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THE SHAPE OF THE ATMOSPHERE

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

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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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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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