A smirking time capsule of millennial tension.




In the late ’90s, a few pundits figured that one day we’d look back at the Y2K panic and laugh. Debut novelist Shay figures that day is here.

Randall Knight essentially lives off the grid. It’s 1998, and he spends his days touring the country as a puppeteer-singer, entertaining grade-schoolers during the day and drinking himself into a stupor at night. Not exactly a life with a promising future, but Randall figures the future’s irrelevant anyway: He’s wholly convinced that the Y2K bug will spell the ruin of modern civilization, and much of his human interaction is with fellow online “doomers” who are forever getting in flame wars with the skeptical “pollys” who don’t feel that New Year’s Day 2000 will mark the beginning of the apocalypse. The story lightheartedly follows Randall as he travels, preaching the Y2K gospel to those he crashes with. Randall’s clearly misguided, but the author smartly makes his hero an intelligent, entertainingly snarky fellow who often laments the company he keeps (“My life has come to this: meeting a pseudonymous crypto-racist gun nut in a café in Roanoke, Virginia”). And anyway, just about everybody in the country is wrapped up in some obsession or other at the fin-de-siècle: Randall’s uncle and aunt in Denver sell for Amway; his ex-girlfriend in San Francisco is seduced by the dot-com boom; all the kids are reading Harry Potter, which evangelicals figure is Satan’s doing; and the whole nation is sucked into the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Randall eventually drifts into the Texas home of a family whose conspiracy-theory paranoia trumps even his, but it brings him into the arms of the person who can help return him to the world of sensible citizenry. Shay clearly strains to neatly tie up the various plot threads, and his efforts to keep the mood light lead to some clunky jokes—but it’s mostly a sure-footed romp.

A smirking time capsule of millennial tension.

Pub Date: Dec. 26, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51821-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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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.


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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