A moving, amusing novel offering a mix of wry observation and touching moments of intergenerational connection.

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THE HEART OF IT ALL

An aimless 30-year-old man returns home to Ohio to take care of his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother in this bittersweet comic novel.

John Ritter is back in Cincinnati—or “the Nasty,” as he calls it—in the year 2000, “the first year of this brave new millennium.” He’d left his hometown after dropping out of college nearly a decade ago, but he’s come back to live with his ailing grandmother Beatrice and protect her from Aunt Maylene, who wants to put her in a nursing home. Also, he says, “it’s a relief to have a free place to stay.” Beatrice’s farm outside the city, where she and her late husband once created a children’s book series about pixies, was his childhood refuge and later a hangout for him and his college girlfriend, Carla. He keeps thinking he sees Carla, but it’s “just like all the other times I’d seen her before in different cities all over the country. She was somebody else.” He keeps busy by bringing Beatrice to an Alzheimer’s day care program; working as a landscaper, as he did many years ago; and going on nighttime runs to deface billboards with his stoner college buddy. This routine shatters, however, when he finally meets up with Carla, Maylene makes moves to sell the farm, and the sometimes-lucid Beatrice helps him focus on his talent for drawing. Novelist and poet Courter (The Death of the Poem, 2008, etc.) creates a modern version of Holden Caulfield in this fine sophomore novel. Just like Salinger’s hero, Ritter riffs on “phoniness”—in this case, the materialism rampant in “the Nasty”—as he clearly yearns for something better in life. His conversations with Beatrice are particularly affecting, and his identification with her pixie characters is gracefully executed. The scenes at his grandmother’s day care and at his landscaping job are sharp and funny. Ritter’s prolonged disaffection isn’t always fully understandable or sympathetic, but Courter still evocatively sketches his character’s angst and confusion, which are echoed in his beloved grandmother’s wandering mental state.

A moving, amusing novel offering a mix of wry observation and touching moments of intergenerational connection.

Pub Date: July 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991121113

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Owl Canyon Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2014

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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