Humane and lovely; reminiscent of Paul Harding’s Tinkers in its sympathetic understanding of mental disability and the power...

ACROSS THE CHINA SEA

Entering his sixth decade, a faithful son recounts a decidedly unusual childhood.

It is gone now, disappeared somewhere along the way, the orange crate that crossed the China Sea on a freighter and wound up in an asylum in Norway. Recalls the narrator of events of half a century past, “Papa had found the crate in the attic above the men’s unit, along with old sedan chairs, straitjacket beds, and other paraphernalia from the past.” Our narrator slept in the crate as a baby; in a dream, his dead sister floats in it across the water, “holding white carnations,” and now it is gone, as are all the years gone by. Heivoll (Before I Burn, 2014) takes a Proustian view of the passage of time mixed with a solemnity befitting Ingmar Bergman, though he writes economically and with characters of a kind that do not often figure in storytelling: the mentally disabled, eight of whom are the charges of the narrator’s parents, churchly people with great reservoirs of empathy. Tracing this history to the last days of the Nazi occupation of Norway, Heivoll revisits tiny, rare moments of happiness (“I shivered and splashed with my hands, water sprayed up around us; sunbeams glistened in the drops and we laughed and laughed, and there was nothing but our laughter to be heard”), moments that produce nothing but wistfulness in those who partake in recalling them. His characters have a tragic grace, such as one, a promising poet whose mother burned his manuscript, another a voracious reader and gifted singer; all are fully fleshed, if not suited to the world, as when two sisters, having inherited a small sum, fail to comprehend how a bank account works. This is a story built on vignettes and small episodes; not much happens, but the brush strokes quickly make an elegant portrait.

Humane and lovely; reminiscent of Paul Harding’s Tinkers in its sympathetic understanding of mental disability and the power of memory.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55597-784-9

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

REGRETTING YOU

When tragedy strikes, a mother and daughter forge a new life.

Morgan felt obligated to marry her high school sweetheart, Chris, when she got pregnant with their daughter, Clara. But she secretly got along much better with Chris’ thoughtful best friend, Jonah, who was dating her sister, Jenny. Now her life as a stay-at-home parent has left her feeling empty but not ungrateful for what she has. Jonah and Jenny eventually broke up, but years later they had a one-night stand and Jenny got pregnant with their son, Elijah. Now Jonah is back in town, engaged to Jenny, and working at the local high school as Clara’s teacher. Clara dreams of being an actress and has a crush on Miller, who plans to go to film school, but her father doesn't approve. It doesn’t help that Miller already has a jealous girlfriend who stalks him via text from college. But Clara and Morgan’s home life changes radically when Chris and Jenny are killed in an accident, revealing long-buried secrets and forcing Morgan to reevaluate the life she chose when early motherhood forced her hand. Feeling betrayed by the adults in her life, Clara marches forward, acting both responsible and rebellious as she navigates her teenage years without her father and her aunt, while Jonah and Morgan's relationship evolves in the wake of the accident. Front-loaded with drama, the story leaves plenty of room for the mother and daughter to unpack their feelings and decide what’s next.

The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1642-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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This quirky, complex, and frustrating heroine will win hearts and challenge assumptions about family dysfunction and mental...

WITHOUT MERIT

With the help of unusual houseguests, a teenage girl who tries to rebel by airing her family’s dirty laundry cleans up her act instead.

To Merit Voss, the white picket fence around her house is the only thing normal about the family it contains. She lives in a converted church with her father, stepmother, and siblings, and although her parents have been divorced for years, her mother still lives in the basement, struggling with social anxiety. No one in her family is religious, so her brother Utah updates the church marquee every day with fun facts instead of Bible verses. Merit is less accomplished than her identical twin sister, Honor, so she likes to buy used trophies to celebrate her failures. But Honor seems to have a fetish for terminally ill boys, so it’s a surprise to Merit when Sagan, who is perfectly healthy, kisses Merit after mistaking her for her sister—and then reveals that he’s living in their house. Soon they have another houseguest, Luck, whose connection to the family makes Merit even more convinced she’s living in a madhouse. So why is everyone so angry at her? Merit has a love/hate relationship with her sister. She's conflicted by her feelings for Sagan, who leaves intriguing sketches (illustrated by Adams) around the house for her to decipher. She’s simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by Luck, who annoys her with his questions but is also her confidant. She can’t sit through dinner without starting a fight; she’s been skipping school for days; and when she decides to give her whole family the silent treatment, Sagan is the only one who notices. In fact, he and Luck are the only people in the house who recognize Merit’s quirks for what they really are—cries for help. And when Merit takes drastic measures to be heard, the fallout is both worse and much better than she feared. Hoover (It Ends With Us, 2016, etc.) does an excellent job of revealing the subtle differences between healthy teenage rebellion and clinical depression, and Merit’s aha moment is worthy of every trophy in her collection.

This quirky, complex, and frustrating heroine will win hearts and challenge assumptions about family dysfunction and mental illness in a life-affirming story that redefines what’s normal.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7062-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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