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SEARCHING FOR LINCOLN'S GHOST

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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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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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