A well-crafted, believable story of youthful choices and adult consequences.

THE FIFTH KRAUT

Four teenagers navigate tough choices about their individual and collective futures in Kohmstedt’s coming-of-age novel set in a 1990s Chicago suburb.

Eric “Ike” Eisenhower begins his senior year of high school much like many teenagers do: making fun of the students stuck on school buses as he rides past in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. The Krauts, as Ike and his three childhood friends call themselves in a nod to their shared German heritage, are all instantly relatable characters. There’s K.C., the head-banging athlete with a mane of hair the ladies can’t wait to run their fingers through; Jack, the portly, gritty youth heavily influenced by his motorcycle-loving stepfather; and Tom, the perfect-attendance record holder with an affinity for hip-hop. Ike falls somewhere in the middle: empathetic captain of the track team, street-smart and steadfastly loyal to his crew. But the Krauts’ dynamic changes when Ike’s creepy neighbor, Wally, makes his way into the group, first as the butt of a joke and then as Jack’s wingman when the other boys team up. Jack regards Wally as the fifth Kraut, but the others find Wally weird and unpleasant, especially when they discover more about him. Ultimately, Ike must learn how to balance his fractured friendships, an extremely needy girlfriend and a growing crush on a locker-mate—all while coping with the return of his lowlife father. Kohmstedt weaves each of the book’s numerous subplots seamlessly into the main narrative. The prose is marked by well-paced action, smart structure and realistic, fully developed supporting characters. The author is particularly adept at creating authentic dialogue that would not seem out of place if overheard at a high school, with robust players who don’t stoop to clichéd stereotypes.

A well-crafted, believable story of youthful choices and adult consequences.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1450579773

Page Count: 248

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

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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With lantern-lit tales of old China, a rich humanity, and an acute ear for bicultural tuning, a splendid first novel—one...

THE JOY LUCK CLUB

An inordinately moving, electric exploration of two warring cultures fused in love, focused on the lives of four Chinese women—who emigrated, in their youth, at various times, to San Francisco—and their very American 30-ish daughters.

Tan probes the tension of love and often angry bewilderment as the older women watch their daughters "as from another shore," and the daughters struggle to free themselves from maddening threads of arcane obligation. More than the gap between generations, more than the dwindling of old ways, the Chinese mothers most fear that their own hopes and truths—the secret gardens of the spirit that they have cultivated in the very worst of times—will not take root. A Chinese mother's responsibility here is to "give [my daughter] my spirit." The Joy Luck Club, begun in 1939 San Francisco, was a re-creation of the Club founded by Suyuan Woo in a beleaguered Chinese city. There, in the stench of starvation and death, four women told their "good stories," tried their luck with mah-jongg, laughed, and "feasted" on scraps. Should we, thought Suyuan, "wait for death or choose our own happiness?" Now, the Chinese women in America tell their stories (but not to their daughters or to one another): in China, an unwilling bride uses her wits, learns that she is "strong. . .like the wind"; another witnesses the suicide of her mother; and there are tales of terror, humiliation and despair. One recognizes fate but survives. But what of the American daughters—in turn grieved, furious, exasperated, amused ("You can't ever tell a Chinese mother to shut up")? The daughters, in their confessional chapters, have attempted childhood rebellions—like the young chess champion; ever on maternal display, who learned that wiles of the chessboard did not apply when opposing Mother, who had warned her: "Strongest wind cannot be seen." Other daughters—in adulthood, in crises, and drifting or upscale life-styles—tilt with mothers, one of whom wonders: "How can she be her own person? When did I give her up?"

With lantern-lit tales of old China, a rich humanity, and an acute ear for bicultural tuning, a splendid first novel—one that matches the vigor and sensitivity of Maxine Hong Kingston (The Warrior Woman, 1976; China Men, 1980) in her tributes to the abundant heritage of Chinese-Americans.

Pub Date: March 22, 1989

ISBN: 0143038095

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1989

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