The flip side of the burgeoning drug-and-alcohol–fueled bad-boy lit movement: very busted girls.


A spoiled, self-loathing American girl navigates the wilderness years during a self-imposed exile in London.

This second novel by Zambreno (O Fallen Angel, 2010, etc.) is an ambitious synthesis of millennial identity crisis, lyrical experimentation and emotional self-destruction that attempts to reinvent (or re-create?) the classical image of the flâneur by following the most awful protagonist in post-Girls literature through crowded, dirty London. Ruth, the heroine of this dark portrait, really is appalling to be around; in an interview with Zambreno at the end of the book, Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin observes, “[y]ou want both to slap her and to feed her like a baby bird,” which is pretty accurate. She works at an expensive department store she calls only "Horrids," plying wealthy shoppers with a rancid perfume called “Desire,” as in, “[h]ave you ever experienced Desire?” Much of the book makes it feel as if Ruth is the star of her own movie, while simultaneously pulling off the trick of staying squarely within her damaged skull. “What does she want to be?” Zambreno asks. “A green girl doesn’t like to consider this question. She already is. She is waiting around to be discovered just for being herself.” We slowly learn that Ruth has fled to this city she hates in the wake of a bad relationship, but we never really get to the roots of her emotional train wreck. We know she loathes others—her uptight supervisor, her gossipy co-workers, even the affable roommate who plies her with Ecstasy and three-ways. She’s a sexual catastrophe, casually dispensing favors to strangers in back rooms and breaking up with good guys because they won’t abuse her the way she needs. Zambreno has the writing chops for this unconventional journey, and the book takes some intriguing stylistic detours, but Ruth remains a bitter little pill to swallow.

The flip side of the burgeoning drug-and-alcohol–fueled bad-boy lit movement: very busted girls.

Pub Date: June 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232283-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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