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 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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A highly readable account of how solid research and personal testing of self-help techniques saved a couple's marriage after...


Self-help advice and personal reflections on avoiding spousal fights while raising children.

Before her daughter was born, bestselling author Dunn (Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask, 2009, etc.) enjoyed steady work and a happy marriage. However, once she became a mother, there never seemed to be enough time, sleep, and especially help from her husband. Little irritations became monumental obstacles between them, which led to major battles. Consequently, they turned to expensive couples' therapy to help them regain some peace in life. In a combination of memoir and advice that can be found in most couples' therapy self-help books, Dunn provides an inside look at her own vexing issues and the solutions she and her husband used to prevent them from appearing in divorce court. They struggled with age-old battles fought between men and women—e.g., frequency of sex, who does more housework, who should get up with the child in the middle of the night, why women need to have a clean house, why men need more alone time, and many more. What Dunn learned via therapy, talks with other parents, and research was that there is no perfect solution to the many dynamics that surface once couples become parents. But by using time-tested techniques, she and her husband learned to listen, show empathy, and adjust so that their former status as a happy couple could safely and peacefully morph into a happy family. Readers familiar with Dunn's honest and humorous writing will appreciate the behind-the-scenes look at her own semi-messy family life, and those who need guidance through the rough spots can glean advice while being entertained—all without spending lots of money on couples’ therapy.

A highly readable account of how solid research and personal testing of self-help techniques saved a couple's marriage after the birth of their child.

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-26710-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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