Perceptive and subtly powerful, this tale attempts to close a perplexing chapter in American history.

ATLAS OF MEN

In this novel, a doctor confronts his past at a prep school in the 1960s, where the students were unwilling participants in a study.

Robert Thames is an infectious disease physician who searches the tropics for compounds that may lead to the development of new antibiotics. He works for a government agency, and as he has not had much success lately, his position is being eliminated. While he’s at home, UPS delivers a series of boxes with a familiar return address. Back in the ’60s, Robert attended Danvers Academy, a private prep school in New Hampshire. It was an exclusive place, one in which he felt out of place. As a Filipino with Eurasian and American roots, he was one of the few minority students. He was raised in a modest home in the Philippines by adoptive American parents who were missionaries. While new at Danvers, he and other students were photographed nude for unknown reasons, but in reality, it was part of a study to link physical characteristics to personality traits and chances for future success. The study’s coordinator has now sent the boxes of photographs to Robert with the request that he complete the research. Robert is astonished and somewhat sickened by the situation, and a flood of memories fills his mind. He searches for his old school friends and even visits one in Nairobi who has also become a doctor. Robert wants Danvers and those involved in the scheme held accountable for their actions. As revelations of sexual abuse surface, the school’s administration contacts Robert as it tries to save Danvers’ reputation. Based on real events, Sklar’s (La Clínica, 2010) novel is both insightful and nuanced, and he manages to tackle difficult subject matter with compassion. He digs deep into the social realities that Robert lives in and writes beautifully about his protagonist’s feelings of displacement, confusion, and sexual and emotional wonder. Robert’s overall sense of decency gently cuts through any disingenuous sentiments on the parts of others. And the topic of the nude photos is dealt with as a convincing quest for atonement (“When I was alone at home at night, the boys in the photographs called out to me. At first I did not know what they wanted. Eventually I understood: They wanted me to tell our story”).

Perceptive and subtly powerful, this tale attempts to close a perplexing chapter in American history.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72062-442-4

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Volcano Cannon Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2018

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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