Earnest and predictable: a good start but nothing special.

LEAVE MYSELF BEHIND

Debut about a gay teenager coming of age in a small New England town.

For Noah York, at 17, adolescence hasn’t exactly turned out to be one long kegger: After his father’s death the year before, Noah’s eccentric mother Virginia has become increasingly unstable and difficult to live with. A well-regarded poet, she accepts a post at Cassidy College and moves with Noah from Chicago to Oakland, New Hampshire, where she buys a ramshackle Victorian house and tries to start a new life. Going from the big city to the sticks is hard for Noah, who’s gay, but he settles into a new routine pretty quickly, helping Virginia renovate the house and making friends with the local kids—among them J.D. Curtis, a classmate who lives nearby and becomes Noah’s best friend. Athletic and clean-cut, J.D. is a bit too All-American for the smartmouthed Noah, but they quickly become inseparable—and eventually fall in love. This development causes more trouble at first for J.D. (who had girlfriends and never thought of himself as gay) than for Noah, but it soon gets both of them in hot water when J.D.’s sister discovers them having sex and word spreads through the town. There are the usual fistfights and insults, and, after J.D.’s mother throws him out of the house, he comes to live with Noah and Virginia, who is more understanding but also in the middle of a crisis of her own. In redoing the house, Virginia began to discover Mason jars hidden in the walls with poems and notes from the Carlisles, an unhappy couple who lived there years ago. Becoming increasingly obsessed with this past, she has a mental breakdown after finding the skeleton of a baby girl buried in the basement. As Virginia slowly recovers her sanity, Noah and J.D. begin to build new lives for themselves together.

Earnest and predictable: a good start but nothing special.

Pub Date: March 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-7582-0348-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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