A shocking tale of surviving abuse and living with its consequences.

TOUGH LOVE AT MYSTIC BAY

Sowden’s debut novel follows a woman who’s haunted by the traumatic experiences of her teen years. 

Grace is an accomplished chef living in Minneapolis. When she starts getting coverage on popular blogs, she panics at the thought of being interviewed, as she’d have to talk about herself and her difficult past. She already chain-smokes and practices jujitsu to help her cope with the horrific memories of her teens, many years ago. Her overbearing and difficult mother had arranged for her to be abducted by operatives of Epiphany Lake Academy, an expensive school for troubled high schoolers. Grace recalls the awful months in which she needed permission to stand, sit, speak, or do nearly anything else. At the academy, reading nonauthorized books, looking out the window for too long, and not properly confessing to past behavior were all punishable offenses that could earn violators time in “The Shed” with the school’s vile director, Crandall. Grace tried her best to deal with the disturbing therapy sessions and deplorable living conditions, but she soon learned that the school administrator had no reason to ever let her leave—and that all roads led to a mysterious second camp in the Dominican Republic called Mystic Bay, where some teens were sent to live in cages and endure further torture. Sowden excels at showing the long-lasting ramifications of these events on Grace as she alternates between past and present timelines; Sowden clearly shows how every aspect of the protagonist’s adult personality, from her interactions with co-workers to her reluctance to form friendships, has been altered by the horrible treatment she endured. The abuse itself is horrifying, and the author drives home the feelings of desperation and injustice; at several moments, it seems as if Grace has outsmarted the system only to end up in a worse position. Readers may be left with more questions than answers about Grace’s unstable mother, but the story still leads to satisfying and bittersweet conclusions about confronting one’s past. 

A shocking tale of surviving abuse and living with its consequences.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947041-53-0

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2020

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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