A subtle book that brings to bear all its author’s prodigious skill. A must-read.


A mother and her two teenage daughters relocate to a remote cottage by the sea for a fresh start only to discover that what they’ve brought with them may be worse than what they left behind.

Sisters September and July are unusually close. Less than a year apart in age, the girls share a language of preferences, games, sometimes even thoughts that makes their mother, Sheela, feel excluded and that causes their teachers to categorize them as “isolated, uninterested, conjoined, young for their age, sometimes moved to great cruelty.” The children’s father, Peter, is dead, drowned in a hotel pool while on vacation, but the memory of his capricious cruelty haunts Sheela and taints her enjoyment of her oldest daughter, September, who strongly resembles him. Nevertheless, the family makes a life together in Oxford, where their mother writes and illustrates children’s books featuring the girls’ fictional adventures. Then, something dreadful happens, something so awful that July can’t remember what exactly it was, and they flee to Settle House, the cottage where their father was conceived and September was born, high on the North York Moors by the sea. Once there, the girls are left on their own while Sheela locks herself in her room, emerging only sometimes at night to cook meals, which she leaves for them to eat by themselves. Isolated by the lonely moors that surround them and by their mother’s near abandonment, which the girls take as anger over what happened in Oxford, September and July’s already claustrophobic relationship becomes something verging on a possession as July’s identity is slowly sublimated under the more dominant personality of her sister and the smothering nature of the house itself. When the instigating event that caused them to leave Oxford finally comes to light, it does so with an incandescence that reilluminates everything that has come before; what the reader and July herself should have seen all along, if only we had known how to look. Johnson—whose first novel, Everything Under (2018), made her the youngest author ever shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize—brings her nuanced sense of menace and intimate understanding of the perils of loving too much to this latest entry in her developing canon of dark places where the unspeakable speaks and speaks.  

A subtle book that brings to bear all its author’s prodigious skill. A must-read.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-18895-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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