A frequently hysterical confessional from a teen narrator who won't be able to convince readers he's as unlikable as he wants them to believe.
"I have no idea how to write this stupid book," narrator Greg begins. Without answering the obvious question—just why is he writing "this stupid book"?—Greg lets readers in on plenty else. His filmmaking ambitions. His unlikely friendship with the unfortunately short, chain-smoking, foulmouthed, African-American Earl of the title. And his unlikelier friendship with Rachel, the titular "dying girl." Punctuating his aggressively self-hating account with film scripts and digressions, he chronicles his senior year, in which his mother guilt-trips him into hanging out with Rachel, who has acute myelogenous leukemia. Almost professionally socially awkward, Greg navigates his unwanted relationship with Rachel by showing her the films he's made with Earl, an oeuvre begun in fifth grade with their remake of Aguirre, Wrath of God. Greg's uber-snarky narration is self-conscious in the extreme, resulting in lines like, "This entire paragraph is a moron." Debut novelist Andrews succeeds brilliantly in painting a portrait of a kid whose responses to emotional duress are entirely believable and sympathetic, however fiercely he professes his essential crappiness as a human being.
Though this novel begs inevitable thematic comparisons to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (2012), it stands on its own in inventiveness, humor and heart.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Three disparate narrative elements—a possible terrorist attack, the real-estate market in New York City, a sick dachshund—somehow cohere into a blackly comic yet tenderly touching novel.
Alex and Ruth Cohen have been living in the same co-op apartment for 45 years. Alex is an artist; his current project is turning his wife’s FBI file into a manuscript. Ruth, who has put her political past to rest, is a retired teacher with a fondness for Anton Chekhov. Right now, the elderly couple has plenty to worry about. Highest on the list is their beloved dog Dorothy, whose back legs seem to be paralyzed after a seizure. Also, they can no longer handle the five flights of steps to their apartment, so they’re looking to sell it and find something more convenient. Perhaps, with the million dollars they’ve been led to believe the place is worth, they could even move to the Jersey shore or to that island off the coast of North Carolina that Ruth has read about. There are, however, numerous flies in this particular ointment, for something odd is happening in the Midtown Tunnel. A gas truck has jackknifed, and police are quickly evacuating everyone; rumor spreads that it could be a terrorist attack. Alex and Ruth try to follow the news reports that come in fast and furious. Abdul Pamir, the truck driver, carjacks a taxi, then abandons it and takes hostages in a Bed Bath & Beyond. If terrorists are that close, Alex and Ruth’s real-estate agent tells them, the apartment could be worth far less than they had hoped. Then there’s the state of Dorothy’s health…
Could have been loopy in less deft hands, but Ciment (The Tattoo Artist, 2005, etc.) keeps things lively and edgy throughout.
This wistful portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in old age is a real departure from Cullin’s previous up-and-down fiction (Undersurface, 2002, etc.).
We meet the Great Detective in 1947, aged 93, retired to his Sussex farm, physically and mentally impaired, though sustained by his many memories; the “beeyard” whose cultivation expresses his lifelong “desire to be a part of the original, natural order,” and the restorative effects of royal jelly and other beneficent natural substances. Cullin’s engaging tale has three deftly interwoven strands: Holmes’s extended postwar visit to Japan, which includes a tour of destroyed Hiroshima and an investigation into his host Mr. Umeyaki’s family history; an avuncular friendship with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro’s son Roger, his devoted apprentice in the art of beekeeping; and the remembered case of “The Glass Armonica,” involving a troubled marriage, alleged communion with both the dead and the unborn, and a woman Holmes could not save—for whose fate he may in fact bear a terrible responsibility. There are missteps: Though there’s no hint of sexual misconduct, Holmes’s habit of nude bathing with handsome young Roger does raise the eyebrow; and Cullin’s generally very successful appropriation of Conan Doyle’s plummy Victorian prose accommodates occasional anachronisms and barbarisms (surely Holmes would never have misused “like” for “as,” as he does herein). But the meat of the story is Cullin’s searching characterization of this ultimate rationalist perturbed and disoriented by decades of political, social and climatic change; unmanned by his lingering survival into a world grown so complex he can no longer do what he had hitherto done to perfection: observed and made sense of things. This extra layer of realistic complexity makes Cullin’s immensely moving seventh outing one of the best of all the Holmes pastiches.
A talented writer’s bold step forward. Let’s hope Cullin isn’t finished with Sherlock Holmes.
The sole survivor of a family massacre is pushed into revisiting a past she’d much rather leave alone, in Flynn’s scorching follow-up to Sharp Objects (2006).
On a January night in 1985, Michelle Day, ten, was strangled, her nine-year-old sister, Debby, killed with an ax, and their mother, Patty, stabbed, hacked and shot to death in the family farmhouse. Weeks after jumping out a window and running off in the Kansas snow, Libby Day, seven, testified that her brother Ben, 15, had killed the family, and he was sent to prison for life amid accusations of sex and Satanism. End of story—except that now that the fund well-wishers raised for Libby has run dry, she has to raise some cash pronto, and her family history turns once more into an ATM. A letter from Lyle Wirth promises her a quick $500 to attend the annual convention of the Kill Club, whose members gather to trade theories about unsolved crimes. When self-loathing Libby (“Draw a picture of my soul, it’d be a scribble with fangs”) realizes that none of the club members believes her story, she reluctantly agrees to earn some more cash by digging up the leading players: Ben, whose letters she’s never opened; their long-departed father Runner, who’s as greedy and unscrupulous as Libby; Krissi Cates, the little girl who’d spent the day before the murders accusing Ben of molesting her; and Ben’s rich, sleazy girlfriend Diondra Wertzner. Flynn intercuts Libby’s venomous detective work with flashbacks to the fatal day 24 years ago so expertly that as they both hurtle toward unspeakable revelations, you won’t know which one you’re more impatient to finish. Only the climax, which is incredible in both good ways and bad, is a letdown.
For most of the wild story’s running time, however, every sentence crackles with enough baleful energy to fuel a whole town through the coldest Kansas winter.
Printz Medal Winner and Honoree Green knows what he does best and delivers once again with this satisfying, crowd-pleasing look at a complex, smart boy and the way he loves.
Quentin (Q) has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman since they were kids riding their bikes, but after they discovered the body of a local suicide they never really spoke again. Now it’s senior year; Margo is a legend and Q isn’t even a band geek (although quirky best friends Ben and Radar are). Then Margo takes Q on a midnight adventure and disappears, leaving convoluted clues for Q. The clues lead to Margo’s physical location but also allow Q to see her as a person and not an ideal. Genuine—and genuinely funny—dialogue, a satisfyingly tangled but not unbelievable mystery and delightful secondary characters (Radar’s parents collect black Santas)—we’ve trod this territory before, but who cares when it’s this enjoyable?
Lighter than Looking for Alaska (2005), deeper than An Abundance of Katherines (2006) and reminiscent of Gregory Galloway’s As Simple as Snow (2005)—a winning combination.
(Mystery. 13 & up)
My Dinner with Andre in a rental car—Rolling Stone contributing editor Lipsky (Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point, 2003, etc.) turns in a splintered portrait of the late, great novelist.
In 1996, the author got the call to drive into the Illinois countryside to find David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) and wrestle a profile of the then-budding cult hero of literature. “I’m thirty years old, he’s thirty-four,” writes Lipsky. “We both have long hair.” They are (were) also both voracious consumers of culture, from the novels of John Updike (Wallace hates him, Lipsky doesn’t) and Stephen King (vice versa) to Saturday-morning cartoons, Steven Spielberg’s films and the latest sonic complaints of Alanis Morissette (Wallace loves her, Lipsky not so much) and the bleatings of Sheryl Crow (says Wallace, “made me want to vomit, from the very beginning”). The two set off on a whirlwind, almost-missed-the-plane tour of the ice-encrusted Upper Midwest, a matter of foggy windows, slick roads and Wallace’s constant spitting of tobacco juice into various fetid containers. Eventually they wound up at a reading in Minnesota that, if nothing else, illustrates how soul-wearying such things are to writers, especially with the inevitable first question from the audience: “Where do you get your ideas from?” In Wallace’s case, the answer is refracted across pages devoted to his wrestlings with depression and mental illness, punctuated by reminiscences of visits to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments. At other times he appears happier, if sometimes mystified by the business of fame and the strange workings of the publishing business—but very much on top of the dollars and cents and at the top of his game as a writer. Lipsky does good work in keeping up with Wallace, but in the end his book is a staccato ramble made tiresome by his mania for pointing out, endlessly, Wallace’s Midwestern pronunciations and with one too many digressions on Lipsky’s own life.
Still, a nicely gossipy inside view of a writer’s world and a beautiful yet anguished mind.
An eye-opening true-crimer that recounts a cooperative arrangement in which two Boston mobsters, in exchange for acting as informants for an FBI agent and his supervisor, were permitted to take over most of Boston’s organized crime.
Boston Globe reporters Lehr and O’Neill can be forgiven some of their caustic bitterness in their second book about Boston’s organized crime. Their first, The Underboss (1989, not reviewed), portrayed FBI Agent John J. Connolly Jr. as a sharp-dressing South Boston scrapper whose audacious bugging of a Mafia headquarters ended the Italian mob’s control of Boston street crime. Unknown to the reporters, Connolly and his boss, Dick Morris, were relying on information about the Italians from James “Whitey” Bulger, an Irish “Southie” street punk with a penchant for rape and robbery who was also the older brother of rising political star William Bulger (who would go on to become president of the Massachusetts Senate, is currently president of Massachusetts State University, and has maintained that he has no involvement with his brother’s criminal life). In 1975 Connolly recruited Whitey and fellow hood Steve Flammi. Connolly and Morris then shielded their informants from a federal racetrack-fixing indictment; in return, Whitey fingered competing crooks and possibly saved the life of an undercover FBI agent who had infiltrated a truck-hijacking ring. For the next two decades the FBI made many publicized arrests while Whitey Bulger reigned as Boston’s organized crime boss until 1995, when he escaped arrest and has been missing ever since. In a sensational 1999 corruption investigation, the disgraced Morris admitted to taking bribes from Whitey and, with Connolly’s alleged assistance, aided and abetted criminal activities involving narcotics, extortion, and murder. Connolly, now a lobbyist currently awaiting trial on this matter, has maintained his innocence.
With enough unanswered questions for two sequels, the authors offer a pile of evidence that (in South Boston at least) politics is all too local. (photos and illustrations, not seen)