An unforgettable kid narrates this cracked, acerbic novel.



Young Zoe charms all in Van Middlesworth’s debut novel about a very dysfunctional clan.

Van Middlesworth gives her readers a memorable cast. Zoe King is a tough, scarily perceptive kid through whose eyes we take in the story. “Knife” is her punk Revlon Doll who rides in her holster and gives advice. She is protective of her little brother, Willy, who is addled but a genius of sorts. “Daddy Dead” and “Mother Blind” tells us what Zoe thinks of her parents—Daddy is especially no bargain—and then there is “Aunt Oink,” Mother Blind’s younger sister, whom Daddy impregnates. He divorces Mother Blind, marries Oink, then splits after their baby, Zuzu, falls to her death out a window. And this is just a small sampling of the characters and the chaos they generate. Things are a bit hard to follow because we are never sure what really happens and what—like an impromptu flight to Paris—comes from Zoe’s surreal imagination. We watch Zoe grow up while trying to deal with all this. Eventually she gets into enough trouble that she winds up in The New Jersey Training School for Girls (one of only three white girls there, an eye-opener). After a year or so, she earns parole. The End. Call it a story of survival. Van Middlesworth, a much published writer, has undeniable gifts. Zoe is wise and naïve and mesmerizing. Startling lines and imagery are on every page: “I want to shrink into my hand and run down all the paths on my palm.” Zuzu’s death causes “something invisible like a blade of sad slicing us together.” There is love here, but hardly the tidy Hallmark kind. Zoe is a kid who works with what she’s got, having little choice. No surprise, she dreams of getting a pilot’s license. Maybe she will. We hope she will. And fly away with Willy.

An unforgettable kid narrates this cracked, acerbic novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947175-11-2

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Serving House Books

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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