NATURAL BRIDGES

An accomplished debut novel about a family that lives in one of those rural locales where the old are ornery, the middle-aged disappointed, and only the young happy. Fern's family moves to the mountains of Kentucky three years after their farm fails in Ohio. Dad now has a job with the gas company, but he worries about losing it; Mom is tired out from taking care of everyone; older sister Florabelle is pregnant, angry, and about to marry the child's father, Jason; baby sister Birdie wants to keep the entire latest litter of puppies; Grandma, living alone nearby, is getting forgetful; and Fern works hard at the local gas station for kindly Clem. The characters and setting are saved from clichÇ by Fern's fresh perspective—almost. Fern is strong, conscientious, and gratifyingly sensible as she tries to hold the family together. And when she meets handsome architecture student Culler, she realizes she needs a life of her own. The two go fishing; then Culler comes home to dinner, which is a disaster. Meantime, as Christmas approaches, the family is alienated by Dad's decision to send Grandma to a nursing home; Florabelle has the baby and is later abandoned by Jason; Fern starts work at a veterinary lab, where she is encouraged to apply to college; and when the family objects both to her relationship with Culler and to her increasing independence, she regretfully moves out. This family disapproval, and the lovers' shared guilt about a fire at Clem's gas station that they may have caused, nearly ends the relationship. But a story like this has to end happily, which it does as love triumphs over a variety of family woes. Altogether, an intelligent celebration of the sometimes conflicting forces of family loyalty and romantic love.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-877946-79-6

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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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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