Starts effectively as a gripping survival story, but the explorer fantasy and deus ex machina approach hamper the tale.

DEADLY VOYAGE

WAKING UP DEAD: FROM THE FOOTHILLS OF BAD TO THE FOREST OF WORSE

A young survivor of a pirate attack discovers a mysterious island in this YA fantasy adventure.

New Zealander Sam Warburton, age 12, is enjoying a luxury yacht vacation in Indonesia with his parents, his best friend, and his father’s business partner, Frank Trent, when pirates attack. They kill almost everyone aboard and sink the yacht—but not before rescuing Trent and his black briefcase. What’s that about? Sam doesn’t have time to think; hiding aboard an inflatable life raft, he manages to escape. Over several stressful days, Sam attempts to stay alive, gaining assistance from animal helpers. He finds an island and starts building a hut, but the fierce local fauna set him wandering. So far, Wilson’s (The Young King, 2017, etc.) book has much in common with other vibrant tales of resilient, clever young people surviving on their own, like Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain or Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, and provides similar pleasures. When Sam encounters islanders, though, the novel takes an unfortunate turn to another kind of story: white explorer meets ignorant nonwhite natives and astounds them with his superior knowledge. They are all amazed at Sam’s snorkel, first aid, rugby tackles, freestyle swimming strokes, and outriggers for their canoes, considering the boy a  “wonder man,” making some  young men jealous and leading to painful images like “grins and shiny white teeth were the order of the day.” Sam, meanwhile, has nothing to learn from people who are experts in their environment. With this awkward bwana fantasy now in full swing, the book turns again. Suddenly, anything goes: green-robed, English-speaking priests from a large, elaborate compound “based on the great gardens of Babylon and Egypt” appear and demand some villagers for sacrifice, including Lastri, a girl Sam likes. But if Sam wins a ritual race and retrieves a treasure, he can save the intended victims. Thanks—and only thanks—to frequent magical assists from the treasure, Sam prevails. Will he now try to return to civilization and search for Trent?

Starts effectively as a gripping survival story, but the explorer fantasy and deus ex machina approach hamper the tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5144-6618-6

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2017

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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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