Quite a concept: A nice teenager. Parents will be relieved, but fiction without conflict makes little impression.

10TH GRADE

Weisberg’s debut chronicles a high school sophomore’s life in the first-person, with obvious echoes of The Catcher in the Rye.

Jeremy Reskin, however, is no Holden Caufield. He’s quite sweet, for starters; rather than acidly appraising everyone he knows as “phony,” he’s more likely to tell us that the handsome boy on the baseball team is “a solid good guy. Even in the halls he’s nice to people.” Jeremy plays soccer and fits in pretty well. Though in the fall he hangs out with a group of rebels, he won’t smoke pot with them (“I felt like saying, ‘Sorry I don’t want to kill all my brain cells and probably get arrested some day’”), and he seems better suited to the popular clique that takes him up later in the school year. Sure, he has to settle for just being friends with gorgeous new girl Renee Shopmaker (he finally gets high with her and her hip art-dealer uncle), but second-most-gorgeous Lenea Vovich doesn’t seem like such a comedown to make out with after the prom. Jeremy actually likes his hometown, Hutch Falls, New Jersey (“It has many of the advantages of the city like restaurants and culture but also has low crime and other problems like dirt”), and his parents may annoy him but Mom can really cook and Dad’s kind of an endearing old holdout against the consumer culture Jeremy can’t be bothered to reject. Our hero’s grades aren’t so hot, he spends a lot of time commenting on girls’ Breasts (always capitalized), and he occasionally uses the F-word, but he’s basically a good kid who does a certain amount of growing up in tenth grade: “I learned many lessons like be yourself and let your heart shine.” Nothing wrong with that, but nothing very dramatic about it, either.

Quite a concept: A nice teenager. Parents will be relieved, but fiction without conflict makes little impression.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-50584-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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