Castillo, Ana. Give It to Me. Feminist. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781558618503. $16.95. LITERARY
A leading voice in Latina literature whose works include So Far from God and Sapogonia, both New York Times Notable Books, Ana Castillo has turned in a vibrant, sassy, in-your-face examination of Latina identity and sexuality in her latest novel, Give It to Me. Her heroine is one tough survivor, Palma Piedras, raised by a prickly grandmother who condemned the mother Palma never knew and couldn’t or wouldn’t name Palma’s father. The novel opens with the 43-year-old, recently divorced Palma going to meet younger cousin Pepito, fresh out of prison, and falling into lust with him. As she’s expressing herself sexually with any number of people, including stripper/nursing student Ursula, Palma uncovers some telling family secrets—and, as she says, “everything [she] had taken for truth was rearranged.” Why is this good for book clubs? Readers will debate heatedly whether Palma is sexually independent or wrong-headed, using sex to connect or to disconnect, nobody’s victim and nobody’s savior, as she says of Pepito and herself. Will that rearranged truth change her? Maybe. But certainly readers will be changed by this book.
Hood, Ann. The Italian Wife. Norton. Sept. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780393241662. $25.95.LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Author of the beloved, best-selling The Obituary Writer and The Knitting Circle, among other works, Ann Hood now offers The Italian Wife, the heartfelt saga of Josephine, who enters an arranged marriage at an innocent age 15, then rejoins her husband across the ocean nine years later as the narrative moves gracefully from 1889 Italy to 1970s America. Eleven years her senior, Josephine’s husband is decidedly a boor; in America, her priest abuses the trust she puts in him, and her one truly passionate relationship ends with an infant daughter she must give up. So far, the novel is an affectingly representative account of women’s fate; then, as it tracks what happens to Josephine’s children and grandchildren and Josephine’s yearning for her daughter, it becomes a larger story of loss. Why is this good for book clubs? Do we agree with Josephine’s observation at the end that “When we die we do not think of our children who are waiting down the hall…It is the things we did not have, the love that broke our hearts, that comes to us finally”? Everyone will have an opinion.
Rasmussen, Rebecca. Evergreen. Knopf. Jul. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780385350090. $25.95. LITERARY
Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel, The Bird Sisters, deftly explored the pervasiveness of loss and the strength of family ties. Her new novel explores similar themes yet ends triumphantly by proclaiming, “DNA wasn’t the secret of life. Love was.” The novel opens in 1938 with Eveline following new husband Emil deep into the Minnesota wilderness. Theirs is a hard life gracefully and gratefully lived, but the narrative’s quiet cadences are interrupted when Emil is called back to his native Germany because his father is dying, then trapped there by war, while persevering Eveline is violently assaulted by a stranger and gives up the daughter she subsequently bears. Naamah ends up at an orphanage, scarily rendered, as heartbreak spirals down the generations. Why is this good for book clubs? We suffer along with Eveline as she makes a fateful decision, mourn what follows, and wonder, as we always do, if events had to unfold as they did. And in the end, we feel a certain sparkle upon learning that if heartbreak moves from generation to generation, so does love.
Timmer, Julie Lawson. Five Days Left, coming out this fall by Amy Einhorn: Putnam.352p. Sept. 2014. ISBN 9780399167348. $26.95. POPULAR FICTION
As this first novel opens, Mara, a hard-working lawyer, loving if sometimes nervy and acerbic wife of Tom, and dedicated mother of adopted daughter Laks, has reached her limit after slowly losing control of both mind and body because of a fatal disease. She decides that she has “five days left” before she ends it all. Meanwhile, buoyant Scott, a hard-working teacher acting as foster father to LeBron, whose mother is in jail and whose older brother Scott has successfully pushed toward college and college football, realizes he has only “five days left: before LeBron’s mother is released and reclaims her son. Complicating matters, Scott’s wife is pregnant and beginning to resent his single-minded devotion to LeBron. Why is this good for book clubs? Mara’s and Scott’s paths have already crossed in a significant way, and in these remaining five days readers will be right there with both of them, at the edge of their seats, arguing every decision, every vacillation, every doubt and hope. Life hands us tough choices, and it’s satisfying to test how we might act as we read this heartbreaking, heart-making novel.