An engaging, inspiring rise above a traumatic childhood, but it’s dampened by a narrative that’s more sketch than story.

Tall Trees


In Bouvier and Clements’ debut novel, Thomas Paul Stanton’s upbringing is a Dickensian nightmare.

Thomas Paul suffers physical and verbal abuse from his absentee father, his mother is mentally ill, and he agonizes over self-loathing spurred by his family life and the ever-growing revelation that he seems different from his peers. Eventually, he realizes he’s gay. He seeks to find answers to his anguish through God and/or religion, but his spiritual yearning is met with conflict, confusion and, ultimately, abuse at the hands of a priest. Similarly, as he seeks acceptance from his family, his need seems all too often to be met with some form of abuse. Before he’s even 3 years old, Thomas Paul witnesses a confusing scene of naked boys “playing” beneath a makeshift tent; then suddenly, one of the boys tries to sexually abuse him—a traumatic incident that gives him recurring nightmares. As his mother’s mental condition deteriorates, Thomas Paul can no longer turn to her for comfort. Just as he begins to accept who he is, the teenage Thomas Paul meets a priest, whom he admires. The priest invites him to his home, where he sexually abuses him. Only years later, in intensive therapy, does Thomas Paul come to understand that he was sexually abused by the priest. Readers who have suffered any kind of abuse will surely identify with this novel, which reads very much like a memoir; thankfully, it has a positive resolution. While the book tells a powerful story, too often the authors tell rather than show. For instance, a good part of the novel is spent with Thomas Paul in a therapist’s office, where he relates traumatic events from his past. Therapy is a crucial part of Thomas Paul’s ultimate recovery, but presenting key parts of the story in this manner turns the book into more of an extended summary than a complete story. Furthermore, sloppy copy editing mistakes—missing quotation marks and paragraph indentations, for example—mar the presentation.

An engaging, inspiring rise above a traumatic childhood, but it’s dampened by a narrative that’s more sketch than story.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985663902

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Tall Trees LLC.

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

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


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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