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Reviews of Women and Children First by Alina Grabowski

Women and Children First

A Novel

by Alina Grabowski

Women and Children First by Alina Grabowski X
Women and Children First by Alina Grabowski
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    May 2024, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Alex Russell
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About this Book

Book Summary

A gripping literary puzzle that unwinds the private lives of ten women as they confront tragedy in a small Massachusetts town.

Nashquitten, MA, is a decaying coastal enclave that not even tourist season can revive, full of locals who have run the town's industries for generations. When a young woman dies at a house party, the circumstances around her death suspiciously unclear, the tight-knit community is shaken. As a mother grieves her daughter, a teacher her student, a best friend her confidante, the events around the tragedy become a lightning rod: blame is cast, secrets are buried deeper. Some are left to pick up the pieces, while others turn their backs, and all the while, a truth about that dreadful night begins to emerge.

Told through the eyes of ten local women, Grabowski's Women and Children First is an exquisite portrait of grief and a powerful reminder of life's interconnectedness. Touching on womanhood, class, and sexuality, ambition, disappointment, and tragedy, this novel is a stunning rendering of love and loss, and a bracing lesson from a phenomenal new literary talent that no one walks this earth alone.


On the last Saturday in May, I drown in my sleep. It happens quickly. I'm standing at the edge of the ocean and when I look down into the water, the wobbly hand of my reflection reaches up to pull me under. Only it's less of a pull and more of an angry yank, like my arm's a dangling ponytail, and suddenly I'm pressed to the sand with my own hand holding me down from above. I want to scream, but my words dissolve into a stream of bubbles. I'm not ready, is what I'm trying to say. But then everything goes black.

I thought you weren't allowed to die in dreams.

When I open my eyes, I see that I've left the window beside my bed open, because sometimes I'm an idiot. The rain's coming in so heavily that when I sit up, my wet sheets stick to my chest like strands of seaweed. If I weren't a scientifically minded person, the dream plus the bedroom shower might seem like a bad omen. But I'm an unsuperstitious atheist, so it doesn't bother me.

The window won't close unless I bang my fist ...

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BookBrowse Review


After Lucy Anderson falls to her death at a high school party, no one in Nashquitten, her gloomy, rain-battered hometown on the Massachusetts coast, seems to be quite sure what happened. Across ten chapters narrated by ten different female voices, Women and Children First draws a sharp portrait not so much of the ambitious, mercurial teenager—but of the community that let her slip away. The prose is biting, but although cynicism may be Grabowski's signature style, her writing is thankfully too sharp and too lively to ever wallow in outright despair. Even if Women and Children First lacks variety of voice—too many of its narrators slip into the same sardonic cadence—it's impossible to deny the author's knack for pulling out the short, cutting sentence that captures a very 21st-century malaise. "It felt like the world had ended," one high-schooler says as she contemplates Nashquitten's polluted coastline, "and some stupid person had chosen us as the survivors."..continued

Full Review Members Only (733 words)

(Reviewed by Alex Russell).

Media Reviews

Boston Globe
Arresting and assured ... a gorgeously attentive writer.

Oprah Daily
While a young woman's violent death sounds like the setup for a murder mystery story, in Grabowki's deft hands, it becomes something richer and more surprising: an opportunity to capture the people left in her wake at their most honest, flawed, and insightful. Once you get into these women's heads, they will never get out of yours.

Real Simple
[A] original, deeply affecting debut novel about complex women and the community they carry.

Vanity Fair
You can smell the brine of the tidepools! Through the kaleidoscope of 10 women and girls who live in Nashquitten—mothers and daughters navigating tricky teenage years, complicated childhood friends, a principal and a councilor—we gain a fractured, complex understanding of the events leading up to and following her death. Grabowski conveys the gulf between friends, family, and community members, as well as the risks and rewards that can be reaped when trying to bridge the gaps.

Alina Grabowski's Women and Children First (SJP Lit) is a novel built from interlocking stories, each chapter told from the perspective of a different woman living in a down-at-the-heels coastal New England town. In less capable hands, such rapid shifts might have a disorienting effect, but the book spins an entrancing web, the stories channeling the spirit of Mary Gaitskill and subtly building to reveal more and more about the town's inhabitants. They include ... the mother of a local teen who has died an untimely death. The cause of that death is the nominal mystery of Women and Children First, but the book is more about the secrets we keep and the lies we tell to remain hidden from one another.

Kaleidoscopic ... Through her pitch-perfect summoning of this intergenerational female cast, Grabowski explores the fickleness of truth, the fallibility of memory, how difficult it is to really see those closest to us, and how easy it is to betray one another ... Women and Children First serves as a reminder that not only do our actions and choices effect change, but so too do our stories.

Booklist (starred review)
In Grabowski's craftily constructed and deeply moving debut, ten girls and women in a decaying coastal Massachusetts tourist town respond to the death of a teenager at a house party ... Grabowski so deftly depicts the web of relations in this oppressively tight-knit community that it becomes evident how life changes for one character reverberate even for those who would seem outside her sphere of influence.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Girls and women inflict damage on each other by being too close and not recognizing their own agency and power, and also because disrupting systems of male privilege is difficult. Grabowski's exploration of all these ideas makes for a brilliant novel. A smart, propulsive novel attentive to the ways community can fall short.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Magnetic ... The ennui of small-town life is perfectly captured in the slice-of-life vignettes, which coalesce into a riveting set of Rashomon-style retellings. Grabowski shows immense promise.

Author Blurb Elin Hilderbrand, author of The Five-Star Weekend and The Perfect Couple
Wow wow wow! Alina Grabowski's original and brilliantly written novel, Women and Children First, tells the story of a teenager named Lucy Anderson, who dies at a high school house party, through the lens of ten different women narrators―from her best friend to her principal to her mother. I was dazzled by the author's skill and emotional depth.

Author Blurb Emily Nemens, author of The Cactus League
Reading Women and Children First is like encountering the best kind of puzzle: each of its pieces is a small marvel, elegant and finely wrought. But then, the chapters snap together in the most satisfying way, creating a full picture that is as sweeping as it is nuanced. Here are friends and foes, past resentments and future hopes, all the mess and beauty of a complicated, compelling community. You won't be able to put it down until the puzzle is complete

Author Blurb Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams and The Gin Closet
Alina Grabowski is a writer of startling wisdom and deep humanity, and Women and Children First reads like a shimmering kaleidoscope of grief and longing, a magic lantern casting spectral illumination across dark surfaces of loss. Its pages smell like watermelon body lotion and low tide and fresh snow; they sing with moments of insight that took my breath away. Every voice is so compelling that I never wanted to leave it, but each new voice immediately seduced me―brought me into its own powerful portrait of intimacy and yearning, the cruelties and compassions that compose an adolescence, or a marriage. Together, these voices collectively summon the chorus of a ruptured community, gesturing toward those spiderwebs of attachment and betrayal that unmake us, and those moments of grace that ambush and rearrange us all.

Author Blurb Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate at the Stairs
I am a big fan of Women and Children First ... Alina Grabowski is an astute and limber narrative artist and I could read her prose all day long and never grow weary.

Author Blurb Sarah Jessica Parker, SJP Lit
A striking debut from a brilliant new voice. Alina Grabowski perfectly inhabits her characters, shining a light on the multidimensionality of both grief and adolescence with great humor and insight.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book


Sideways view of marble bust of Julius Caesar, focused on head and neck facing to the right against gray background In Women and Children First, the debut novel from Alina Grabowski, teenager Lucy Anderson has epilepsy, a neurological disorder involving recurring seizures. Lucy has to deal not only with her distress at experiencing the seizures themselves but also with the stigma associated with the condition.

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in the world, affecting around 50 million people globally. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, one in 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives. The condition can start at any age, but it most often begins in childhood or after age 60. In around 50% of cases, there is no identifiable cause; the other 50% can be due to several factors, including genetics, head...

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