An enticing story that derives energy from its unflinching point of view.

Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People

A girl and two boys yearn for revenge against those who’ve hurt them in McHenry’s (Derby, 2009) dark coming-of-age drama.

Carla Schwartz, Lyle White, and Dean Barrett are much more than friends. They were all born on the same day in 1966 in Columbus, Ohio, and they’re only 10 years old when they map out their future lives: Lyle and Dean, they think, will both marry Carla, they’ll all have babies, and they’ll love one another forever. Each has harrowing events in his or her past: Carla was born prematurely to a 13-year-old mother; Lyle watched a schoolmate get stabbed to death in his presence; and Dean’s family has a history of violence. Carla, now living with her repulsive aunt and uncle, shares a horrible secret with Lyle and Dean, prompting the friends to take action to ensure that someone never touches Carla again. After the young people are separated—Carla goes to live with other relatives in Portsmouth, Ohio, and the boys stay back in Columbus—Lyle and Dean go on to earn cash by boosting cars, with the goal of someday heading to Mexico with Carla. Meanwhile, Carla finds herself in another precarious spot, as her threatening cousin, Louis, is soon to be released from prison. The boys aim to rescue Carla and keep Louis away from her; soon, their plans include lethal retribution against others who’ve wronged them. McHenry’s blunt, humorless novel is unabatingly bleak as it tackles such issues as child abuse and mental illness. The three protagonists are sympathetic in their tenacity, and they remain so even as they descend into violence; their potential victims, meanwhile, are unquestionably loathsome. The author nevertheless offers glimmers of hope, primarily with a curious, mystical plot turn: the teens are apparently guided by “the Universe”; more specifically, the North Star guides Dean; the Sun, Carla; and the Moon, Lyle. McHenry wisely leaves this point ambiguous, however, keeping alive the possibility that the celestial “watchers” actually just exist in someone’s head, much like Carla’s imaginary friend, Suzie. A downbeat conclusion is inevitable—indeed, a fortuneteller predicts a dismal ending for at least one character—but the somber tale remains provocative all the way to the last page.

An enticing story that derives energy from its unflinching point of view.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5369-4159-3

Page Count: 472

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.


Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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