Books by John Herman

Released: Sept. 1, 2003

In this poetic Christmas Eve tale, Martha, a young cow about to give birth, seeks shelter, just as Joseph leads Mary, who's in the same condition, on the same quest. After similar treks through a snowy night, mothers-to-be and parallel plotlines converge in a small shed for the timeless double miracle. Alternating monochromatic vignettes that resemble old-style etchings with larger scenes done with softened lines and muted colors, the Dillons elaborate on hints in the text to set the episode on an abandoned New England or Midwestern farm—relatively recently, to judge from such sparse, small details as a padlock and a cast-iron stove. Herman elevates the tone with occasional flights—"All was blackness. Darkest night. The winds fell from the four corners and shook the earth. Only the icy fire of the stars, distant and brilliant, kept watch in the darkness"—that complement the quiet strength of the illustrations. An old story, in an unusual setting. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
LABYRINTH by John Herman
Released: June 1, 2001

Two parallel stories take place side-by-side in this ambitious novel, but neither is fully realized. Gregory lives in modern America, where he is suffering from his father's suicide a few years earlier. Gregor lives in the Home Country, where he is chosen to be one of the Golden Ten young men sent every ten years to the Mother Country. Each boy dreams about the other and the patterns of their lives become increasingly similar. Gregory gets involved in a burglary scheme in which he crawls through sewer tunnels under the city; Gregor and his companions find themselves about to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, wandering through the labyrinth on their way to likely death. Unfortunately, readers will be frustrated by the unanswered questions and undeveloped themes. Gregory's mother keeps saying his father killed himself because of mental illness, but that key fact in the boy's life is left hanging. Incredibly enough, Gregor and his friends don't notice that none of the previous groups of Golden Ten ever returned home. The narrative voice, which often reflects Gregory's thoughts, is uneven and sometimes totally off, describing the girl he likes as "a heady mixture of young lady and daredevil," hardly the thought of a 14-year-old boy. In the end, the two stories come together in the labyrinth, where Gregor apparently escapes and Gregory confronts his internal monster, his anger at his father's suicide, in a confusing dramatic scene. Part problem novel, part fantasy, this needed more space to expand on its settings and themes, and solidify its interesting structure. (Fiction. 12+)Read full book review >
DEEP WATERS by John Herman
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

When Andy, 13, arrives at Camp Winasaukee, he loves everything about it—the fresh canvas smell of the tents, the dew on the grass, and the sight of Johnny March practicing his dives. Tan and well-muscled, with an easy manner, Johnny is the camp's star counselor. Andy wonders what Marsha Peters, the prettiest girls' counselor, sees in Tony Snow, to whom she's engaged, especially since she was with Johnny the year before. Andy and Julian, a brilliant and worldly older boy, set in motion a competition between Johnny and Tony, with half the camp rooting for Johnny to win Marsha back. Andy becomes more and more uncomfortable with the situation, and his part in it, but it's too late to stop it. A clear, first-person narration allows readers to see the world through Andy's eyes as he loses his innocence and becomes aware of the complexities beneath surface appearances—jealousy, competition, deceit, and betrayal, all mixed up with friendship and admiration. An ever-tightening thread of tension that accompanies Andy's growing discomfort will keep readers glued to the page. (Fiction. 12-16) Read full book review >
Released: May 6, 1997

Second-novelist Herman (The Weight of Love, 1995) chooses a genre—adolescent coming of age—that as book editor he must have seen in an excess beyond measure. To his credit, though, albeit amid many an echo of Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Knowles, and Salinger, he turns his version of the far too oft-told tale into a readable pleasure. Paul Werth goes to Highgate, a prep school just north of Manhattan, where many of his classmates live, though he himself is from ``the suburb'' where the school is located. Paul is a sophomore, in the spring of 1962, a time, Herman announces, ``when boys still wore their hair short and the United States was not at war in Vietnam and America had not yet heard of drugs or rebellion or failure. . . . `' Maybe so, but drugs are still one of the twin mainsprings making Herman's plot go round: Somebody is selling inside the school, and the headmaster is going to find out who. How could thoughtful, introspective Paul, a subtle thinker and omnivorous reader, conceivably be involved? Well, the second mainspring is that Paul's father died just 14 months before the book's opening—an event that plunged Paul not only into girl trouble, homework trouble, and a hitting slump in baseball, but into wondering whether life might be ``literally without meaning.'' He really could be drug-involved, in other words, not to mention that he's also friends with the devilishly cavalier Philip Richards, a character suspicious indeed. During the raveling of Paul's classically expectable fate, Herman is at his Fitzgeraldian best in describing parties, people's looks, the smells and feels of places—and the past. Very possibly best and truest in the book—and saddest—is Paul's passionate, long-ago, grade-school love affair with little Cassandra, who only too soon. . . . But let that stay unsaid. Herman has grown since his first book. Even working against the pitfalls of a wildly overused genre, he's able to bring in light, color, feeling, and life. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1995

From Herman, ex-Editorial Director of Ticknor & Fields: a first novel about love in midlife that aims for a passionate and philosophic height but lacks a hero to keep it there. Life seems a shower of blessings for David Smith: graduate of Yale, dweller on Park Avenue, importer of wines, father of four, and devoted lover of a beautiful, capable—he'd have us believe perfect—wife. But then, around age 40, a great emptiness descends upon him, and David—while protesting his unchanged love for kids and wife—deliberately sets foot onto the path of adultery. ``It seemed,'' he confides, ``that without the love of women I would die,'' and in the opening parts of the novel he brings passion into the life of beautiful, monied, and unhappily married Anne Stokowski, who (``Oh, David, sometimes I feel I can't stand it any longer! Why don't we run away together someplace?''), however, proves only a warm-up for the main event, which is David's high and doomed affair with the gloriously beautiful HÇläne, the half- American and half-French countess of Compiäre. HÇläne has deep secrets in her own past, and a rich complexity of sorrows, that make her far more dependent upon the less-than-perceptive David than he knows, and his refusal to give up his marriage for her- -while insisting she see no one else—drives her to an impasse so narrow that death is her exit. The novel's most moving—and most authentic—sections are HÇläne's, making the reader all the sorrier to be left at end with the masterfully shallow David, who actually seems to believe himself deserving of our pity even after ruining others' lives (including his wife's) for reasons never once proven in the least convincing. ``I was much perplexed in spirit and sometimes feared for my grasp on things,'' he says, saying more than he knows. Ambitious, romantic—and disappointingly meager. (Author tour) Read full book review >