Reviews of the Week, with Jay Coles, Jennifer Clement, Maggie O’ Farrell, and Kent Anderson

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online that highlights starred reviews, high-demand titles, and / or titles especially relevant to our current issue’s spotlight. We’ve collected the reviews from January 16 through 19 so that you can revisit the week’s best books.


Tuesday, January 16

 Tyler Johnson Was Here, by Jay Coles

Coles’ unforgettable debut opens with a haunting incident of police brutality that sets the tone for the rest of the book. As Marvin, his twin brother, Tyler, and their best friends exit a convenience store, they are caught in the commotion surrounding a police chase. After the cop viciously beats one of the young men he was pursuing, he draws a gun on Marvin and his group, threatening to shoot as he yells racial hostilities. Guns appear once more when Marvin and Tyler attend a house party and a shooting breaks out, drawing the police. Amidst the chaos, Marvin loses track of his brother, who never comes home.


Wednesday, January 17

 Gun Love, by Jennifer Clement

“Me?” Pearl says, “I was raised in a car.” And so she was, in a 1994 Mercury Topaz, to be precise. That would be the car that was parked adjacent to a central Florida trailer park, which was, itself, adjacent to the community’s fragrant garbage dump—and nearly everyone in the vicinity owned a gun. It was an interesting childhood, especially when she was 12-going-on-13, and Eli entered her life, a down-on-his-luck, dangerous, gun-toting man from Texas, the kind of man, Pearl’s mother, Margot, said, who doesn’t turn the other cheek. Soon enough Margot is head over heels in love with this man, who is a gunrunner and who takes over her life.


Thursday, January 18

 I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death, by Maggie O’ Farrell

Irish-born, Edinburgh-based O’Farrell, the author of seven ensnaring novels, including This Must Be the Place (2016), recounts events that seem more imagined than real in this gripping, episodic memoir. In 17 essays that jump back and forth in time, each titled with the name of an endangered body part, O’Farrell recounts, with peerlessly matter-of-fact lucidity, 17 nearly fatal events. She begins with “Neck (1990),” in which, at 18, she is confronted by a dangerous man on a hiking path. In “Lungs (1988),” she leaps, in the dark, off a harbor wall into the sea and nearly drowns.


Friday, January 19

 Green Sun, by Kent Anderson

Anderson doesn’t publish much, but when he does, it’s something to remember. This is his third novel about Officer Hanson, whose life pretty much parallels the author’s own: a tour in Vietnam (Sympathy for the Devil, 1987), followed by work as a patrol cop with the Portland, Oregon, police department (Night Dogs, 1996), a stint as an English professor, and then a return to policing, this time with the Oakland PD in the crack-ridden 1980s. Anderson picks up the story in Oakland, where Hanson is riding solo through the city’s meanest streets, earning grudging respect from the largely African American residents for his refusal to behave like every other cop and alienating his fellow officers for the same reason.



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