RIVER, CROSS MY HEART

An anemic first novel so well-intentioned that it’s almost painful to point out its myriad deficiencies. In the mid-1920s, Willie Bynum and his wife Alice have moved from North Carolina to Georgetown, D.C., in hopes of a better life for themselves and their daughters, Johnnie Mae and Clara. They warn the girls never to swim in the Potomac River, but ten-year-old Johnnie Mae goes there anyway with a group of friends, and five-year-old Clara accidentally drowns. The novel’s focus is blurred; Clarke can—t seem to decide if the story is about the aftermath of a drowning, Johnnie Mae’s coming of age, or the struggles of an African-American family new to the ways of the city. Unmemorable, underdeveloped characters come and go: a white woman who employs Alice; neighbors and relatives; an almost-mute girl Johnnie Mae befriends. Far too mature for a girl of ten, Johnnie Mae discovers swimming and suffers racial prejudice when she enters a competition. To demonstrate her independent mind, she and a friend sneak into a segregated pool to swim in the dead of night. None of these random events ever come together, though, and the significance of the birth of a baby boy to replace the dead Clara is never explored. Meanwhile, several chapters are little more than filler; late in the story, a beautician and her doctor admirer take up several pages, then fade away. We—re told that Johnnie Mae’s true father is a North Carolina Indian named Sam Logan, but this fact proves to be a red herring and is never utilized. Action is sparse, and the author lacks the linguistic facility necessary for a novel of ideas—not that there are many new ones here. Clarke’s one strength is her use of seemingly authentic period details. Otherwise, an only fair-to-middling effort.

Pub Date: July 7, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-14423-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

MAGIC HOUR

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more