While Ortlip’s love for her sisters is intensely moving and well-depicted, the story of their sisterly bonds is almost...



A memoir of the bonds of sisterhood, as recalled by the eldest of five sisters.

Ortlip grew up in northern New Jersey in the 1950s, daughter of an artistic, ineffectual father and a mother whose depression made her nonfunctional. As her four younger siblings arrived, she gradually relinquished the role of older sister for that of protective parent—especially when their mother was taken to a psychiatric hospital and, later, when she left the children’s father for another man. After this abandonment, the girls attempted to console themselves by reveling in the surrounding landscape, which featured granite cliffs overlooking the Hudson River, blooming magnolias, and sturdy oak trees. Unfortunately, they were soon forced to move from their home when the property was rezoned for high-rise apartments. From this point on, the narrative becomes relentlessly grim. Forced to visit their mother and her new husband, a prescription-drug addict, the girls must give their stepfather endless massages while he sucks on a grimy childhood pillow. In 1976, one of the middle sisters, Shari, is killed in an automobile accident, sending the author into a downward spiral of depression, drugs, and alcohol abuse. We follow her to Crete, where she labors in a cucumber factory, and to Alaska, where, between swigs of alcohol, she works on the crew of a 90-foot king-crab fishing boat. After several years of oblivion and meaningless toil, Ortlip finds happiness as an elementary-school teacher. But tragedy strikes once more when another sister, Danielle, dies from acute leukemia. This time, however, the author doesn’t avoid her grief but faces it head-on.

While Ortlip’s love for her sisters is intensely moving and well-depicted, the story of their sisterly bonds is almost completely eclipsed by the disturbing revelations about her parents and the bleakness of her life.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-345-44342-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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