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IMPERFECT BIRDS

We’re all imperfect birds, in a novel that sounds a warning note to parents of “good kids,” even though some might resist...

Lamott, best known for nonfiction, including popular books on writing (Bird by Bird, 1994) and spirituality (Traveling Mercies, 1999), returns to the novel with a sequel of sorts to one of her earliest and best, Rosie (1983).

A child in that novel with an alcoholic mother, Rosie is now 17 and her mother, Elizabeth, is generally sober through Alcoholics Anonymous, though not without the occasional relapse. More beautiful than she knows, desperate to fit in and find love, Rosie insists to her mother, “I’m a good kid, Mom.” But as a friend suggests, “Even the good kids break your heart.” Rosie has yet to succumb to the addictions, pregnancies, suicide attempts and car crashes so common among the “good kids” in this California coastal community, but she has frequently been caught in lies and may even have trouble facing the truth about herself. She remains a source of tension between Elizabeth and James, Rosie’s stepfather, who favors more of a tough-love approach than the unconditional love Elizabeth is more likely to bestow. Yet Rosie’s deceptions threaten Elizabeth’s sobriety, while the weakness of Rosie’s mother and the death of her father have left Rosie with an emptiness to fill. Lamott alternates between the perspectives of Elizabeth and Rosie, and both ring true. As Elizabeth realizes, “Rosie had a secret life now, was putting together her own tribe, finding her identity there, and it was great to see, and it hurt like hell.” If only the novel had been able to avoid proclamations such as, “Your whole selfish generation has helped kill this planet!” and facile reflections such as, “it’s good to notice that my life is pretty great, even if my mind isn’t.”

We’re all imperfect birds, in a novel that sounds a warning note to parents of “good kids,” even though some might resist its climactic remedy. In the end, the strengths of central characters and believable complications overcome a tendency toward oracular psychobabble.

Pub Date: April 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59448-751-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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