Walls turns what could have been another sentimental girl-on-the-run-finds-home cliché into a fresh consideration of both...

THE SILVER STAR

Memoirist Walls, who has written about her own nomadic upbringing (The Glass Castle, 2006) and her remarkable grandmother (the novelized biography Half Broke Horses, 2009), turns to out-and-out fiction in this story about two young sisters who leave behind their life on the road for the small Virginia town their mother escaped years before.

By 1970, 12-year-old Bean and 15-year-old Liz are used to moving from town to town with their would-be actress/singer mother, Charlotte. When Charlotte takes off to find herself in San Diego, the Holladay sisters know how to fend for themselves, living on potpies and getting themselves to school for several weeks. But then the authorities start sniffing around. Scared they’ll be carted off to foster care, Liz decides they should head cross-country to Byler, Va., the hometown Charlotte left for good when Bean was still a baby. Clearly, Walls borrows from her own experience in describing the girls’ peripatetic life, but she doesn’t waste undue time on the road trip before getting the girls to Byler, where the real drama begins. The Holladays used to own the town’s cotton mill, but all that’s left is the decaying mansion where Charlotte’s widowed brother still lives. Less cutesy eccentric than he first seems, Tinsley gives the girls the security they have missed. Tinsley also reflects Byler itself, a conservative Southern town struggling to adjust to shifting realities of racial integration and the Vietnam War. Bean joins the newly integrated school’s pep squad and thrives by assimilating; creative, sensitive Liz chafes under pressure to conform. Then, Charlotte shows up wanting to take the girls to New York City. Walls throws in an unnecessary melodrama concerning an evil bully of a man who threatens Liz with violence and worse, but the novel’s strength lies in capturing the complexity of Bean’s and Liz’s shifting loyalties.

Walls turns what could have been another sentimental girl-on-the-run-finds-home cliché into a fresh consideration of both adolescence and the South on the cusp of major social change.

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6150-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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