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THE MERMAID UPSTAIRS

An exuberant fantasy that earnestly explores its teen protagonist’s problems.

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This debut YA novel tells of a family coping with a mother’s firm belief that she’s a mermaid.

In Columbus, Nebraska, 16-year-old Emily Parker is driving with her mother, Nora, in the passenger seat. When another car rear-ends them, her mom hits her head. Soon after Nora is discharged from the hospital, she becomes frantic because, for some reason, she thinks she’s missing a tail—one that was “aqua and turquoise with flecks of gold in the sunlight.” She further insists that if she isn’t returned to the Pacific Ocean, she’ll die. There’s a long waiting list at the hospital, so Emily’s dad, Bart, does all he can to comfort Nora at home, including pretending to be the dashing pirate that his wife now believes him to be. Emily’s 6-year-old sister, Amy, loves Nora’s transformation, but the teen loathes it—and the additional responsibilities that it entails. She now has to drive Nora to therapy and swimming sessions when she’d rather work with her school crush, José Hernandez, on a Shakespeare project. As the family’s life becomes more hectic, other changes occur: Nora loses quite a bit of weight and rekindles her relationship with Bart. However, when her personality change is imitated by others and becomes a phenomenon, Emily tries a new tactic to try to bring her mom back to her old self. Author Lilo’s YA fantasy is hilarious and touching, by turns, and it perfectly blends its teenage struggles with grown-up drama as it develops its characters. Nora, a no-nonsense Child Protective Services attorney, is described as never being able to relax because “She was too busy saving the world”; she’s also shown to have raised Emily with an awareness of her privilege, yet the girl “rarely [feels] comfortable” in her own skin. The author also weighs in on aspects of social media, which amplifies Nora’s problems. Lilo provides a memorable supporting cast throughout, including Emily’s rule-breaking grandmother and her 20-year-old swim coach, Tia. It all builds toward a suspenseful finale that respects the surrealism of the plot and the integrity of the characters.

An exuberant fantasy that earnestly explores its teen protagonist’s problems.

Pub Date: June 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72173-443-6

Page Count: 250

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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