A disturbing but unflinching look at youthful disquiet.

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Kindling

A troubled teen menaces his sleepy town by deliberately starting major fires.

Zeke Titcomb is an awkward, portly 15-year-old pulverized under the weight of social alienation. His father, Eben, is tyrannically boorish and abusive, and his mother, Peggy, is interminably sheepish in the face of his dominance. His sister, Michelle, both beautiful and smart, rebels against Eben through wanton promiscuity. Zeke’s both tortured and ignored by his peers. He is painfully private, concealing his emotions as they simmer over time into a roiling boil. He decides to set his own school on fire and delights in the feeling of power the act of destruction brings him. Zeke makes arson attempts on other schools and a warehouse and then turns his attention to private residences, until he finally burns down his own home. Chaldea, Maine—a small, failed paper-mill town—is yanked out of its peaceful slumber by Zeke’s reign of terror. Word gets out that Chaldea is essentially under siege, and a reporter from the Boston Globe visits to investigate. Zeke glories in the combination of anonymous cunning and empowerment he experiences: “I would never threaten anyone. How can I? I’m invisible.” Eventually, Zeke is apprehended by the authorities, who are chilled to the bone by his steely remove. A court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Proctor, struggles to get Zeke to open up, and finally he finds his voice while writing in a journal. Proctor enlists the aid of two figures Zeke admires, one a librarian and the other an English teacher. Will Zeke finally allow a modest portal into his distempered mind? Cappella (Gobbo: A Solitaire’s Opera, 2005, etc.) leaps back and forth from the unfolding drama to Zeke’s journal entries, poignantly depicting the adolescent rage that snowballs within him. Zeke’s angst regarding his sister is especially complex and affecting: he’s embarrassed by her exploits, hurt they’re not closer, worried she’s squandering her talents, and sadly reminded by her of his own failure with the opposite sex. The author intelligently resists any neatly delivered conclusions—this is a thoughtful, serious, but less than inspirational tale that realistically captures the chaos of teen disaffectedness.

A disturbing but unflinching look at youthful disquiet.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-944393-05-2

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Piscataqua Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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