The eight stories in this debut collection, mostly focusing on girls in the 'hood, mingle a welcome touch of poetry with rough urban realism. The familiar underclass pathologies surface in Ferrell's fiction: families with absent fathers; incest; domestic violence; and, most importantly, teenage pregnancy. More than half of these first-person narratives are in the voice of girls who hope to escape the casual horrors of the streets (in the South Bronx) and somehow imagine a baby as their means to happiness. Seldom do the fathers care beyond the status symbol of their potency. In the title story, a young mother records a backwards diary from the moment she discovered her stepfather had infected her with HIV. In ``Can You Say My Name?,'' a pregnant teenager, full of delusional plans for her future, rejects real love for the abusive father of her child, and seems to find an erotic charge in her violent relations with him. ``Country of the Spread Out God'' alternates the voices of two foster siblings, one pregnant by the other, both rejected by the Jamaican aunt who raised them. The girlish boy in ``Proper Library'' avoids the problems of street life with his homosexuality, which keeps him from gang activity. Similarly rejected by her peers, the geeky girl of ``Tiger-Frame Glasses'' reworks harsh reality into fantasies that she records in her journal. The remaining three pieces are all told from the perspective of a teenaged girl, the child of a white German mother and a black American. In one, she and her mother and siblings run from their father's violence, and she retreats into the perfect world of teen magazines; in ``Miracle Answer,'' the same girl scans her neighborhood for a suitable father figure; and in ``Inside, a Fountain,'' her mother sends her to her German relatives, with whom she discovers a strong bond. More than simple authenticity, Ferrell offers a complex vision of ghetto life mingling hurt and hope: work satisfying as art, and disturbing as sociology.

Pub Date: June 11, 1997

ISBN: 0-395-71327-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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