Fine, sensitive fiction, though the author’s rigorously restrained approach won’t be to everyone’s taste.


A woman finally confronts the past she has blotted out for more than 20 years in Warren’s follow-up to her Governor General’s Award–winning debut (Juliet in August, 2012).

On holiday in Ireland, Frances Moon blurts out to her longtime partner, Ian, that she had a stillborn child when she was 19 and, by the way, never divorced the husband who wasn’t the father of her baby. Back in Toronto, Frances quits her job and heads for Elliot, the small town in western Canada where she grew up. She is devastated Ian might not be waiting when she gets back, but she has done nothing to counter his accusation that “you are a person who resists happiness.” We begin to discern the reasons for this in Chapter 2, which rolls back to the early 1960s to show 5-year-old Frances wondering if her restless, dissatisfied mother has taken off for good while her father weeps at night. Mom does return, making it her mission to ensure that her daughter goes to university and escapes her fate as a farmer’s wife. As Warren traces Frances’ loss-haunted childhood and adolescence—three significant adults in her life die unexpectedly—the present-tense narration underscores that none of these issues have been resolved. It’s painful to watch Frances sabotaging herself: refusing to apply for a scholarship; marrying a much-older man simply because it gives her aimless life some direction; then abruptly changing course when the magnitude of her mistake dawns on her. Warren’s reluctance to delve into her characters’ motivations gives the novel a rather distanced feel for quite a while, though it’s highly readable throughout. Then, just as young-adult Frances “step[s] from the ruins of a life that didn’t happen,” the startling interpolation of the town scapegrace’s back story points us in the direction of a tentative emotional reckoning for Frances as well. The understated yet touching closing pages suggest Frances has achieved some degree of contentment.

Fine, sensitive fiction, though the author’s rigorously restrained approach won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-15801-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


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.


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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