July 19, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Land of Love and Drowning

Current Status
In Season
Tiphanie Yanique
Riverhead Hardcover
We gave it an A-

It’s a tired cliché to call a place a character, but in Tiphanie Yanique’s gorgeous debut, Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands makes for a textured and fascinating protagonist. At the beginning of the novel, in the early 20th century, the island is in flux as it goes from Danish to American ownership. At the same time, sisters Eeona and Anette find their fortunes changing drastically when their father, Capt. Owen Arthur Bradshaw, who’s something of a local legend, drowns in a shipwreck. The untouchably beautiful Eeona and the earthy but equally seductive Anette must evolve and fend for themselves as Saint Thomas becomes a tourist hot spot and their dead father’s secrets continue to haunt them at every turn — as we’re often reminded, it’s a small island. Yanique’s many artful touches — switched perspectives, deeply idiomatic dialogue, island folklore, strokes of magical realism — are so arresting that it’s easy to overlook the mastery involved in intertwining the history of a place and the lives of two unforgettable women. A-

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