A beautifully written coming-of-age story from a promising author.

THE SHAPE OF THE ATMOSPHERE

In Dainty’s debut novel set in the late 1950s, a 16-year-old girl grapples with personal loss in unimaginable conditions after her troubled, alcoholic mother forces her into a mental hospital.

After the tragic death of her sister and father in an accident in October 1957 (the day after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1), Gertrude “Gertie” MacLarsen is sent to Willow Estate Sanatorium. During Gertie’s stay, she faces her grief and her mother’s rejection, forms relationships with others, and eventually finds a sense of community under the most unlikely circumstances. At the same time, she witnesses horrors, including abuse, suicide, and rape, and notes the uneven power dynamics between the patients and hospital staff. But she also finds friendship, love, and a vision for the future away from her tragic past and broken family. Dainty’s descriptions of the treatment of mental health patients are alarming; several particularly disturbing scenes depict unethical therapies in detail. However, the author counters the dark content with poetic prose, as when Gertie notes that “My name...sounded like someone had taken a bag of smooth sounds and smashed it against the wall until nothing but edges remained.” The book also offers a well-developed, layered cast of characters with unique back stories, including Elizabeth Jacobsen, Gertie’s confidante who’s been at Willow Estate for more than five years; and Clement “Pope” Marshall, a young man with a stutter who becomes Gertie’s love interest. When Gertie realizes that everyone, from her fellow patients to the ward’s nurses, has a voice that should be heard, she creates a publication that circulates around the ward. After one issue featuring anonymous submissions falls into the wrong hands, Gertie’s journey shifts from survival to a fierce reclaiming of life. Although the concept of a teenage girl winding up in a mental hospital isn’t exactly new in YA, the specificity of this story’s time period enables the author to tackle it in a fresh way. Sputnik 1, for example, remains a symbolic anchor throughout the story, acting as Gertie’s greatest connection to her deceased father. Dainty successfully weaves in concepts of space exploration, stars, and the vastness of the universe, often using them as metaphors for her protagonist’s tribulations.

A beautifully written coming-of-age story from a promising author.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-945502-10-1

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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