 1999, and has written several other notable novels in the last 15 years. Euphoria, based in part on the life of Margaret Mead, explores a love triangle among three anthropologists in New Guinea during the 1930s. Englishman Andrew Bankson is ready to call it quits when he encounters Nell Stone and her Australian husband Fen, who have just been through their own trauma. The three anthropologists are re-energized by their professional and personal chemistry and the discovery of a matriarchal tribe. But conflicts soon arise, jeopardizing their important work and their friendship.

What is Visible

What is Visible — Kimberly Elkins (Twelve Books, June 3)

Elkins brings to life the young woman who was reputed to be the second-most famous in the world in the 19th century. Laura Bridgman lost four of her five senses due to scarlet fever at age 2. She was Helen Keller before the Keller herself came along, and they had much in common. Elkins explores Bridgman’s amazing life and the reasons Keller became the poster child for overcoming profound disabilities while the woman whose experience laid the groundwork for Annie Sullivan’s success with Keller faded into obscurity. Listen to Kimberly Elkins interview with Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition here.

All Day and a Night

All Day and a Night – Alafair Burke (Harper, June 10)

The latest installment in the Ellie Hatcher detective series, All Day and a Nightis Burke’s tenth police procedural thriller. When a Brooklyn psychotherapist is found murdered, her husband is the prime suspect. But an anonymous caller knows that her body was abused in a way that matches the trademark of a serial killer who has been imprisoned for 20 years. The killer maintains his innocence, and now it appears that the actual killer is still at loose. Of course, the plot is far thicker than a brief synopsis can convey. As with Burke’s previous thrillers, All Day benefits from Burke’s years as a prosecutor. Her work is also distinguished by the presence of strong and realistic female characters.

Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street — Susan Jane Gilman (Grand Central Publishing, June 10)

One of the most highly anticipated books of the summer, Gilman’s first novel is a multi-faceted fictional biography of a life that parallels many of the key events of the 20th century. Russian immigrant Malka Treynovsky arrives in the Lower East Side of New York City as a child and is soon crippled in an accident with an Italian ice vendor’s horse cart. When her poor and desperate parents abandon her, the vendor adopts her, changes her name to Lillian, and teaches her the business. Eventually she marries and takes over the business, which she and her husband, Albert Dunkle, rapidly expand. In time, Lillian Dunkle’s chain of ice cream stores is the most successful in America. She is famous not only as the ambitious queen of the Dunkle empire but also as a charming television personality. In reality, Lillian is an imperious and opinionated force to be reckoned with and a character that readers will both admire and despise.

The Quick

The Quick — Lauren Owen (Random House, June 17)

Looking for a literary mystery dripping with atmosphere and strong sense of place? The Quick might be your book. Set during the Victorian era in both Yorkshire and London, this suspenseful Gothic thriller about a brother and sister is full of twists and turns, shocks and surprises. Yet another strong debut novel.

Abroad

Abroad — Katie Crouch (Sarah Crichton Books, June 17) 

Abroad is the second novel in less than a year to take the experiences of American college student Amanda Knox as a starting point (Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois was published in October 2013; see my review here: http://wp.me/p3EtWm-4g). Knox is the foreign exchange student in Italy who was charged with the murder of her British roommate, with the motive centering on a romantic triangle gone wrong. She was convicted and spent four years in an Italian prison before an appeals court overturned the ruling and released her in late 2011. She returned to Seattle to watch a second trial proceed without her presence, resulting in a guilty verdict and  a sentence of 28 years. She remains in the U.S. With Abroad, Crouch has fashioned a coming-of-age-in-Italy story about a British college student who is pulled into a group of thrill-seeking girls hungering for every experience they can squeeze out of their year abroad. Her roommate, an American, is concerned, but when they both fall for the same Italian boy, everything gets very complicated very fast. Abroad is a dark, lurid tale of privilege, friendship, passion, and betrayal.

Mambo in Chinatown

Mambo in Chinatown – Jean Kwok (Riverhead, June 24)

Kwok, the author of the highly regarded Girl in Translation, tells the story of 22-year-old Chinatown resident Charlie Wong. She is leading a dreary life, working as a dishwasher, when she lands a job at a ballet studio. Charlie, as it turns out, has her own dancing talent. But her family is Old World Chinese and disapproves. Then her sister becomes seriously ill, and a conflict arises between Eastern treatment and Western medicine.

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, June 24)

When their middle daughter Lydia is found dead in a nearby lake, the marriage of Marilyn and James Lee, a Chinese-American family avidly pursuing the American dream, begins to unravel under the burden of James’s guilt and Marilyn’s determination to find the killer. Lydia’s older brother has his own theory about who killed her, but quiet younger sister Hannah may hold the key to solving Lydia’s murder and restoring the family’s delicate balance.

The Arsonist

The Arsonist — Sue Miller (Knopf, June 24) 

Miller has had a long and impressive career full of terrifically readable books. She returns with a story centering on arson in a small New Hampshire town. The intrigue centers on the fact that the arsonist is burning down only the houses of summer owners. This opens up a divide in the town’s social fabric as suspicions run wild like bushfires. The protagonist, Frankie Pomery, has returned to stay in her family’s summer home after 15 years in Africa, only to encounter the kind of trouble she thought she’d left behind.

Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing — Mira Jacob (Random House, July 1)

Comparisons to the work of Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable — and justified — with this debut novel about a dysfunctional middle class Indian-American family. Jacob’s novel is split between India and New Mexico, where brain surgeon Thomas Eapen and his wife Kamala reside.  Their daughter Amina, a photographer living in Seattle, returns home to find that a trip the family took to India 20 years earlier is having unforeseen ramifications.

Red Joan

Red Joan – Jennie Rooney (Europa Editions, July 1)

This historical novel is a character study based on the case of Melita Norwood, who was exposed at age 87 as a KGB spy who had spent decades in Great Britain. Rooney has crafted a psychologically astute portrayal that makes suburban grandmother Joan Stanley a believable, three-dimensional character whose motivations are understandable if not laudable.

hundred-year-house

The Hundred-Year House — Rebecca Makkai (Viking, July 10)

Makkai’s second novel is a cleverly-constructed family saga with a satirical bent. Zee Devohr is an academic who rejects her family’s wealth and privilege in principle but still lives on the estate. Her husband Doug, a struggling biographer, begins work on a book about the artist’s colony that resided in the house for more than 30 years mid-century. But his attempt to conduct research on the house’s long history leads to conflict with Zee’s eccentric mother, Gracie, who refuses to give him access to the records. Both the Devohr family and the house they’ve long lived in have an even stranger history than Doug and Zee could have imagined.

Land of Love and Drowning

Land of Love and Drowning – Tiphanie Yanique (Riverhead, July 10)

Set in the Virgin Islands during the early 1900s, Land of Love and Drowningtells the story of three siblings orphaned in a shipwreck. The story runs 1916 through the 1970s, following the three members of the Bradshaw family and their progeny through the full range of life events. Yanique weaves Caribbean history and her family experiences with a magical realism inspired by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison, all told in her powerful and rhythmically distinctive Caribbean prose.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing — Robin Black (Random House, July 15) 

Robin Black attracted a lot of attention with her debut, the short story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, in 2011. Life Drawing is her first novel, and it has received even more acclaim (having been published in the UK in April), including a rave review by Claire Messud (author of The Woman Upstairs and The Emperor’s Children) in The Guardian. Augusta (Gus) and Owen have “retired” to the country to escape the urban life and concentrate on their art and writing, respectively, and to spend more time together in hopes of rekindling the flames of their earlier passion. Of course, there is a hitch: an affair long ago casts a long shadow even now and a young, attractive neighbor complicates matters further. Black is an astute observer of human nature and has written a compelling character study that will pull you in and hold you fast until these issues are resolved, for good or ill.

The Home Place

The Home Place – Carrie La Seur (HarperCollins, July 29)

Alma Terrebonne has left her troubled family and life in rural Montana behind to become a lawyer. But she is drawn back into her past when her sister dies accidentally. Or did she? This debut novel is said to explore family life, small town rigidity, and the secrets held by both in an evocative style with a strong sense of place.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies — Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, July 29)

Moriarty, author of the smash The Husband’s Secret, returns with another clever potboiler set in a small town that examines relationships during and after marriage, the challenges of raising children from these marriages, and the suspicions and misunderstandings that occur despite good intentions. Big Little Lies is the story of three women: divorcee Madeline (whose ex-husband and his new wife have just moved into town with their own child), Celeste (charismatic, community-oriented mother of exhausting twin boys), and Jane (a young single mother who is taken under the wing by Madeline and Celeste). They are connected through their children’s school, where multiple tensions come to a head.

Lucky Us

Lucky Us — Amy Bloom (Random House, July 29)

Bloom, whose last novel, Away, was critically acclaimed, tells the tale of a mother and daughter’s (mis)adventures across America in the 1940s. Heading out from Ohio in an old station wagon intending to make mother Iris’s dreams come true in Hollywood, they end up in locales as far-flung as Long Island and London. Lucky Us is about mothers and daughters, creating families, experiencing a new world and a new life together, and surviving one crisis after another, from scandals to World War II.

Invention of Exile

The Invention of Exile – Vanessa Manko (Penguin Press, Aug. 14)

Based partly on her own family history, The Invention of Exile, set in 1913 and thereafter, follows Russian immigrant engineer and inventor Austin Voronkov and his American wife Julia as they are deported for Austin’s alleged communist/anarchist activities. The story details their life during the Russian Civil War and their escape to Mexico City. While Julia is allowed to repatriate to the U.S., Austin is trapped in Mexico, where he devotes himself to designing new inventions in the hope that obtaining a patent will lead to his return to Julia and their children in Connecticut.

The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton (Ecco, Aug. 26)

Both an atmospheric study of a house and family in 1686 Amsterdam and a suspenseful page-turned with a supernatural bent, The Miniaturist is the story of an 18-year-old country girl, Nella, her wealthy merchant husband Johannes Brandt, and his martinet of a sister, Marin. When Johannes gives Nella a chest-size version of the family home, to be filled with replicas of themselves and their lives crafted by a miniaturist, Nella begins to learn the truth behind the family and their lifestyle, and the story takes a turn toward the supernatural. Or is it all in Nella’s mind?

Rainey-Royal

Rainey Royal — Dylan Landis (Soho Press, Sept. 9)

Landis has expanded one of her popular stories into this captivating novel. Rainey Royal is the talented 14-year-old daughter of a New York City jazz musician, and her story, set in the 1970s, follows her attempts to explore her own creative impulses and create a new family (her mother has abandoned her husband and Rainey). Landis captures the tenderness and rebellion of adolescence, the artistic ferment in the rough and tumble NYC of the 70s, and the vicissitudes of friendship and family.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 books at the top of my spring reading list

Boy, Snow, Bird  Chasing the Sun  Everything I Never Told You  We Are Called to Rise  The Bees  A Life in Men  Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street  Be Safe I Love You  Ghost of Mary Celeste  Eleven Days

For Top Ten Tuesday, bloggers are sharing their spring reading lists. These are ten of the books I am most looking forward to reading in the next couple months. While most will be published this spring, a few are already available (and one is a year old, but new to me).

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi (March 6)

Nigerian-born, British-raised author Helen Oyeyemi has made a sort of specialty out of writing fractured fairy tales. Here she takes the story of Snow White and places it in rural Massachusetts in 1953. A young female runaway from New York City named Boy settles into a boardinghouse and soon marries an older widower. Her relationship with her stepdaughter, Snow, is fraught with conflicts. Things take a turn for the twisted when daughter Bird is born and her husband’s family secret is out: They are light-skinned blacks who have been passing as white for a long time.

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste – Valerie Martin (Jan. 28)

The Mary Celeste was an American merchant vessel found floating off the coast of Spain in 1872. The crew was gone, but there was no sign of a struggle, nothing missing, etc. Young writer Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, that ACD) is intrigued by this event and writes a short story about the ghost ship. An American journalist reads the story and decides to investigate further. The result is a highly literary and very atmospheric mystery.

A Life in Men – Gina Frangello (Feb. 4)

Two young women, Mary and Nix, decide to take a trip to Greece, in part because Nix has learned that her lifelong friend Mary is slowly dying and wants her to have a grand adventure. But Nix ends their friendship after the trip for reasons unknown to Mary. A few years later, it is Nix who is dead, and Mary is preoccupied with questions about her. She returns to Europe to get her questions answered and has the life-changing experience the initial trip was meant to be.

Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter (April 2013)

This novel was published in spring of 2013, but is receiving a lot of attention now after making the longlist of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK a few weeks ago. Jason is a gifted young man who joins the Navy after 9/11 and, after nine years, he is finishing his service. While on a top-secret mission with the Navy SEALs, he disappears. Eleven Days follows his mother Sara during the first 11 days of his disappearance, as she tries to make sense of her brilliant son’s decision to join the military, the ways it changed him, and how she will live without him if he does not return.

Be Safe, I Love You – Cara Hoffman (April 1)

The latest in a steady stream of novels about the Iraq War written by women, Be Safe, I Love You appears to be the partner to Roxanna Robinson’s Sparta. Both explore the return home of a soldier with PTSD, in Sparta a young man, and in Be Safe a young woman. Lauren Clay is clearly disturbed after her tour of duty in Iraq, but her father lets her take her younger brother Danny to upstate New York to visit their mother. Instead, Lauren drives them to Canada to visit the Jeanne d’Arc basin oil fields, with which she has become obsessed. They end up on what Lauren thinks is a survival training trip for Danny.

The Bees – Laline Paull (May 6)

This book has me buzzing with anticipation. 😉 It’s a dystopian thriller set in a beehive and the description reminds me of one of my favorite books, Watership Down. If it is as good as early readers say it is, you’ll forget you’re reading about bees. Flora 717 is a low-caste sanitation worker who eventually makes her way into the royal nursery and even to the ranks of foragers (pollen gatherers). When she gains access to the Queen’s inner circle, she discovers all is not as members of the hive have been led to believe. She is soon considered a threat to the Queen. Sounds like a vividly imagined, page-turning read.

Chasing the Sun – Natalia Sylvester (June 3)

A troubled marriage becomes even more tangled when the wife is kidnapped in this combination character study and suspense novel set in Lima, Peru. Sylvester’s debut novel is being published by New Harvest, Amazon’s joint venture with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It will be interesting to see how Chasing the Sun sells, as many independent bookstores have refused to stock anything on the New Harvest imprint.

We Are Called to Rise – Laura McBride (June 3)

Las Vegas resident McBride weaves together the tales of four vastly different characters struggling in the real Las Vegas, the one far from the Strip. Vegas is the city of dreams for millions of people, but those dreams do not easily become reality. An Iraq war veteran, a social worker, a housewife in a crumbling marriage, and an immigrant boy try to make sense of their circumstances and create lives they actually want to live. Gritty but compassionate and very memorable.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street – Susan Jane Gilman (June 10)

Gilman’s book is the rags-to-riches story of Malka Treynovksy, who arrives in New York City from Russia with her parents in 1913. Before long, she is crippled and abandoned on the Lower East Side. She is taken in by an Italian ices peddler, and begins to help him and learn the business. Later, she and her husband Albert decide to travel across the country in an ice cream truck. Malka eventually transforms herself into Lilian Dunkle, the queen of an ice cream empire. Spanning 70 years and tracking the 20th century, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street should be a rejuvenating read over the summer.

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng (June 26)

When the beloved teenage daughter of a Chinese-American family living in 1970s Ohio is found murdered, the family falls into disarray as the parents grieve in their separate and obsessive ways and older brother Nathan suspects a local boy. But youngest daughter Hannah knows more than anyone suspects and may hold the key to solving the crime and saving the family. Celeste Ng’s debut novel is a probing examination of family dynamics, parents’ dreams for their children, immigrant acculturation, and generational conflict.