An account of a troubled adolescent and the havoc he wreaks on his stepmother’s domestic life, by the author of Every Day (1997). Usually it’s the stepmothers who get the bad press, but since this story is being told by one, the perspective is bound to be different. Paige Austin is something of a bluestocking. A bookbinder with a Yale degree, she’s married to a lawyer and lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Unable to have children of her own, Paige invests herself in any number of good works—taking tea with rich old ladies, visiting AIDS patients, and tutoring neighborhood children in the afternoons. Her husband Ian MacGowan has two children from a previous marriage, however, and one of them—his son Malachi—turns out to be a real handful. Expelled from his Brooklyn prep school for drug use, Malachi is sent to live with Ian by his disgusted mother, who washes her hands of him. Now Paige has to learn how to put up with a child in the house 24 hours a day. The initial surprise is how well she takes to it—and how well Malachi, starved for affection since his parents” divorce, takes to her. Soon Paige understands how much of a burden her childlessness had been to her. But soon enough, she sees the other side of the coin when Malachi begins to act out his rebellions against her, as well as against his father. After Paige and Ian discover him in bed with a girl, Malachi runs away and vows to live on his own—but returns stoned one night to take his revenge on Paige’s students in a prank that nearly leads to tragedy. Only then can he see the real depths of his anger, and his love. A soap opera, pure and simple, with characters about as deep as cardboard acting out a labyrinthine plot. If you listen closely, you can even hear organ music in the background.

Pub Date: March 2, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02397-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


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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