SEARCHING FOR LINCOLN'S GHOST

In her debut novel, Dzikowski explores the social and racial growing pains of mid-’60s America through the eyes of her plucky but impressionable sixth-grade heroine, Andi.

Orphaned at a very young age, Andi searches for proof of life after death in the hope of being reunited with her late parents. Along the way, she ventures across the invisible border between the white and black areas of her small town to befriend Ezra, wise owner of the bait shop and candy store, then teams up with her crush, John Malone, to hunt down the ghost of Abraham Lincoln—“living” proof of the afterlife—who is rumored to haunt their school auditorium. Dzikowski’s use of period detail adds texture and context to Andi’s world, from accounts of disciplinary “paddling” to the smell of fresh mimeograph ink and a gym class chorus of “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go!” Dzikowski incorporates history into her narrative without lecturing the reader, offering plenty of fresh, interesting Lincoln factoids. When Andi catches two male teachers in a compromising position, her bemusement is both age- and era-appropriate. The novel’s memorable supporting characters are carefully, quirkily drawn; schoolyard bully Bertha could easily be two-dimensional but garners understanding when readers learn her front teeth were demolished by a violent stepfather. Dzikowski never sentimentalizes her central character, allowing Andi to have dark moments, but, on occasion, the author veers from Andi’s point of view into an adult voice, narrating at one point, “Mr. Banner scooped her off the ground as tenderly as a stillborn baby.” Dzikowski throws one too many social issues into the mix when Andi overhears John admit to being molested by a priest. Dzikowski should trust her considerable talent. She doesn’t need to justify the actions of her brooding preteen bad boy by giving him a tragic back story; her characters are believable products of a violently segregated society struggling toward tolerance. A prologue introduces readers to Andi and John several decades after novel’s end, adding a heavy note of dread that doesn’t serve Dzikowski’s subtle storytelling. But these are nitpicks, not glaring faults. In her first novel, Dzikowski has created a world complete enough to transport the reader back in time and a spunky protagonist whose emotional journey breaks the heart. Dzikowski’s poignant, engrossing historical novel vividly parallels the last brutal days of segregation with the experiences of a small town girl coming of age in a racist society.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0984030507

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Wiara

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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