A lingering, often engaging tale about choices and consequences, despite its inconsistent pacing.

The Avenue

In Cecere’s debut novel, two friends, both the offspring of immigrants, grow up in Pittsburgh during the waning years of the Depression and choose very different paths in an America riddled with prejudice.

In 1926, the eponymous Avenue is a two-mile stretch of road in Pittsburgh that demarcates the Italian enclave of the city. The houses are close together, poverty is a constant, the steel mill and the railroad are the major employers, and strong family ties and traditions hold it all together. Everybody knows everybody else, and it’s within these comforting but sometimes-suffocating confines that Donato “Danny” Castle Forte and Francis “Frankie” Collizio are born and raised. Frankie belongs to the street; it’s the source of his inner strength, his external power, and his rise to prominence within the local mob. He’s never confused about who he is or where he belongs. But the novel belongs to Danny, who’s conflicted about his identity and whose aspirations stretch far beyond the Avenue. He’s driven to put the limitations imposed by his Italian heritage behind him, and each decision he makes is designed to separate him further from his roots. Unlike Frankie, however, he never really fits in anywhere, despite his efforts, and at times, he seems to exist in an emotional vacuum. Debut author Cecere makes an impressive entrance with this poignant, character-driven novel. His generally fluid prose occasionally displays a raw grittiness, as in chilling passages that describe World War II battle scenes or the brutality toward African-Americans on the Avenue. Also, his portrayal of the immigrant and first-generation Italian experience is illuminating. However, he also has a confusing tendency to speed up the story’s timeline, sometimes within a single chapter. Although the 1930s and ’40s settings are clearly identifiable, there are minimal cultural reference points to enrich the background in the following decades. Most of the salient action takes place in the earlier years, so these final chapters feel a bit rushed—more like summary than narrative.

A lingering, often engaging tale about choices and consequences, despite its inconsistent pacing.

Pub Date: Dec. 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4809-6336-8

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Rosedog Books

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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