Tag Archives: psychological fiction

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Women Talking by Miriam Toews. April 2, 2019. Bloomsbury Publishing, 216 p. ISBN: 9781635572582.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women―all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in―have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Rape and statutory rape, Sexual assault, Strong language, Suicide, Violence

 

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Booklist starred (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
They have to meet in secret, and time is tight. They are grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and daughters in the Molotschna Colony, a Mennonite community in an unnamed, Spanish-speaking country. These girls and women have been attacked and raped. The bishop declared it the work of “ghosts and demons” and suggested that the women were being punished for their sins. Or perhaps they’d just imagined it, injuries notwithstanding. But the truth has finally emerged: the rapists are colony men. Husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons who snuck into the women’s rooms at night, drugged them with an animal anesthetic, and beat and raped them, even assaulting a three-year-old girl. The women are traumatized and afflicted by a sexually transmitted disease (there’s no medicine to treat it), forced pregnancies, and the suicide of one rape victim’s mother. Some men are in jail; others are in town raising their bail. The women have been given an ultimatum: forgive the rapists and go to heaven, or forfeit salvation and leave the colony, the only world they know. Eight courageous women gather clandestinely in a hayloft to decide their future. Canadian author Toews, whose six previous best-selling novels include All My Puny Sorrows (2014), grew up in a Mennonite community, and Mennonite life permeates her fiction. This sharp blade of a novel was inspired by actual events in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia. Although their way of life, with horses and buggies, creates the ambience of several centuries past, the assaults took place between 2005 and 2009, making them all the more appalling. Toews’ eviscerating fictionalization of this incendiary reality focuses not on the violence but, rather, on the keen, subversive intelligence of the Mennonite women, their philosophical casts of mind, clashing personalities, and deep concerns about family and faith. Toews’ choice of narrator is also counterintuitive. August Epp is the colony’s schoolteacher. The son of progressive, excommunicated parents, he has returned after a rather disastrous stay in London because of his love for Ona, one of the brave rebels meeting in the hayloft to discuss their options. While the colony’s men mock August as effeminate, the women trust him so much they’ve asked him to take minutes so that there will be a record of their debate. The women’s predicament is complicated by the fact that they speak Plautdietsch, a medieval language now only known to Mennonites, and they cannot read or write. But they are incisive, eloquent, passionate, and caustically funny. August can hardly keep up with their nuanced yet rapidly deployed arguments, insults, jokes, stories, and analyses of the possible consequences of their difficult choices. Temperamental and generational differences emerge, as do degrees of fury, pain, and determination. The women talk, one man listens, and readers read wide-eyed as Toews’ dissenters confront the fact that they don’t actually know what’s in the Bible, only what the men tell them it says. Still, they fully intend to remain true to their faith, unlike the men, including the sect’s vow of pacifism. And one of their priorities going forward is securing the freedom to think. Toews’ knowing wit and grasp of dire subjects aligns her with Margaret Atwood, while her novel’s slicing concision and nearly Socratic dialogue has the impact of a courtroom drama or a Greek tragedy, which brings to mind Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling (2011). Novels loosely linked thematically include The Break (2018), by Katherena Vermette; Haven’s Wake, by Ladette Randolph (2013); Prayers for the Stolen (2014), by Jennifer Clement; and In the Kingdom of Men​ (2012), by Kim Barnes, whose memoirs address an isolating Pentecostal upbringing. ​“Women talking” has always been potentially revolutionary. Women are now speaking out …

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2019)
An exquisite critique of patriarchal culture from the author of All My Puny Sorrows (2014). The Molotschna Colony is a fundamentalist Mennonite community in South America. For a period of years, almost all the women and girls have awakened to find themselves bloodied and bruised, with no memories of what might have happened in the night. At first, they assumed that, in their weakness, they were attracting demons to their beds. Then they learn that, in fact, they have been drugged and raped repeatedly by men of the colony. It’s only when one woman, Salome, attacks the accused that outside authorities are called—for the men’s protection. While the rest of the men are away in the city, arranging for bail, a group of women gather to decide how they will live after this monstrous betrayal. The title means what it says: This novel is an account of two days of discussion, and it is riveting and revelatory. The cast of characters is small, confined to two families, but it includes teenage girls and grandmothers and an assortment of women in between. The youngest form an almost indistinguishable dyad, but the others emerge from the formlessness their culture tries to enforce through behavior, dress, and hairstyle as real and vividly compelling characters. Shocked by the abuse they have endured at the hands of the men to whom they are supposed to entrust not only their bodies, but also their souls, these women embark on a conversation that encompasses all the big questions of Christian theology and Western philosophy—a ladies-only Council of Nicea, Plato’s Symposium with instant coffee instead of wine. This surely is not the first time that these women are thinking for themselves, but it might be the first time they are questioning the male-dominated system that endangered them and their children, and it is clearly the first time they are working through the practical ramifications of what they know and what they truly believe. It’s true that the narrator is a man, but that’s of necessity. These women are illiterate and therefore incapable of recording their thoughts without his sympathetic assistance. Stunningly original and altogether arresting.

About the Author

Miriam Toews is the author of six previous bestselling novels, All My Puny SorrowsSummer of My Amazing LuckA Boy of Good BreedingA Complicated KindnessThe Flying Troutmans, and Irma Voth, and one work of nonfiction, Swing Low: A Life. She is winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award. She lives in Toronto.

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Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko. November 1, 2018. Harper Voyager, 416 p. ISBN: 9780062694591.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The definitive English language translation of the internationally bestselling Ukrainian novel—a brilliant dark fantasy with “the potential to be a modern classic” (Lev Grossman), combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief . . .

While vacationing at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with an air of the sinister directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous consequences. He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.

As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school, she also feels it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.

As she quickly discovers, the institute’s “special technologies” are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence, filtered through a distinct Russian sensibility, this astonishing work of speculative fiction—brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey—is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Max Barry’s Lexicon, and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Violence

 

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Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
While on holiday, Sasha notices a strange man following her. He has an unusual request: swim during the early morning. After a friend is mysteriously injured, Sasha feels that she has to fulfill his command. Even after she returns home, the man keeps coming back with demands. The strangest is that she change her university plans and attend the Institute of Special Technologies. Soon after arriving at the institute, Sasha realizes that this is no ordinary school. She takes classes like philosophy and English, but all students are required to take “Specialty.” At first, the readings in Specialty make no sense, but, once she begins to understand, she starts to manifest strange abilities. As Sasha’s powers grow, the novel builds to a mind-bending conclusion. While a magical school is a familiar trope, Harry Potter this is not. Dark and foreboding, this fantasy, translated from Russian, is more of philosophical treatise on growing up and the nature of reality than an adventure tale. Readers willing to challenge themselves and slowly digest this deep book will enjoy it immensely.

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 1, 2018)
Punishingly intense academic pressure transforms a university student into a transcendent being in this harrowing fantasy novel by a married Ukrainian couple, the first in a trilogy. Vacationing at the beach with her mom, 16-year-old Sasha Samokhina reacts with terror when a mysterious man in dark sunglasses starts following her around and staring at her. She’s right to be scared. He’s a supernatural recruiter using coercion—everything from threatening her family to trapping her in time loops—until she agrees to enroll in a provincial university nobody’s ever heard of. There, Sasha and her fellow students must memorize long passages of gibberish, solve koanlike math problems, and listen to deadening recordings of silence, all without a single error or misstep, or the people they love will die. Over and over the students are told they’re not ready to know the meaning of this work or what their future holds, but their studies change them, eventually uncoupling their existence from the physical plane. In Hersey’s sensitive translation, the Dyachenkos (The Scar, 2012, etc.) make vivid the tormenting preoccupations of adolescence and early adulthood: the social anxieties; the baffling dawn of sexuality; the new, uncontrolled powers that come with physical changes; and that simultaneous sense of one’s vital importance and one’s utter insignificance. It’s no surprise that Sasha is at the age when serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder typically first make themselves apparent; the Dyachenkos turn the delusions of mental illness into dangerous magic. Although it fits squarely in the popular school-for-magicians genre, this dark, ambitious, and intellectually strenuous novel will feel like a fresh revelation to fantasy readers glutted with Western wish-fulfillment narratives.

About the Authors

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko — co-authors of novels, short fiction, plays and scripts. They write in Russian and Ukrainian languages with several novels soon to be published in translation in the United States. The primary genres of their books are modern speculative fiction, fantasy, and literary tales.

Their website is www.dyachenkowriters.com

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Dive Smack by Demetra Brodsky

Dive Smack by Demetra Brodsky. June 19, 2018. Tor Teen, 336 p. ISBN: 9780765396952.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

Theo Mackey only remembers one thing for certain about the fire that destroyed his home: he lit the match.

Sure, it was an accident. But the blaze killed his mom and set his dad on a path to self-destruction. Everything else about that fateful night is full of gaping holes in Theo’s mind, for good reason. Maybe it’s better that way. As captain of the Ellis Hollow Diving Team, with straight A’s and solid friends, he’s only one semester away from securing a scholarship, and leaving his past behind.

But when a family history project gets assigned at school, new memories come rushing to the surface, memories that make him question what he really knows about his family, the night of the fire, and if he can trust anyone—including himself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Marijuana, Mild sexual themes, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Strong language, Underage drinking

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (May 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 17))
Grades 8-11. In this strong psychological thriller, a school assignment sends golden boy Theo Mackey down the rabbit hole of his family’s twisted history. Theo is careful to appear confident, easygoing, and reliable, the way a popular, straight-A student and star athlete should. Inside, though, he’s still wracked with guilt over the only thing he remembers about the night his mother died: he started the fire that killed her. When his teacher assigns a family history project senior year, Theo has few resources. His father died last year, leaving his family’s history in only two hands: his alcoholic grandfather’s and his father’s best friend’s, a psychiatrist who’s treating Theo for PTSD. Both of them seem to be working harder to keep Theo in the dark than help him learn the truth. Theo’s search dredges up buried memories, accompanied by scarily accurate premonitions of danger. Brodsky’s debut combines an engaging school story, filled with best-friend shenanigans, first love, and a fascinating look at competitive diving, with a tense psychological mystery that pivots reasonably well into the paranormal.

Publishers Weekly (April 23, 2018)
In this amnesia-driven psychological thriller, an athlete is haunted by the slowly returning memories of the fire that destroyed his home and killed his mother, a fire he believes he started. Springboard diver Theo just wants to master his mother’s favorite dive in the hope that this accomplishment will help get him into Stanford. However, as he works with several classmates, including his crush, Iris, on a family-history project for school, he discovers numerous mysteries surrounding his mother’s life and death, and he starts to wonder if his adoptive uncle, Dr. Phil Maddox, may know more than he lets on. Furthermore, Theo’s increasingly frequent visions of imminent events are eroding his performance in both school and on the diving board. With Iris’s help, Theo tries to uncover the truth linking his lost memories and the glimpses he receives of the future before things spiral out of control. In an impressive debut, Brodsky injects her teen drama with ambiguity, and a subtle hint of paranormal phenomena, leaving readers to guess at what’s really going on. Strong characters and a compelling mystery make this a real page-turner. Ages 12-up.

About the Author

Demetra Brodsky is an award-winning graphic designer & art director turned writer. She has a B.F.A from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and lives in Southern California with her family of four and two lovable rescue dogs. She is a first generation Greek-American and a member of International Thriller Writers. Dive Smack, her debut novel, is a 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection, a January 2018 ALAN pick, and a Buzz Books 2018: Young Adult Spring/Summer notable mention. It’s also dedicated to Pumpkin, the monarch butterfly she once saved from the brink of death. Once you read the book, you’ll understand why.

Her website is www.demetrabrodsky.com

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The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury

The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury. March 20, 2018. William Morrow, 304 p. ISBN: 9780062741998.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 880.

A natural born trapper and hunter raised in the Alaskan wilderness, Tracy Petrikoff spends her days tracking animals and running with her dogs in the remote forests surrounding her family’s home. Though she feels safe in this untamed land, Tracy still follows her late mother’s rules: Never Lose Sight of the House. Never Come Home with Dirty Hands. And, above all else, Never Make a Person Bleed.

But these precautions aren’t enough to protect Tracy when a stranger attacks her in the woods and knocks her unconscious. The next day, she glimpses an eerily familiar man emerge from the tree line, gravely injured from a vicious knife wound—a wound from a hunting knife similar to the one she carries in her pocket. Was this the man who attacked her and did she almost kill him? With her memories of the events jumbled, Tracy can’t be sure.

Helping her father cope with her mother’s death and prepare for the approaching Iditarod, she doesn’t have time to think about what she may have done. Then a mysterious wanderer appears, looking for a job. Tracy senses that Jesse Goodwin is hiding something, but she can’t warn her father without explaining about the attack—or why she’s kept it to herself.

It soon becomes clear that something dangerous is going on . . . the way Jesse has wormed his way into the family . . . the threatening face of the stranger in a crowd . . . the boot-prints she finds at the forest’s edge.

Her family is in trouble. Will uncovering the truth protect them—or is the threat closer than Tracy suspects?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Hunting, Inhumane treatment of animals, Recollection of a sexual assault, Murder, Two instances of strong language

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Tracy lives to hunt, sometimes spending days in the Alaska wilderness with nothing but her wits and her knife. Ever since her mother died, her father has kept her on a tight leash, especially when it comes to training for the upcoming Iditarod. Tracy’s preternatural drive to hunt is insatiable, however, so she sneaks out regularly, which is where she is when the stranger attacks her. She fights back, waking up with a bruised head and bloody hands, but she’s convinced he’ll return to finish what he started. When her father takes on a hired hand, Tracy’s careful secrets start to unravel, and she discovers disturbing truths about her desperate need to hunt. Though the pacing can be haphazard and Tracy’s folksy, first-person narration doesn’t always ring true, debut author Bradbury cultivates vivid atmosphere with visceral action and a dynamic cast of characters. Tracy’s unsettling compulsion for hunting takes a magic-realist turn early on, which might disappoint fans of straightforward survival thrillers, but patient readers who like earthy, genre-blending, coming-of-age stories should be pleased.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
An Alaskan teenager on the cusp of adulthood is drawn to the feral life.Although the folksy and stubbornly ungrammatical voice of Bradbury’s first-person narrator, Tracy Petrikoff, takes some getting used to, it conveys a visceral sense of her world. In the nearly two years since her mother’s death, a month before Tracy’s 16th birthday, her home life has been thrown into disarray. Now nearing 18, Tracy hopes to enter her first adult Iditarod. But her father, Bill, a champion musher, has given up the sport and is deaf to Tracy’s pleas to let her train. Younger brother Scott has retreated into his books and photography. Other than tending the fleet of sled dogs her family still maintains, she is officially grounded—she’s been expelled from school for fighting. However, Tracy easily evades her father’s halfhearted discipline to set woodland traps. Her catches—martens, minks, hares, and squirrels—provide meat for the family and pelts to sell in the nearby village. Furthermore, trusty hunting blade in hand, Tracy gains essential strength from drinking the blood of her prey while also temporarily mind-melding with victims. One day in the woods, a strange man slams Tracy against a tree root and she blacks out. When the man, Tom Hatch, shows up at her home, bleeding from a stab wound, Tracy assumes she inflicted it. Returning to the scene of her supposed crime, Tracy finds a backpack containing wads of cash, enough to enter the Iditarod. Jesse Goodwin, a young drifter, appears, taking on the role of hired factotum. Tracy and Jesse develop a special bond after she learns Jesse was fleeing Hatch. However, Jesse is not what he seems. The ingredients of a thriller with surreal elements are all in place, as Tracy suspects that Hatch has recovered and may be seeking revenge. From here the plot veers off in directions that are not only unexpected, but at time beggar belief. Still, readers will warm to the unconventional persona Bradbury has crafted for Tracy, that of wilderness savant. A strange and soulful debut.

About the Author

Jamey Bradbury’s work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Sou’wester, and Zone 3. She won an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters.

She moved to Anchorage, Alaska, in 2002 but kept leaving to join the Peace Corps, work in Vermont, and go to graduate school. The important part, though, is that she came back. If you’re ever in Anchorage, she recommends Spenard Roadhouse for drinks, Bear Tooth Theater Pub for movies and burritos, and Eagle and Symphony Lakes for hiking. She hails originally from Illinois.

Her website is www.jameybradbury.com

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Marlena: A Novel by Julie Buntin

Marlena: A Novel by Julie Buntin. April 4, 2017. Henry Holt & Co., 288 p. ISBN: 9781627797641.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 970.

The story of two girls and the wild year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades

Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat is quickly drawn into Marlena’s orbit and as she catalogues a litany of firsts―first drink, first cigarette, first kiss, first pill―Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try again to move on, even as the memory of Marlena calls her back.

Told in a haunting dialogue between past and present, Marlena is an unforgettable story of the friendships that shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Underage drinking

 

Video Review

Reviews

Publishers Weekly (November 14, 2016)
In her impressive debut novel, Buntin displays a remarkable control of tone and narrative arc. In a keenly observed study of teenage character, narrator Catherine, 15, is miserable in the ramshackle house her newly divorced mother has bought in the dismal town of Silver Lake in northern Michigan. When she meets Marlena, her glamorous 17-year-old next-door neighbor, Cat is smitten with the euphoria of having a best friend. Buntin is particularly sensitive to the misery of adolescent angst, and Cat’s growing happiness in Marlena’s friendship runs like an electric wire through the narrative. Marlena is dangerous, however: she runs with a bad crowd, and her father cooks meth. From the beginning, we know that Marlena is irresistible, reckless, and brave; she’s a mother substitute for her forlorn younger brother-musically talented, beautiful, and doomed to die young. It’s only later that Cat understands that Marlena is the needy one in their relationship. Her bravado hides desperation; she fears she’ll never get out of Silver Lake, that she has no future, and that “there were kids like us all over rural America.” Almost 20 years later, living in New York with her husband and working at a good job, Cat is still damaged by losing Marlena. Crippled by “the pain at the utter core of me,” she takes refuge in alcohol and memories. The novel is poignant and unforgettable, a sustained eulogy for Marlena’s “glow… that lives in lost things, that sets apart the gone forever.” Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)

School Library Journal (July 1, 2017)
When Catherine was a teenager, she moved to the small, economically depressed town of Silver Lake, MN, following her mom’s divorce. Now in her 30s, Catherine is still haunted by her past. Even a good job and a great husband can’t compensate for a pain that won’t fade completely and a powerful drinking problem that arose as a result of her best friend’s death by drowning. Catherine is consumed by the memory of a girl who made having nothing seem like everything. As chapters deftly alternate between the protagonist’s adult life and her adolescence, readers encounter teenage Cat: angry at her dad and unappreciative of her mom’s efforts, the 15-year-old is primed for reinvention. A bookish girl on partial scholarship at a private high school, Cat meets Marlena, a force of nature: blonde, sexy, and unapologetically brash and worldly. Cat is soon ditching school to hang out with her friend, who’s looked down on by many: Marlena is the daughter of a menacing meth cook who is not above trading his daughter’s sexual favors to a drug partner. Drinking, pills, smoking, sex-all the staples of Marlena’s life, once glamorous to Cat, become routine as Marlena’s sketchy friends and dangerous behavior affect both girls. This searing work from debut author Buntin adroitly captures the dark side of friendship and the turmoil of young adulthood. VERDICT Hand this unflinching tale to savvy teens starting to look beyond Ellen Hopkins or to readers who appreciate gritty fare, such as E.R. Frank’s Dime.-Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Gwinnett County, GA

About the Author

Julie Buntin is from northern Michigan. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, O, The Oprah Magazine, Slate, Electric Literature, and One Teen Story, among other publications. She teaches fiction at Marymount Manhattan College, and is the director of writing programs at Catapult. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Marlena is her debut novel.

Her website is www.juliebuntin.com.

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Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler. January 10, 2017. Harry N. Abrams, 240 p. ISBN: 9781419709470.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Octavia E. Butler’s bestselling literary science-fiction masterpiece, Kindred, now in graphic novel format.

More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century.

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere.

Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Racial taunts; Discrimination; Violence; Strong sexual themes; Sexual assault

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
The grande dame of sci-fi’s 1979 novel is still widely, deservedly popular, and this graphic adaptation will lure in even more readers. Dana is a 1970s black woman repeatedly and involuntarily whisked back in time to a nineteenth-century plantation, where she becomes embroiled in the lives of the people enslaved there, risking everything by educating their children, even as she forms an uneasy and dangerous relationship with her own white ancestor. This adoring adaptation is dense enough to fully immerse readers in the perspective of a modern woman plunged into the thick of a culture where people are dehumanized by the act of dehumanizing others. It also preserves the vivid characterizations of the time traveler, her husband, and the enslaved people and the slaveholders, making the fantastical device that sets the story in motion a springboard for deeply humane insights. The heavily shaded, thick-lined, and rough-edged art lends a grimness appropriate to a life of jagged brutality and fearful uncertainty. Both a rewarding way to reexperience the tale and an accessible way to discover it.

Publishers Weekly (November 7, 2016)
Dana, an African-American woman in the 1970s, is thrust backward in time to a 19th-century Maryland plantation. Over many visits to the past, she realizes that the spoiled son of the plantation owner is her ancestor, destined to father children with a slave, and she must protect his life to ensure her own existence. Butler’s celebrated 1979 novel, here adapted into a graphic novel, starts with a gripping idea and builds skillfully, as both Dana and her white husband in the present are warped by slavery and become complicit in its evil. This graphic novel recaps the classic source material faithfully without adding much to justify the adaptation, although it may find some new readers. The blocky artwork lacks the subtlety to evoke the complexity of the novel or the vividness of its historical settings (in addition to the antebellum South, the adaptation preserves the 1970s setting of the “present-day” sections). It’s an effective recap, clearly produced with great love and respect, but the book remains the gold standard. (Jan.)

About the Author

Octavia Estelle Butler (1947–2006), often referred to as the “grand dame of science fiction,” was born in Pasadena, California, on June 22, 1947. She received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena City College, and also attended California State University in Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles. Butler was the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur Fellowship (“genius” grant). She won the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award and the Nebula and Hugo Awards, among others.

Her website is www.octaviabutler.org.

Teacher Resources

Kindred Reader’s Guide

Kindred Discussion Questions

Kindred Book Kit

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