A sweet, innocent book about how love and imagination can open hearts and cure ills.

ABIGAIL ELLIOT AND THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY

A lighthearted and nostalgic middle-school tale about the redemptive powers of imagination.

With a successful surgeon for a father and the sole heir of an old-money family for a mother, Abigail seems to have it all. But when her mother’s postpartum depression refuses to lift and World War II keeps her father away for years, it’s clear that her life is not idyllic after all. Not long before Abigail’s eighth birthday, her mother, Caroline, sinks so deeply into a depression that she requires hospitalization. As a diversion for the worried girl, Abigail’s nanny takes her for an extended visit to the Connecticut home of her maternal grandmother, a crusty, widowed blueblood who, contrary to her habitual aloofness, quickly warms to the girl. In her grandmother’s attic, Abigail discovers a beautiful dollhouse that belonged to her mother and her grandmother. To her amazement, Abigail realizes that the dollhouse family is alive and that she can shrink down to dollhouse size herself. From the dolls’ stories about her mother’s childhood, Abigail gathers that something mysterious lurks in her family’s history, something that might aid her mother’s recovery. At her diminutive friends’ urging, she sleuths around, finally uncovering a decades-old family secret that also brings her family closer. While at times a bit clumsy in its characters’ contrived emotional reactions and its forced nostalgia for 1940s New York, Bliss’s debut novel is nonetheless a heartfelt, sincere look at the importance of family, honesty and imagination. On a larger scale, this is a book about postwar urbanization and how social democratization finally overtook the American gentry. Caught between two different worlds, Caroline suffers, but the priorities of the new world–valuing family over social status, the individual over class–prove strong enough to rescue her and to redeem the old world, represented in this case by her grandmother. Make no mistake, Abigail’s privileged and dated world is not one most kids will easily relate to, and Caroline’s remarkable recovery bears little resemblance to the average trajectory of depression. Taken as a fairy tale, however, this is a recommended read.

A sweet, innocent book about how love and imagination can open hearts and cure ills.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4196-7615-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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GUTS

THE TRUE STORIES BEHIND HATCHET AND THE BRIAN BOOKS

Paulsen recalls personal experiences that he incorporated into Hatchet (1987) and its three sequels, from savage attacks by moose and mosquitoes to watching helplessly as a heart-attack victim dies. As usual, his real adventures are every bit as vivid and hair-raising as those in his fiction, and he relates them with relish—discoursing on “The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition,” for instance: “Something that you would never consider eating, something completely repulsive and ugly and disgusting, something so gross it would make you vomit just looking at it, becomes absolutely delicious if you’re starving.” Specific examples follow, to prove that he knows whereof he writes. The author adds incidents from his Iditarod races, describes how he made, then learned to hunt with, bow and arrow, then closes with methods of cooking outdoors sans pots or pans. It’s a patchwork, but an entertaining one, and as likely to win him new fans as to answer questions from his old ones. (Autobiography. 10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-32650-5

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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