A heartfelt family tale, hampered by its organizational style.

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BEFORE IT GETS DARK

A long-suffering woman confronts more turmoil after her boyfriend kidnaps her daughter.

At the beginning of Levine’s (North of Nowhere, 2014, etc.) nonlinear novel, Marcy Travers is knocked unconscious and then wakes up in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. Her boyfriend, Boyd, has struck her and taken her daughter, Katie, and is apparently on the run. She first met Boyd at work, where he was the janitor. At almost 7 feet tall, he came across as a gentle giant, and had become something of a stepfather to Katie. As the search for Boyd and Katie begins, the story goes back to a variety of time periods and introduces a number of different characters, including Marcy’s sister, Tanya; their mother, Jo; their foster mother, Mrs. Edmonds; and Boyd’s mother, Grace. Marcy had a tough childhood. Her mother raised her in a neighborhood of bars and liquor stores, and Marcy watched as Jo became a penniless alcoholic who at one point resorts to prostitution. Baby Tanya is abandoned at a church and eventually both she and Marcy end up in the home of Mrs. Edmonds, a stoic but somewhat stable foster mother. Separately, young Boyd is not treated well by many people; he faces bullies at school and feels very insecure about his height. In the present, Marcy tries to enlist the help of Grace in the search for Boyd and Katie while also battling her own demons. Marcy cannot forgive her mother for the past, and Jo and she wrestle with forgiveness as the hunt for Katie grows dire. Levine’s characters live in a hardscrabble universe and he does an admirable job of portraying their turbulent lives in environments that offer little compassion. Characters such as Mrs. Edmonds, who found her calling as a foster mother, or Boyd, wracked with loneliness and self-doubt, are certainly well developed. Time and place are more difficult to pin down. The novel’s small Southern town seems a bit more like a struggling Rust Belt city. Because the book jumps around often, and with no dates given, it’s unknown at the beginning of each chapter what year it is or how old the characters are, and that distraction can overwhelm a reader.

A heartfelt family tale, hampered by its organizational style.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5354-3510-9

Page Count: 244

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2017

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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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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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