Ellen’s fortune has improved, but her charm has curdled into self-congratulatory superiority.

THE LIFE ALL AROUND ME BY ELLEN FOSTER

After six intervening novels (Divining Women, 2004, etc.), Gibbons returns to the eponymous heroine of her first, Ellen Foster (1987), still plucky and brilliant but no longer beset by hard luck.

The year is 1974, Ellen, 15 and about to start ninth grade, writes a letter to Derek Bok, president of Harvard University, proposing that she skip high school and head straight there. Although her best friends remain Starletta and the devoted goofball Stuart, Ellen knows she has intellectually outgrown her small southern town. Having been orphaned, lost her grandmother and been thrown out of her Aunt Nadine’s house, Ellen now lives with a stable, loving foster mother, Laura. Ellen helps rid Laura of her other, more troublesome foster children by snitching to their social worker about delinquent behavior. Laura then convinces the social worker that she’s up to the challenge of nurturing Ellen’s fabulous IQ, and adopts her. Ellen’s teachers turn a blind eye when she sells poetry homework assignments to her semi-literate classmates to earn the entrance fee to an enrichment course at Johns Hopkins; naturally, she shows up hoity-toity fellow geniuses. Meanwhile, thanks to a note from Derek Bok asking him to check on Ellen, a local Harvard-educated lawyer discovers that he’s been duped by the scheming Aunt Nadine. She has forced Ellen’s cousin Dora to sign legal papers as if she were Ellen. In fact, Ellen has an inheritance coming. Nadine and the pregnant Dora leave town, but first Dora gives Ellen the box Ellen’s mother’s left for her. Ellen finds hospital records that tell the sad story of her mother’s physical and emotional heartbreak. Ever-resilient Ellen shares her material good fortune with her friends. Then Bok writes Ellen, inviting her to attend summer school and guaranteeing her a place at Harvard in the class of 1981—on full scholarship, of course.

Ellen’s fortune has improved, but her charm has curdled into self-congratulatory superiority.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-15-101204-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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