Review by Booklist Review
Dawn is a bookbinder who works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and loves books more than most anything. She loves virtually every detail of the bookmaking process, from its "pungent smell of ink and the soft touch of paper" to the "heavy wheel of the press." Once art was her savior, she tells us, until the time came when she was "vacant" of words and ideas and images. To compensate, she eavesdrops on other people's conversations in coffee shops and bars. Dawn has other things on her mind: she----or he or they----is vacillating between her female and male sides. One day she finds an old love letter hidden behind the endpaper of a 1950s-era lesbian pulp novel. The discovery leads to unexpected adventures as she becomes obsessed with tracking down the mysterious note's elusive author even as she questions her own complicated identity. A bookbinder herself, Savran Kelly is also a fine writer, and her debut novel is smooth and involving. Readers of queer fiction will find much to admire here.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Kelly's richly imagined debut follows an aspiring artist as she attempts to jump-start her stalled professional and personal life. In 2003, genderfluid Dawn has been living for two years with musician Lukas, but lately Lukas only finds Dawn attractive when she presents herself as masculine. Dawn loves her job as a bookbinder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but when she tries to design a book of her own, she's stymied. One day, disassembling an old book before repairing it, she finds a hidden cover from a steamy mid-20th century lesbian novel with a love letter in German written on the back of it. She sets out to find the letter's author and eventually locates Gertrude, elderly and ailing, in Brooklyn. Gertrude's memories of a society more repressive than the present and of forging her own rebellion in a group of "Sapphic Warriors" inspire Dawn to set boundaries in her own life and to create a piece of collaborative art. Kelly populates the novel with a roundly developed cast, including Dawn's best friend and her diverse coworkers, and while the mystery of why Gertrude's letter was bound into the book will keep the reader turning pages, it's Dawn's evolution as an artist and a person that gives the novel its beating heart. Readers will find lots to love. (Feb.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
Savran Kelly draws parallels between 20th- and 21st-century queer history in her first novel. Dawn Levit is experiencing a quarter-life crisis. She moved to New York after graduating from college, but she arrived just a few months after 9/11, and the city has been transformed by wreckage, debris, and displays of xenophobia. She's an aspiring artist, but she's out of ideas. And her relationship with a musician named Lukas is foundering as their gender identities and physical desires are increasingly out of sync. He wants her to be more masculine than she feels; she wants penetrative sex he is unwilling to provide. Her job repairing rare books at the Met is the only aspect of her life that is uncomplicated--or mostly uncomplicated. It's while she's rebinding a water-damaged text that she finds a message written on the cover of a vintage lesbian pulp novel--a cover showing a woman holding up a mirror and seeing a man's face. Her search for the woman who wrote this note leads her to Gertrude Kleber, who left Nazi Germany for New York, where her father worked as a bookbinder. There are parallels between the two women's lives. In the 1950s, Gertrude had to hide her attraction to other women. As she comes to discover that she feels neither fully feminine nor fully masculine, Dawn finds herself shunned by both lesbians and gay men. And, just as Gertrude found a way to express herself, Dawn launches a collaborative project that makes her feel like an artist again. Gertrude and her friends--the Sapphic Warriors--write and bind stories depicting "the joyful lives we wished we could live" and tucked them inside the dime-store novels that depicted lesbians as tragic deviants. Dawn creates a book-as-installation in which artists imagine a New York in which everyone is free to be their own unique gender. The narrative suffers from slow pacing, a protagonist who is spectacularly self-absorbed and kind of a jerk (she lies to Gertrude about why she tracked her down), and from the fact that Gertrude's story is so much more interesting than Dawn's. It is, nevertheless, a salient reminder that there was a time when the word nonbinary was virtually unknown. An intriguing but uneven debut. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.