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The Painted Girls

by Cathy Marie Buchanan |

REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

NOVEL

Edgar Degas first exhibited his celebrated sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen in 1881. Depicting one of the Paris Opera’s “petit-rats,” the very young working-class girls of the ballet, the work was hailed as groundbreaking by some and reviled as ugly by others. This deeply moving and inventive historical novel tells the story of the girl who modeled for Degas, Marie van Goethem, as she and her family struggle to survive crushing poverty and cruel prejudices. Buchanan’s evocative portrait of 19th-century Paris brings to life its sights, sounds and smells, along with the ballet hall where dancers hunger for a place in the corps and the wages it would bring. But nothing is more real or gripping than the emotions of Marie and her older sister Antoinette, who have to grapple with sexual predation and punishing choices as they fight to endure both physically and psychologically. While their reality is often wrenching, their bond provides sustenance; their tale is ultimately a tribute to the beauty of sisterly love.

People

PICK

Farewell, Fred Voodoo

by Amy Wilentz |

REVIEWED BY ROSS DRAKE

NON-FICTION

Mired in corruption and poverty, Haiti might seem a hard place to love. Not for Wilentz, author of this provocative account of life in the ruins after the 2010 earthquake. Knowing Haiti well, she has no patience with the one-dimensional reporting of journalists who once dismissed natives as so many Fred Voodoos or with celebs who confuse disaster relief with a photo op. She reserves her highest regard for people like the doctor who daily ministers to hundreds and for the Haitians so often presented merely as victims.

She Matters

by Susanna Sonnenberg

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

MEMOIR

In her stunning second memoir, a collection of linked essays, Sonnenberg (Her Last Death) finds universal truths in her experiences of female friendship. “Reliable ballast in my daily life,” she calls one ex-bestie. About a far more difficult relationship she writes: “Our furious fires had burned everything to the ground.” Close bonds between women, she reminds us, may be easy or painfully complex-but they’re as necessary as air.

Elimination Night

by Anonymous|

REVIEWED BY JOANNA POWELL

NOVEL

This send-up of American Idol is narrated by an exploited assistant producer at Project Icon. The fictional show (which airs on the Rabbit Network-get it?) has two new judges, aging rocker Joey Lovecraft and diva Bibi Vasquez, known for her hit “Bibi from the Hood”-and egos are clashing in spectacular fashion. It’s not clear whether the book’s unnamed author is an actual Idol employee, but who cares? Her (his?) faux tell-all rings deliciously true.

The One I Left Behind

by Jennifer McMahon|

REVIEWED BY ELLEN SHAPIRO

THRILLER

Reggie Dufrane was 13 when her mother was abducted by the Neptune serial killer. Her severed hand (Neptune’s signature) turned up, but her body never did. Then, 25 years later, she’s found alive in a homeless shelter. Reggie, who’s tried to outrun her past, returns home to see her mom—and discovers that Neptune may be killing again. McMahon expertly ratchets up the suspense, but it’s her full-blooded characters that make this thriller stand out from the serial-killer pack.

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