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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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The Burgess Boys

by Elizabeth Strout |

REVIEWED BY ELIZABETH GLEICK

NOVEL

“Tell me a story,” a grieving woman says to her mother. So they wrap the blanket of nostalgia around them, trading gossip about the Burgess boys, the most accomplished characters from their small Maine hometown. Jim Burgess was the star, a lawyer who won a big, sparkling New York City life. Brother Bob, ambling, underachieving, haunted by his role in the death of their father, also becomes a lawyer in New York. There’s a Burgess girl too: Susan, left behind in a pinched existence with her troubled son Zach. This being Elizabeth Strout, the push-pull with Maine is eternal, though the device that throws everyone back together—Zach gets accused of a hate crime against the town’s Somali immigrants—feels overearnest. As Strout writes, “The facts don’t matter. Their stories mattered, and each of their stories belonged to each of them alone.” This is a highly readable, moving tale about the unraveling of those stories, and the ties that bind.

BY THE AUTHOR OF…

Olive Kitteridge, another novel set in small-town Maine, won Strout the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009.

Orphan Train

by Christina Baker Kline

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

NOVEL

In her ninth book, Kline achieves an ambitious goal: transforming a largely unknown, controversial moment in American history into compelling fiction. In alternating chapters we meet Molly, a troubled 17-year-old, and Vivian, a 91-year-old survivor of the turn-of-the-century “orphan trains” that carried thousands of abandoned children from the streets of the East Coast to foster homes in the West. Interweaving fact and fiction, past and present, Kline has created an uplifting tale of human redemption.

Mom & Me & Mom

by Maya Angelou |

REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

MEMOIR

In this moving memoir, Angelou lasers in on her mother, Vivian Baxter, who disappeared from her 3-year-old daughter’s life—sending Angelou and her brother to live with their grandmother after Baxter’s marriage failed—only to reappear a decade later. A gambler, nurse and sailor, Baxter supported Angelou through pregnancy and a violent boyfriend, encouraging her to shine until Angelou became “the woman I am because of … the mother I came to adore.” A remarkable portrait of two courageous souls.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO KIM HUBBARD: bookseditor@peoplemag.com