A story with an astute sense of the mores and tensions of a place. Unfortunately, the only really interesting characters are...

AN AMERICAN SUMMER

Upper-crust Baltimore in 1955 is the dynamic setting of Deford’s seventh (after The Other Adonis, 2001, etc.): an otherwise treacly coming-of-ager about a new boy in town who’s befriended by a wealthy neighbor in an iron lung.

For a time, Christy Bannister, 14, is the only child in the only house in Baltimore’s newest (possibly first) subdivision, having just moved that summer from Indiana with his dad, the new president of a local enameling factory. While trying to build a newspaper route, he saves a mutt from becoming roadkill and is rewarded by being welcomed into the social-register family that owns the mutt, the Slades. A quick friendship blooms between Christy and Kathryn, a beauty struck down by polio at age 17 and now in her mid-20s, who, in her portable iron lung, spends her days by the side of the pool her parents built for her. She makes Christy feel at home; he in turn makes her feel almost like a teenager again. Although she can move no more than her head, she secretly (by teaching him the brand-new butterfly stroke) grooms him to win the summer-ending swimming race, a medley for those 16 and under that’s to be held at the pool. The rest of Christy’s family arrives midsummer, including Big Sis Sue, at 17 pining for the heartthrob she left behind in Indiana but soon enamored of Eddie, the Yalie older brother of one of Christy’s poolmates, who is, in the local vernacular, “shoe.” Eddie drops his suave manner one moonlit night by the pool, however, obliging both Christy and Kathryn to come to Sue’s defense. But then Christy finds out that ol’ Pop went too far himself while the family was away—and grows up fast.

A story with an astute sense of the mores and tensions of a place. Unfortunately, the only really interesting characters are the bit players, seldom seen.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-57071-992-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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