PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... [a] stark page-turner ... In keeping with the conventions of the revenge genre, each man will meet his fate in ingenious, mind-twisting ways ... Is Elk Head Woman’s destruction a ruthless warning against losing one’s way, against adopting the colonizer’s mind-set? Or is she simply evil incarnate, a manifestation of centuries of American carnage? Either way, if this weren’t a horror novel, some might call her tactics overkill ... One reason for the disconnect between crime and punishment is that Jones’ exceptional Native American characters, flawed and relatable, earn the reader’s trust and sympathy...The men’s banter, their affection for one another, their personal choices and troubled journeys frame their wrongdoings, big and small, as consequences of their complex lives on a reservation, not of their nature. And so the harrowing misfortunes that await them seem strangely undeserved ... If Jones is up to some form of re-appropriation, his scheme is overshadowed by the outsize gore, as well as the fact that only Lewis makes any effort to figure out what any of it means. He is the most reflective of the group, the most alert to the big picture, but he drops off halfway through. In the second half, Elk Head Woman weaves an intricate setup for Gabe and Cass that results in a bloody face-off at the sweat lodge, with hardly a moment for the characters to breathe, much less to ponder what’s happening and why ... Despite the conundrum that is Elk Head Woman, The Only Good Indians redeems itself with a climactic edge-of-your-seat battle both on and off the basketball court ... Given Jones’ focus on developing Denorah as a character, readers might be left wondering if there’s an overarching allegory in this death match between an elemental, hellbent force and one who, through strategy and adaptability, is determined to survive in this unlikely arena, the reservation. And yet the more one tries to tease out a meaning, the fuzzier the intention becomes ... strains to weave a horror story with robust character studies. In the end, there is enough in each strand to appeal to both the genre fan and the literary reader, even if neither is fully reconciled to the other.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe experience of being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, written as a personal account, is seldom seen in American literature even though it is a reality for millions of Mexicans residing in the United States...The publication of Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s Children of the Land is an excellent addition to this small but necessary body of work, underscoring the fact that in each such immigrant there’s a unique story that deserves to be heard ... is only one man’s voice, yet it amplifies the struggles and dilemmas that countless others have endured and will continue to endure, particularly during today’s political climate of animosity against migrants ... In this courageous memoir, Castillo lays bare his emotional truths with remarkable intimacy and insight. Ever the poet, Castillo can’t resist a lyrical stroke here and there.
Isabel Allende, Trans. by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesIsabel Allende’s latest novel marks a return to the time and setting of the book that jump-started her literary career, The House of the Spirits, but with far less supernatural elements and a more expansive engagement of revolution, exile and the determination of the human spirit ... Despite the prominence of historical events and that the protagonists are so intricately woven into them, the novel manages to develop the complicated bond between Victor and Roser ... A Long Petal of the Sea, a page-turning story rich with history and surprising subplots that keep the novel unpredictable to the end, serves as a counterpoint and companion to Allende’s first novel. This time, though, she focuses on the lives of the downtrodden but no less heroic figures of war.
MixedLos Angeles TimesCummins’ decision to center the story on Lydia is a good decision, and I wish the book had remained a narrative about a woman who is willing to do the impossible to save her son ... But the book ventures into the larger political minefield of immigration, particularly the sensitive territory of Central American migration. By employing the third-person omniscient point of view, Cummins not only shows insights from the unique perspective of Lydia, who is the outsider, but also from the perspectives of characters like Rebeca and Soledad, who are the insiders. The Honduran women’s tragic back stories sound a bit too familiar, and their characterizations are inscribed within an outsider’s wishful but two-dimensional view of women in this situation: They’re illustrious examples of resilience and perseverance; they are defined by their victimhood. That at one point they call themselves \'Indian\' and not \'indigenous\' also shows a lack of insider knowledge (or research) on the part of the author ... Cummins tells a highly original story, and I enjoyed following Lydia’s adventure. But the characters’ moralizing and other moments of pandering to social justice language toward the end of the book get in the way of the narrative, which, stripped of the other points of view, could have shined more compellingly. That’s unfortunate because Lydia’s journey is ultimately a story of personal growth.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesHerein the fascinating zigzag of Theroux’s observations. He affords great respect and kindness to the working-class people he meets, humanizing their stories, admiring their struggles and applauding their dignity and pride. In another instant, his comments come across as self-serving ... In an effort to see past the negative stereotypes, he latches on to a no less objectionable one: the good Mexican, humble and resourceful, \'making the best of it\' when resisting the pull toward the border or resigned to the improbability of migration due to lack of funds ... Eventually Theroux does manage to distance himself from his initial startling premise that his trip to Mexico had something to do with the fact the he, a 78-year-old white man, identified with the \'despised Mexican, the person always reminded he or she is not welcomed, whom no one ever misses.\' He does this by relinquishing the center of the narrative to people who don’t think that about themselves ... For the most part, Theroux’s portraits of Mexican lives are powerful, candid, and multivalent, with a few notable exceptions ... Theroux’s impeccable research and superb descriptive prose make On the Plain of Snakes a trip worth taking.
RaveOn the Seawall... timely and surprising ... striking ... Helal’s use of prose is an effective choice, supporting a narrative that unfolds as part autobiography and part ethnography of the \'immigration industrial complex.\' The result is a stylized documentation (simultaneously an abecedarian and an alphabetized catalogue of events) of a sociopolitical situation steeped in paperwork with dehumanizing terminology and discriminatory requirements designed to create obstacles and not, despite the claims of these institutions, to expedite access or citizenship ... inventively protests the ways American culture, proclaiming the foreign and alien undesirable, demands that its immigrant communities assimilate ... also reimagines the conventions we have come to expect from poetry. It’s as if Helal proposes that, in this instance too, we should re-examine the confines of definition and the rules that restrict belonging.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesGina Apostol’s stunning novel Insurrecto offers a nuanced narration that deftly illustrates the power of perspective and the importance of the storyteller while revisiting the complicated history of the Philippines ... the inspired structure of the novel: all three story lines (the road trip, Chiara’s script, Magsalin’s alternative vision) unfold out of sequence, constantly challenging the reader to piece together the stories—a task that becomes impossible once it’s clear that Apostol has interwoven the narratives. Like parallel universes, all three exist simultaneously, complementing each other like the parts of a stereo card: it takes more than one side to achieve depth ... each strong female lead shines in her individuality ... An arresting novel with a timely political message, Apostol’s Insurrecto dazzles with its inventive structure and superb portrayals of women as leaders of ingenuity, creativity and reason.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleMaupin’s memories are by turns touching and humorous, as when he recalls losing his virginity in 1969 ... Maupin highlights his Hollywood friendships, which move beyond name-dropping and into poignant conversations about coming out, particularly during the fight against AIDS in the 1980s ... the heart of the book comes through when Maupin’s worlds collide: His parents happen to be in town for a visit when Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are assassinated. The sorrow of watching his Republican father at an emotional memorial for a great figure, a victim of homophobia, suddenly turns the narrative into a heartrending portrait of redemption ... Engaging and revelatory, Maupin’s memoir is a delight, punctuating a distinguished career in letters.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness unfolds in that liminal space between novel and history lesson, which might disappoint all but her most ardent fans since the fictional story appears to have been written in service to the nonfiction content. Yet there are plenty of moments of dazzling wording and surprising exchanges between her characters to keep readers interested in sloughing through the density of information. Patience occasionally cedes a reward when a story within the story bursts open, allowing one more compelling glimpse into India’s soul. Thankfully, those moments are not few, nor do they lack gravity — but neither do they accumulate into something more substantial. By the end, the fragmented narrative remains just that: pieced together, occasionally engaging and never quite fulfilling.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesInstead of moving away from Mango Street, Cisneros has built an even bigger, more impressive structure around it...