This could be an instruction book for a perceptive teenager. For an adult, it resonates as a bittersweet remembrance of a...

IN ZANESVILLE

Angst, and a grudging reconciliation to childhood being left behind, are the heart of this debut novel.

The narrator and her best friend, Felicia, began the summer before entering high school babysitting the six children of a biker gang couple, an occupation that ends morbidly when the husband holds the hand of a disobedient child over an open gas flame. After that display of brutality, the pair decide to quit, even though they need money to get their trendy freshman wardrobe out of lay-away. The bored and restless girls, residing in the prototypical 1970s mid-western small town, live in something less than a Happy Days environment. Both girls' mothers work too hard and yell too much. The narrator's father supposedly sells house siding, but he spends most days drinking vodka and watching birds and squirrels from the kitchen window, at least until he becomes drunk enough to yell "I'll say this about that!" in response to attempts at conversation. The third person narrator remains nameless, although readers learn she bears one of the names from Little Women. The author has beautifully captured how a shy but observant girl might interpret the awkwardness and the struggle for acceptance in the high school's perplexing social milieu. Beard also introduces a fine cast of minor characters. Much of the narrative is played off Felicia, anxious and uncertain herself, as the two girls attempt to participate in marching band, suffer and then seek detention, discover boys and confront mortality when the mother of an acquaintance dies. But it is Felicia, "eyes gone flat" when she walks off with a boy during a party, who provokes the narrator's revelation that even the sweetest childhood bonds can become flawed and fragile mature friendships.

This could be an instruction book for a perceptive teenager. For an adult, it resonates as a bittersweet remembrance of a time when life was more difficult than it should have been.

Pub Date: April 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-316-08447-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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