Steinke brings the world of Bent Tree to vivid life with a cast of secondary characters more sharply drawn than Jesse and...

SISTER GOLDEN HAIR

Steinke (Milk, 2005, etc.) ponders the nature of religious faith in this coming-of-age story about a defrocked New-Age minister’s daughter’s adjusting to her family’s new life in suburban Virginia in the early 1970s.

In 1972, 12-year-old Jesse moves with her parents and 4-year-old brother, Philip, from Philadelphia, where her father has once again been fired for his unconventional methods and beliefs as a Methodist minister, to Roanoke, Virginia, where he has found work as a counselor. While he is an intellectual idealist unable or unwilling to function in the practical world, Jesse’s deeply frustrated, emotionally erratic mother craves respectability and material comfort. Their marriage seems unhappy to Jesse, but their basic decency shows in bits and pieces throughout the novel. Having settled into Bent Tree, an apartment complex where the motley mix of residents struggles to pay the rent, innocent yet precocious Jesse begins seventh grade desperate to fit in but also afraid of her body’s pubescent changes. After popular Sheila rebuffs her, Jesse becomes soul mates with Jill, who believes her family has been cursed. Unfortunately true to Jill’s beliefs, her alcoholic mother disappears, leaving Jill and her younger siblings to fend for themselves until someone (maybe Jesse’s mom) calls in social services and Jill exits from Jesse’s life. Three years later, Sheila, whose popularity has faded since a scandal surrounding her dad’s sexuality, draws Jesse into her fantasy life involving Playboy Bunnies and her own incipient sadomasochism. Jesse also begins a relationship with potentially dangerous but pathetic bad-boy Dwayne. But by 10th grade, Jesse has turned into the accelerated student with smart friends she was always meant to be. Then Jill, now a devout born-again Christian, reappears to confuse and challenge the beliefs (or lack thereof) that Jesse’s been struggling with all along.

Steinke brings the world of Bent Tree to vivid life with a cast of secondary characters more sharply drawn than Jesse and particularly her parents, who are never quite fully realized on the page.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-935639-94-7

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

more