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People PICK

Wash

by Margaret Wrinkle |

REVIEWED BY HELEN ROGAN

NOVEL

A descendant of slaveholders, the Alabama-bred Margaret Wrinkle boldly tackles her heritage in this debut novel, and it’s a marvel. By turns grim and lyrical, heart-wrenching and hopeful, Wash takes place in early-1800’s Tennessee, where settlers and their slaves are inextricably bound in a web of oppression, powerful secrets and small moments of decency. Three people dominate Wrinkle’s story: Richardson, a tortured landowner, chafes at the system that supports him even as he farms out his prized slave, Washington, for breeding. Wash is a difficult, inscrutable man who survives humiliation and violence by retreating into the spirituality bequeathed him by his West African mother. And Pallas, a midwife and healer, tries to protect Wash, whom she loves, with ancient remedies. In their different ways, all three sense that change is coming. “This will tilt and fade and crumble in the long run. The only question is just how long is the long run, and can they hang on long enough to make it?” With their voices resonating in your head, you’ll wish they could have.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

by Teddy Wayne |

REVIEWED BY KYLE SMITH

NOVEL

Told by a Justin Bieber-like singing sensation, this heartbreakingly convincing novel highlights the loneliness and drudgery of the boy’s life. Having moved to L.A. after his YouTube video went viral, Jonny, 11, is now an overworked show poodle who thinks in marketing-speak and longs for his estranged dad. Hate Bieber? Wayne’s touching portrait might change your mind.

Frances and Bernard

by Carlene Bauer |

REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

NOVEL

Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and poet Robert Lowell, Bauer’s first novel is a moving tale about kindred spirits who meet at a writer’s colony in 1957. The book showcases an era in which literature and intellect were celebrated; its epistolary form lends itself to a delightful exchange of ideas as the protagonists dance with the possibility of love-and face its disappointments.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

by Karen Russell |

STORIES

After showcasing her delightfully bizarre imagination in her first novel, Swamplandia!, Russell takes things a step further with her second story collection, venturing fully into fantasy and horror underlined with social commentary. “Reeling for the Empire,” in which women become human silkworms, serves as a metaphor for the excesses of Japan’s industrial ethos and people’s ability to transcend their circumstances. “Proving Up,” set on the Nebraskan plains, evokes a dark side of 19th-century American history and delivers a bone-chilling ending. Though the collection lacks the emotional resonance of Swamplandia!, Russell’s writing is always a pleasure.

-R.M.

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