Straightforward yet lyric prose and an eye for the crucial detail bring the Hillocks’ world vividly to life.

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THE SISTERS FROM HARDSCRABBLE BAY

Published posthumously, Jenson’s debut is a rich cycle-of-life narrative about the title’s two Canadian sisters, who grow up in rural poverty and make their way in the world, remaining close despite differences in disposition and ambition. 

Della Hillock and her wilder younger sister Avis spend their early childhood on a New Brunswick farm with their father, whom they call Dad, and older brother Dalton. Although he can turn mean when he’s drinking, Dad tries to do right by his kids after the death of his wife in 1916. When the (perhaps too) appealing but troubled French Canadian girl he’s hired to care for the girls doesn’t work out, he sends them to relatives in Maine to be educated. But when he’s seriously injured in 1921, the girl must return to care for him. Della, who is the hard worker, chafes at the responsibilities she carries and feels jealous of the more carefree Avis, who drinks and carouses with Dad. Both sibling rivalry and camaraderie is expressed in small, jewel-like moments—picking blueberries, fighting over a dress. Before she’s 20, Della escapes again to the States and works as a domestic servant until she meets Eddie, who will become her husband. While focusing on her women characters, Jenson is generous with her men as well. Eddie is a painfully complex man, a devoted if resentful son of a crazy mother who grows into a devoted if adulterous husband. Meanwhile, Avis ends up in the States too but never quite settles down. She spends time in prison for borderline prostitution, drinks heavily and goes through one man after another while working as a hairdresser. But Della is no prude, and Avis has delicate sensibilities. When Dad dies in 1966, Avis and Dalton, now an alcoholic, arrive with the body just in time for the kind of family send-off their father would have loved.

Straightforward yet lyric prose and an eye for the crucial detail bring the Hillocks’ world vividly to life.

Pub Date: June 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02166-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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