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In the Shadow of the Banyan

by Vaddey Ratner |

REVIEWED BY HELEN ROGAN

NOVEL

Ratner’s lyrical first novel finds love and surprising humanity in a horrifying setting: Cambodia in the 1970s. That’s when Khmer Rouge soldiers ravaged the country, killing 2 million of its citizens. Ratner was a child then, born into a royal family. She barely survived the holocaust and years later felt compelled to turn her experiences into fiction as a way to honor the dead and illuminate “our desire to live, even in the most awful circumstances.” Raami, the book’s 7-year-old heroine, is lame from polio (as is the author), yet she remains a tenacious dreamer, sustaining herself through labor camps and near starvation by remembering the stories her father recited and losing herself in the lush beauty of the countryside. It’s Raami’s mother, though, who will stay in your heart. Accustomed to silk and servants, she’s stripped of everything-and almost everyone-she loves. Somehow she retains the will to survive and the strength to help others, fiercely telling her daughter, “Remember who you are.”

“War entered my childhood … not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father’s footsteps”

The Light Between Oceans

by M.L. Stedman |

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

NOVEL

“On the day of the miracle,” this lyrical novel begins, “Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.” The day is April 27, 1926; the cross is for Isabel’s stillborn child; and the cliff is on an Australian island where Isabel lives with her lighthouse-keeper husband. When a baby washes ashore in a boat, Isabel insists on keeping her, but unanticipated consequences result. Stedman’s debut signals a career certain to deliver future treasures.

Triburbia

by Karl Taro Greenfeld |

REVIEWED BY ELLEN SHAPIRO

NOVEL

These linked stories put Tribeca-the downtown Manhattan neighborhood where artists struggled before rich “faux-bohemians” moved in-under a compelling if merciless spotlight. The shifting chroniclers include five dads who meet after dropping their kids at school, a 9-year-old Mean Girl and a blackmailing nanny. One-percenters behaving badly may not be easy to like, but Greenfeld (a former TIME INC. editor) reveals his characters’ humanity with sly humor and an unerring eye.

Dare Me

by Megan Abbott |

REVIEWED BY KIM HUBBARD

FICTION

“There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls …” These girls, anyway. Beth Cassidy and Addy Hanlon, the restless “cheerlebrities” at the center of Abbott’s moody thriller, long for challenges beyond shaking pom-poms and ruling their school. So when a charismatic young cheerleading coach arrives, they fixate on her-Addy seeking a role model, jealous Beth out for blood. Then a shocking turn of events raises the stakes for all involved. If cheerleaders scared you in high school, you’ll finish the haunting Dare Me convinced you were right.