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August 06, 2021

George Ernsberger
Posted 8/3/21

When We Were Strangers by Alex Richards (Bloomsbury).

A YA novel, actually, though you mightn’t notice unless you’re a really attentive reader. Central characters are young and in the …

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August 06, 2021

Posted

When We Were Strangers by Alex Richards (Bloomsbury).

A YA novel, actually, though you mightn’t notice unless you’re a really attentive reader. Central characters are young and in the process of getting a serious personality up and running, but they’re smart and funny and good company, even the ones who aren’t cheery or even necessarily nice. And grown-up things are going on, here. Family dynamics are complex, to say the least; on page 1, a fairly troubled father of a family has a heart attack and dies—and leaves a pregnant mistress not much older than his daughter, our POV character. (“The mistress” turns out to have human dimensions, too; there are no stock characters, here.) I have noticed, from a little distance, that books (and a lot of other things: TV programming, for example—and commercials, too) produced for that young audience/readership/ market—like to embody, without making a fuss about it, acceptance of social and cultural stuff that I didn’t encounter in any serious way until I was nearer to my thirties than to my teens. Sexuality and gender, race and ethnicity—all that. And all of that is true of this book, but I soon forgot about whatever novelty that might be, for just the reason the author intended: because I cared about what’s important to the people, here: kindness and meanness, love and anger and failure and desperation and redemption. What’s actually important in real life. People who specialize in books for that readership expect this one to win awards, but I want to report that it isn’t only for that readership; and then to inform you that my research, here, confirms what I’d begun to suspect: a lot of books published in that way, these days, aren’t just for kids.

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s).

An old favorite of the column, a strong suspense writer of the sort that also attracts readers who don’t read only suspense fiction. (One could wish she were more prolific, but it’s no wonder that stuff this rich needs time to get right.) Her fine new thriller is spooky, in a way. Nothing supernatural, this is not horror fiction in any sense, but a prevailing threat in the air in a far-northern town—far north of Canada!—in a forest, and a history shadowed by not frequent, but over decades a disturbing number, of murders of young women. A full-length novel; you mightn’t finish it in one sitting; but you won’t willingly put it down, either.

The Safe Place by Anna Downes (Minotaur).

Trade paperback reprint of the extraordinary first novel the column recommended a year or so ago (isolated house, mysterious owner, troubled child needing care—but large, varied cast of characters…remember that?)

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