A timely, meticulously wrought tale of young manhood gone wrong that never quite gets to the heart of the matter.


In Graham’s debut novel, a troubled young man experiences tragedy when he goes too far in his quest to become a hometown hero.

When Officer Peter Logan of the Smithton, Ill., police department arrives at Mike Burke’s home to arrest him, the events unfold with a weary inevitability: Mike doesn’t bother to resist, and his parents sadly stand by on the front porch. As residents of the small, economically depressed town drive by, they slow down to eagerly catch a glimpse of the action. Years of gradual marginalization led Mike to this point, and his story unfolds in a series of methodical flashbacks triggered by Mike’s police-car ride through town. Readers learn that Peter and Mike played cops and robbers together as children and that Peter, the son of a real-life policeman, always made Mike play the bad guy. As the years went by, Peter developed into a callous, confident high-school sports star while Mike grew increasingly withdrawn and fixated on hypermasculine role models such as Rocky Balboa and a local Desert Storm veteran. Mike’s attempt to enlist in the Army after high school was stymied by a birth defect—the “inverted heart” of the novel’s title. As a grown man living at home and working at a dead-end grocery store job, Mike’s hunger for recognition finally gave way to a misguided act of violence that no one saw coming. At its most effective, Graham’s slow, methodical prose manages to mimic the gradual erosion of Mike’s humanity. His decidedly thin characterizations of most of the supporting players also hint at Mike’s increasingly impassive regard for others—a trait that eventually leads to his downfall. Too often, however, these devices make for rather tedious reading, particularly for those seeking a closer connection to the characters. They impose a psychological distance that may prevent readers from truly relating to Mike, or the reasons behind his numbing crime.

A timely, meticulously wrought tale of young manhood gone wrong that never quite gets to the heart of the matter.

Pub Date: Dec. 18, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492714217

Page Count: 288

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

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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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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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