A pleasant tale for readers who want a female-centric Harry Potter story.

SILENT LEE AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE SIDE DOOR KEY

A young teenager loses her home and employs magic to figure out what went wrong in this debut novel.

Silent “Sie” Lee finds her life in an uproar. First, her guardian and great aunt, Generous, dies under mysterious circumstances. Then, Sie’s mostly absent mother, Mauvaise—who has a covert job the teen suspects involves spying—ships the 14-year-old to live with her rowdy relatives. They exile Sie to the attic and force her to attend a public school where she’s very out of her depth. Little do they know that Sie is used to a different world altogether. At Gen’s, the teen would come and go via the house’s side door into a Boston of old, with horse-drawn carriages, curiosity shops, and, most importantly, the Girl’s Academy of Latin and Alchemy, where Sie learns the ways of magic. With public school out for the summer and Sie’s relatives on vacation, the plucky teen employs the help of classmate Raahi—who has literal “tunnel vision” and an enthusiasm for books and learning—to discover what exactly happened to Gen and why Sie’s mother is now selling the house. Judging from the long author’s note at the end of the book, Hiam is very passionate about Boston and the magically realistic history he has created around it. The Harry Potter–like Sie is intelligent and resourceful—she is determined to find out what happened to her beloved great aunt and devoted to her spellcasting studies—and Raahi is an appealing, affable sidekick. The author’s dialogue tends toward the stiff (Gen says “Tut tut” more than once) and awkward. At one point, a school secretary comments on Sie’s last name, saying, “I’d expected she’d be Korean or Chinese.” In addition, Sie seems more confused (by everything from debit cards to milkshakes) than is realistic for someone who’s lived in the modern world for a few months by now. Still, the novel is short, digestible, and adventurous but not too dark, ideal for teens transitioning to middle-grade novels. 

A pleasant tale for readers who want a female-centric Harry Potter story.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63558-011-2

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Webster Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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