Thick with ominous mystery but never sacrificing its characters’ integrity in deference to atmosphere or plot.


Daughter of the local wise woman has to step up to the plate when Ma falls ill.

For master fantasist Joyce (The Facts of Life, 2003, etc.), the business of keeping traditions alive is not exactly fraught with fairies and spelldust, but it’s a grotty and human-bound affair—and fascinating nonetheless. In a tiny British village in the 1960s, the winds of modernity are upsetting the livelihood of the Cullen women. The elder Cullen, Mammy, is a midwife of near-legendary repute, though her business has been falling off lately due to the National Health Service providing free midwives fully versed in the more soulless modern techniques. After a local girl dies from an abortifacient administered by Mammy, the townspeople turn against her and an attack by a mysterious assailant puts her in the hospital. But while Mammy’s stern, wise, and sarcastic demeanor casts a shadow over the whole story, this is really about her teenaged daughter, Fern, who is forced to take over, in effect, the family business—of midwifery, herbology, small sewing jobs, baking, and caretaking of local secrets—after Mammy is laid up. Joyce has a warm touch with Fern, giving her a tough, antisocial exterior that belies the utter confusion and roiling adolescent agonies that plague her narration. Trying to keep her and Mammy from eviction, figuring out how to continue in Mammy’s footsteps without her around (if she even wants to), dealing with the local hippies and trying (maybe) to lose her virginity—it’s a lot for one girl to handle. Darker shadows unfurl after Mammy imparts to Fern the roster of local secrets she’s been privy to in her profession, and malicious figures begin to gather, trying to ensure that Fern will keep her mouth shut. This is an uncommonly powerful tale about knowledge and the things swept aside in the rush to the future.

Thick with ominous mystery but never sacrificing its characters’ integrity in deference to atmosphere or plot.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2005

ISBN: 0-7434-6344-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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