A gripping book with compelling characters who don’t want your pity.

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Graffiti Grandma

Ostensibly about a serial killer, Barney’s (The Solarium, 2011, etc.) novel is about much more than that. It’s also the story of people who are down but not out and a rumination on family, courage and responsibility—a book that reverberates long after the last page.

Grouchy old Ellie Miller, the “graffiti grandma,” is on a quixotic mission to scrub the graffiti off the mailboxes in her neighborhood.  With solvent and rags, she does it at least once a week. One day, she encounters Sarah, a homeless teenage goth girl who offers to help. But they’re wary of each other. In the first chapter, they discover, under a pile of leaves, the body of Peter, a homeless boy who was Sarah’s friend and protector. From there, the plot is off and running, even as it skips around. But that’s OK, since Barney is an agile writer with an uncanny ability to tie the plot strings together. For example, the narrative doesn’t get back to the action of the first chapter until Chapter 11, after all the characters are introduced, each with his or her own back story. There’s Jeffery, another forsaken kid whose grandfather comes to rescue him from a traumatic childhood, though he may not be a real rescuer after all. There’s divorced policeman Matt Trommald and his autistic son, Collin. And there’s Ellie, who’s no saint, though she’s finally sober. She thinks her troubled son, Danny, is long gone—and good riddance—but he might be closer than she thinks. Each chapter has its own appropriate point of view, with Ellie and Sarah in first person and Matt and Jeffrey in third. As such, it’s easy to get to know Ellie and Sarah and their wary dance around each other; Matt and Jeffrey, less so. Key to the plot is the camp in the nearby dense woods, where young runaways make up a ragtag family. But runaways are turning up dead. Who’s the killer? Fortunately, Barney’s narrative nimbleness helps wrangle the storylines as they race to a satisfying conclusion.

A gripping book with compelling characters who don’t want your pity.

Pub Date: March 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615726458

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Encore Press

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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