Book reviews: How 3 buzzy new novels find humanity (and healing) in the bizarre
EW book critics David Canfield and Leah Greenblatt offer their takes on three of the month’s buzziest novels.
Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano
A sort of willful tearjerker, Napolitano’s saga of death and recovery follows 12-year-old Edward, the lone survivor of a plane crash who’s just lost his parents and only brother. It surrounds his years of misery and therapy with flashbacks of the fateful flight, zeroing in on the lives of various passengers. The first chapter, an ode to the mundane routines of air travel, contains real bite and an authenticity the novel loses hold of; subsequent airborne revelations (She’s pregnant! He’s gay!) feel indulgently mawkish. But Edward’s path to finding purpose and connection is realized with an affecting, quiet empathy. You’ll sob to the end. That’s the idea, right? —David Canfield
Oligarchy, by Scarlett Thomas
Fifteen-year-old Natasha has never even been on an airplane before when she arrives at a remote British boarding school from Russia. But she has long dark-honey hair and a black AmEx, and soon she is running fast with all the other teenage hyenas who sneak out to the village for Malibu rum and roll their skirts up way past regulations. Why are they all getting so so thin, though? If her mystery doesn’t make much sense in the end, Thomas (The Seed Collectors) has a perfectly pitched ear for human cruelty and self-delusion — one man has “the eyes of a lifeguard who lets people drown” — and all the wild tortures young girls subject themselves to just to feel pretty in the world. —Leah Greenblatt
Follow Me to Ground, by Sue Rainsford
You’ve never encountered a father-daughter story like Rainsford’s slim debut. Her protagonists, beings of the “Ground,” live in isolation in the woods, tolerated by nearby villagers for their magical healing powers. Weird? Sure, but Rainsford possesses such a hypnotic command of her premise. Underworld elements keep creeping into this moody fairy tale, but a young woman’s liberation is the main, intriguing attraction. Ada, lonely and longing and curious, finds a potential suitor; her overprotective dad becomes afraid and hurt by this distancing. What does it mean to heal oneself versus others? “The sickness isn’t gone,” says Rainsford. “It just goes elsewhere.” —D.C.