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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #797

Sat, 01/01/2022 - 3:05pm by muffy

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives…. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” ~ Howard Zinn

agatha_of_little_neonAgatha of Little Neon by National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Honoree Claire Luchette (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) which the reviewer at Kirkus Reviews called “(a) charming and incisive debut.” 

When their Buffalo diocese went bankrupt and Mother Roberta decides to retire, Catholic sisters Frances, Mary Lucille, Therese, and narrator Agatha are transferred to a halfway house for people with chemical dependencies called Little Neon, “painted the "chemical, lurid" color of Mountain Dew” in Woonsocket RI, a former mill town now dotted with wind turbines. 

Cramped into an airless attire, the sisters care lovingly for their charges: jawless Tim Gary, Lawnmower Jill (who drove drunk too many times and now resorts to riding around town in her namesake), Horse, Baby, and Pete; and try to make a new life for themselves with community bible study group, art projects, and learning to roller skate in the garage. When the high school needs a geometry teacher, the sisters volunteer Agatha, by far the smartest among them, where for the first time in years she has to reckon all on her own with what she sees and feels.

“Employing short, clipped chapters and shimmering prose, Luchette garnishes each scene with tender and nuanced descriptions of longing and chastity, creating a lovely story of how cross-cultural exchange can foster hope and fruitful advancements. This is charming and remarkably thoughtful.” (Publishers Weekly) 

little_hopeA Little Hope by Ethan Joella (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook), a deeply moving and life-affirming debut set in Wharton, Connecticut, that explores the intertwining lives of friends and neighbors, and celebrates the importance of small moments of connection and the ways that love and forgiveness can help us survive even the most difficult of life's challenges. 

Freddie and Greg Tyler seem to have it all: a successful career in finance, a lovely home and a beautiful daughter - until Greg was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an aggressive form of cancer, plunging them into despair and uncertainty, and turning Greg prickly, even with Alex Lionel, more of a father figure than boss. Freddie, who plans to return to writing fiction instead, takes a part-time job as a seamstress at a dry cleaner, owned by widow Darcy Crowley.

Alex Lionel, we learn, is riddled with guilt over a long-ago affair after the death of his son at 14, now hopes Kay, his wife of 50 years will agree to meet his grown illegitimate daughter, Iris. Darcy Crowley, brisk and efficient at work, continues to mourn her husband’s death and wishes to mend things with her son, addicted to pills and alcohol after a breakup with his girlfriend.

“The domino effect of neighbors' choices impact one another far more than they could ever imagine. A chance meeting blossoms into a new relationship, a tragic diagnosis inspires independence, a surprise visitor helps breach an emotional wall, a marriage's foundation becomes cracked in an instant. In his debut novel, Joella has an eye and ear for suburban pathos, highlighting tragedy and growth in equal parts… Loyal readers of Meg Wolitzer and Matthew Norman will gravitate to this immersive, illuminating novel.” (Booklist)

May your new year be filled with hope and kindness.


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