A messy, meandering tale of racism and community in civil rights–era Indiana.

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BLACKBERRIES ARE RED WHEN GREEN

A white boy and an elderly black man form an unlikely friendship in this coming-of-age novel.

Adams Creek, Indiana, 1958. Ten-year-old Kurt Baumann and his brother, Kyle, are still hurting from the death of their father, but they find solace in their adventures along the nearby Eel River. “My river bore many faces,” Kurt claims with pride, “often muddy, sometimes filled with tree trunks and limbs after a crackling, marauding thunderstorm, sometimes slick and smooth after a long, deep freeze, and sometimes jolting with bergs thumping on the center bridge abutment following a spring thaw.” It is along the river that Kurt meets Dutch Clemons, a retired Pullman porter who likes to fish the Eel. Dutch’s race makes him an object of fascination for young Kurt. Dutch is the only black person in the otherwise white neighborhood. Dutch helps expand Kurt’s racial awareness, but more than that, he provides a father figure for a boy in need of one: teaching him about trains and music and even reprimanding him for shoplifting. Their friendship continues through the daily happenings and minor tragedies in Adams Creek, but when a girl is found dead in an Eel River fishing hole, Dutch comes under suspicion. Frohreich’s (Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering, 2009) smooth prose varies from soft, almost dreamy descriptions of the Indiana setting to more essaylike expositions on various historical events: “George Pullman did not invent the sleeping car but outsmarted and outmaneuvered his competitors. Early on, he built more cars, standardized them, and made favorable deals with the railroad companies to lease his cars and crews.” The novel has a decidedly rosy view of the past, both in its nostalgia for mid-20th-century Indiana and its rather clumsy representation of race. But the book’s primary flaw is that it doesn’t offer much of a story. The author takes frequent chapterlong digressions to discuss various characters’ backstories or historical events, and some crimes at the end feel tacked on rather than an organic outgrowth of the plot. Though the underlying message is admirable, Kurt and Dutch’s friendship never feels as real or cathartic as it is clearly meant to be.

A messy, meandering tale of racism and community in civil rights–era Indiana.

Pub Date: March 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79915-243-9

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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