A gripping thrill ride that’s also a thoughtful coming-of-age story.

THE YEAR OF THE GADFLY

Journalist Miller (Inheriting the Holy Land, 2005) makes her fiction debut with a smoldering mystery set in a New England prep school.

Iris Dupont’s parents have relocated to western Massachusetts, ostensibly so she can attend the prestigious Mariana Academy, but really because they’re worried about Iris. Her best friend Dalia recently committed suicide, and Iris has been observed talking to a wall—actually, she confides, she’s talking to her idol, Edward R. Murrow, and, yes, she knows he’s dead; but their imaginary conversations help smart, ambitious Iris sort out her feelings and remain focused on her goal of becoming a great journalist. She gets plenty to investigate, beginning with a science book containing a mysterious inscription that she finds in the bedroom of Lily Morgan, daughter of Mariana’s former headmaster. The Duponts are temporarily staying in the absent Morgans’ house, a rare contrived premise in an otherwise well-plotted tale that mingles first-person narrations by Iris and biology teacher Jonah Kaplan, who was once a student at Mariana, with the grim story of Lily’s ordeal and departure from Mariana in 2000. The novel occasionally recalls Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992), with its tale of a covert student group (Prisom’s Party in this case) up to no good, but it’s far less pretentious, and Miller’s portrait of the way basically decent kids get sucked into destructive behavior is more credible. Prisom’s Party does engage in some very ugly antics, however, and as Mariana’s scandal-racked history unfolds through Iris’ detective work, we see that Jonah was implicated in past wrongdoing as well. The author skillfully ratchets up the tension as Iris (and the reader) finds it harder and harder to tell who the good guys are, particularly after Prisom’s Party sends an appealing boy to recruit her. It’s scarily possible that she will come to share Jonah’s guilt and grief, as she is manipulated into the sort of betrayal that shattered Lily’s life.

A gripping thrill ride that’s also a thoughtful coming-of-age story. 

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-54859-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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