This small-town drama is jam-packed with revelations and sweet portraits that stick.


An ambitious debut novel that will make you cry, cringe, and laugh.

In 1967, two women—Bette Parsons, the mother of five, and Alice McFee—disappear from a rural town in Canada called Fraser Arm. The scars left by this mystery lay the groundwork for the novel. “Sometimes pain brings people together, helps them to cross the grand abyss of human discord,” says Lulu Parsons, one of Bette's children, as she begins narrating the story years later. “Sometimes it’s too late.” Higdon lovingly excavates the truth behind the women's disappearance, a story buried beneath years of secrecy, trauma, and small-town drama—but does not hesitate to add plenty of salt to the wounds first. There are gaspworthy moments from the beginning to the very last chapter. Though the character count might seem intimidating, Higdon successfully fills Fraser Arm with complex characters who grow and change as the novel unfurls. For example, Doris Tenpenny, the preacher’s daughter, who is mute but sees everything, is brilliant and unforgettable (“Apart from wild mushrooms, which are sometimes tricky to identify and occasionally poisonous, Doris thinks wild people are quite similar to wild food—likeable and interesting”). Her observations are key to understanding the rest of the town. For most of the book's length, the perspective pivots between Lulu's first-person narration and Doris' third-person point of view and follows the tale for five decades without being wed to a linear timeline. The reader is quickly drawn into the intimate details of the lives of the town's inhabitants, compassionately crafted and carefully doled out. From shame to sexual abuse to the undermentioned strain of motherhood, this debut novelist boldly takes on a lot. While the absent father is a tired archetype, a sympathetic story of an absent mother is rare.

This small-town drama is jam-packed with revelations and sweet portraits that stick.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77041-416-7

Page Count: 496

Publisher: ECW Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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