An amiable first novel that managesthrough an unobtrusive and extraordinarily controlled narrative voiceto breathe new life into the most standard coming-of-age plot. Charlie, the narrator, begins his story at his own adolescence (he's 15), a stage of life that he bears with a good grace in spite of its enormities. Abandoned by his father shortly after he was born, Charlie has been raised by a mother whose inherent decency and natural affection for him are overwhelmed by her own desolation and despair. After a poor attempt at suicide, she's hospitalized, and Charlie is put in the temporary care of her best friend, the 26-year-old Jolene, who rapidly falls in love with the boy and seduces him. The affair is still in full force when Charlie's mother returns home, and he is suddenly back living with her. Shortly thereafter, however, Jolene disappears without a word and is not heard from again for about five years. By this time, Charlie, now living outside Philadelphia, has drifted into the cynical ennui of the frustrated romantic: ``I was suddenly more depressed than I'd been in a long time...nothing was turning out like I'd imagined. Nothing in the store where I worked mattered to me. And I tried to think of something that did matter, but there was nothing....`This is my life,' I said, `and it is not very interesting.' '' Then a friend named Angel convinces Charlie that he needs to confront Jolene to get over her, and so the two set off cross-country to San Francisco to track her down. Charlie's final discovery and ultimate resolution are predictable and traditionalbut utterly convincing for all that. Spatz has no real surprises in store, but, instead, wisely concentrates on the niceties of description and characterization rather than plot. What we are left with finally is a marvelously quiet evocation (as opposed to narration) of a young man's awakening. Simple, precise, and rewarding work, nicely understated and free from contrivance.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56512-037-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1995

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?