An often heart-wrenching tear-jerker that, at its best, evokes hope and optimism.

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Star Catching

Lajeunesse (In Her Mother’s Shoes, 2012, etc.) offers a novel about an orphaned 8-year-old and her grandparent guardians.

On the last evening of her vacation at her maternal grandparents’ house in Saratoga Springs, New York, young Sarah Crawford overhears her grandmother discussing her eagerness to sell their house and travel in her imminent retirement. An unspeakable tragedy occurs the next morning: a car accident that kills Sarah’s parents and her younger brother. After Sarah recovers somewhat from her injuries and learns that she will live with her grandparents, all she can think is how much her grandparents must resent her presence; raising a fourth-grader isn’t how they planned to spend their retirement years. In truth, Sarah’s fears aren’t unwarranted—her grandmother, Marian, in particular, feels ill-equipped for the challenges of parenting in her 60s. Her saintly husband, Ed, however, uncomplainingly deals not only with his own grief but also legal challenges from those seeking to profit from the horrible accident: the intoxicated driver who caused it believes that he can successfully countersue, and Sarah’s paternal grandparents suddenly want custody of Sarah, whom they barely know. As much as Marian and Ed wish to avoid it, they’re forced to take Sarah back to her old house in Seattle, and this helps Marian and Ed break through Sarah’s emotional barricades. Young Sarah is an appealing, memorable character who copes with injury, loss, and even bullying by other kids with admirable aplomb. Marian, despite her expressed concerns, is relatable as she deals with her problems—first with prescription medication, then with food—before she has a breakthrough that allows her to take control of her life. The wonderful Ed, however, is almost too perfect to believe. Also, in one surprising, implausible scene, Ed, Marian, and Sarah meet with the man who caused the accident, but without displaying any anger or real emotion.

An often heart-wrenching tear-jerker that, at its best, evokes hope and optimism.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 251

Publisher: Dog Ear

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2016

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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