Despite the too-neat Freudian implications of Mary Rose’s story, this is an affecting, multilayered account of domestic...


Assaulted by mysterious pains and bracketed by painful childhood memories, Mary Rose MacKinnon engages in power struggles with her willful toddler and endures the stresses of stay-at-home parenting while her partner, Hilary, is out of town.

An acclaimed young-adult novelist, Mary Rose is suffering from severe writer’s block, unable to complete the third volume in her popular series. Despite the surface comforts of life in her liberal, upper-middle-class Toronto enclave, she feels an inexplicable sense of alienation from her environment; she distances herself from the other mothers at her child’s preschool and avoids communication with her own parents, despite their belated acceptance of her homosexuality and loving acceptance of Hilary and their grandchildren. When Mary Rose’s charming Lebanese mother, Dolly, was younger, she had numerous miscarriages, stillbirths and babies who died shortly after birth, and she seems to be fixating on this tragic period many decades later. The effect of this sad legacy on family dynamics has never been fully explored, and Mary Rose has many vague, unspoken questions about her own childhood, the answers to which might help explain her emotional paralysis and phantom arm pains, as well as the mysterious bone cysts she suffered as a young girl. MacDonald (The Way the Crow Flies, 2004, etc.) integrates three narratives into this novel—Mary Rose’s mundane day-to-day existence, Dolly’s experience of severe depression as a young mother lamenting her lost babies, and Mary Rose’s novels, which parallel elements of her own family story distorted through the lens of teen fantasy fiction. While clever, the novel within the novel seems a bit forced. There is a recurring theme of impostors and doppelgängers and a shrewd twinning motif, but the reader is always conscious of the writer’s craft. Of the three, Dolly’s story is the most naturalistically and sensitively portrayed.

Despite the too-neat Freudian implications of Mary Rose’s story, this is an affecting, multilayered account of domestic ennui and the painful effects of long-held secrets on three generations.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-941040-05-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.


Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.


A Russian refugee’s terrible secret overshadows her family life.

Meredith, heir apparent to her family’s thriving Washington State apple enterprises, and Nina, a globetrotting photojournalist, grew up feeling marginalized by their mother. Anya saw her daughters as merely incidental to her grateful love for their father Evan, who rescued her from a German prison camp. The girls know neither their mother’s true age, nor the answers to several other mysteries: her color-blindness, her habit of hoarding food despite the family’s prosperity and the significance of her “winter garden” with its odd Cyrillic-inscribed columns. The only thawing in Anya’s mien occurs when she relates a fairy tale about a peasant girl who meets a prince and their struggles to live happily ever after during the reign of a tyrannical Black Knight. After Evan dies, the family comes unraveled: Anya shows signs of dementia; Nina and Meredith feud over whether to move Mom from her beloved dacha-style home, named Belye Nochi after the summer “white nights” of her native Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Anya, now elderly but of preternaturally youthful appearance—her white hair has been that way as long as the girls can remember—keeps babbling about leather belts boiled for soup, furniture broken up for firewood and other oddities. Prompted by her daughters’ snooping and a few vodka-driven dinners, she grudgingly divulges her story. She is not Anya, but Vera, sole survivor of a Russian family; her father, grandmother, mother, sister, husband and two children were all lost either to Stalin’s terror or during the German army’s siege of Leningrad. Anya’s chronicle of the 900-day siege, during which more than half a million civilians perished from hunger and cold, imparts new gravitas to the novel, easily overwhelming her daughters’ more conventional “issues.” The effect, however, is all but vitiated by a manipulative and contrived ending.

Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-36412-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2009

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