Well-written and observed, though the characters and situations are familiar from many, many previous novels.


Tarkington debuts with a busy coming-of-age tale set in the 1970s and '80s, with Neil Young as the soundtrack.

Young’s “After the Gold Rush” is the favorite record of narrator Rocky’s adored half brother, Paul, who's 16 to Rocky’s 7 when the story begins in 1977. Paul is a bad boy by the small-town standards of Spencerville, Virginia, which means he smokes cigarettes, drinks beer, and wears his hair long. Rocky’s mother, the devout, much younger second wife of “the Old Man,” aka Richard Askew, resents her husband’s fondness for his wayward eldest, and her mistrust seems justified when Paul plucks Rocky from school and briefly abandons him in the woods for reasons that are as murky as the decision to rescue him. Tarkington does a better job with the vivid picture of the Askews’ fraught home life and the Old Man’s anxious maneuvering to get in with Spencerville’s social elite, incarnated by the entitled Culver family, which moves into the mansion up the hill from his more modest home. Patriarch Brad Culver’s accidental shooting of Paul, trespassing after dark, is only the first of the two families’ disastrous interactions over the next decade, after Paul takes off with girlfriend Leigh Bowman following Rocky’s abortive abandonment. Leigh returns just a few months later, initiating a series of melodramatic developments about as probable as Rocky’s adolescent affair with Culver’s spoiled, considerably older daughter, Patricia. Paul vanishes for years, but his intense, angry bond with the Old Man finally brings him home after Richard suffers a stroke brought on by misplaced trust in Brad Culver’s financial wheelings and dealings. Tarkington carefully lays out his elaborate storyline and sensitively depicts his troubled characters, but it all seems rather pat, right down to the After-the-Main-Events summary that closes the novel by neatly wrapping up everyone’s destinies.

Well-written and observed, though the characters and situations are familiar from many, many previous novels.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-382-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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