This raw tale about a harrowing journey leaves a mark.



A young man struggles with the realities of a life-altering disease in this debut novel.

The Hero—a 24-year-old Canadian music store manager with a number of face piercings—is sick: “His head hurt and his world was spinning. He awoke in his basement feeling lethargic and slow. The stairs to the main floor were narrow, old and daunting. He ascended them as deftly as he could, avoiding steps that were notoriously weak.” He decides to go to the doctor, who tells him he has the flu. He returns home and goes to sleep. When he wakes up again, he’s in a hospital bed—where he discovers he’s been in a coma for weeks. His parents tell him that he’s suffering from encephalitis—inflammation of the brain—and that he’s now legally a quadriplegic. From there, he begins a long, arduous journey back to normal life—or as normal a life as is still available to him. The road is full of surprises, most of them bad, and the Hero rarely feels hopeful about his chances. Interspersed with this man’s odyssey are self-contained vignettes about others dealing with extreme scenarios: A woman is trapped in an endless simulated space mission; a man in a wheelchair is drawn into a terrorist plot; a kidnapped man waits to be murdered by his captors. Garden’s prose is muscular and biting, capturing the numbing anguish that is the Hero’s general state of being: “He had fallen prey to what is called ‘hospitalization.’ The idea was that time had lost its meaning due to being months in four walls where he was dictated what to do and when. He had also lost all respect for death he had once had. He watched people give up all hope.” The book is a brutal read. To highlight his dehumanizing experience, the Hero does not have a name, and there are few characters in his story. As it goes on, readers will begin to feel the same creeping horror experienced by the Hero. The vignettes make up the weaker half of the equation: They read a bit like undercooked Chuck Palahniuk premises. While the novel does not fully coalesce, it manages to elicit strong feelings, requiring that readers consider human suffering and the uncertainty that it brings.

This raw tale about a harrowing journey leaves a mark.

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-9084-2

Page Count: 204

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.


An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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