A highly sensitive portrayal of a complicated country childhood that lacks cohesiveness.

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FERAL, NORTH CAROLINA, 1965

In this debut novel, an inquisitive young tomboy searches her small-town world for answers to long-held family secrets and weighty questions.

As she enters the summer season of 1965, 10-year-old Willie Mae comes to realize that she is something of an outlier in her traditional, deeply Christian family as well as in her small country town in North Carolina. Much to her mother’s chagrin, she prefers stacking wood, riding her bike, and wielding her older brother’s BB gun to playing with dolls and gushing about new dresses. She loathes Sunday school, covets transgressions, and mistrusts the religion to which her family is fervently devoted. Perhaps above all, Willie has a reputation for being a busybody and asking provocative questions when she should be minding her manners—a particularly taboo reputation for a young girl to have in her pious corner of the mid-20th-century rural South. This summer in Feral, Willie is determined to find out what killed her grand-uncle Billy, who is remembered by the family and the town as having a rather unsavory reputation. Billy was rumored to be charming and handsome but also something of a womanizer with a penchant for troublemaking. In her efforts to gather information from relatives and churchgoing acquaintances, Willie’s quest to solve this long-standing family mystery evolves into something much bigger: a gateway to coming-of-age contemplations about identity, religion, segregation, the confines of gender roles, death, and time’s ruthlessness. In this ambitious and often moving tale, Saraceno has a knack for convincingly rendering the internal experiences of a thoughtful young girl’s early encounters with imposing, big-picture questions. Further, the author’s depictions of country town summers from a bygone era are pleasurably atmospheric and her prose sparkles when she is rendering the subtleties of emotional incidents. That said, the novel reads as rather disjointed—more of a scattered collection of memories than a long-form, integrated narrative. Further, the book’s curation of recollections could have used a bit more punch at times. 

A highly sensitive portrayal of a complicated country childhood that lacks cohesiveness.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-970137-81-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: SFK Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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