A vivid, if incomplete, account through American eyes of sub-Saharan poverty and sustainable ways to help.



In this middle-grade novel based on real events, a 13-year-old American girl visits a remote Kenyan village and discovers much about Africa and herself.

Hannah Higgins, 13, is used to luxuries that feel small: hot showers, ice cubes, good cellphone service. And like many teenagers, she’s impatient, rude, and critical of her parents. Spending a summer in a far-off Kenyan village isn’t her idea of fun, but she loves spending time with her Uncle Brian, who’s working to help end poverty in the country. So she accompanies her mother, a nurse, to Sauri, a small rural village. Hannah struggles to accept unappetizing food, the ever present smell of manure, dust, heat, and a lack of electricity. But after she settles in, visits a village school, and makes a few friends, her sense of compassion awakens. She sees the hospital’s lack of necessary medicine, and she’s struck by the upcoming Harvest Festival’s reason for celebration: “No one in Sauri has died because of hunger in a whole year.” Some tragic news makes Hannah want to return home early, but her mother convinces her to stay and make the experience worthwhile. Seeing how the villagers take care of one another inspires her to look for ways to improve the school, clinic, and roads and to change her life’s direction. Debut author Ball traveled to Sauri, Kenya, as an adult, and she includes photographs of actual people and places she mentions in this feel-good story. She also provides additional information for readers who might want to get involved in similar tasks. Readers will likely find Hannah a relatable character—she’s no saint, but she’s good-hearted, willing to learn, and poised to grow. The story doesn’t mention a few of the region’s serious problems, though, especially those affecting girls; child marriage and female genital mutilation, for example, are still practiced in Kenya, although they’re illegal and on the decline. Ball also mentions a girl’s 6-mile morning walk to fetch water but not the various dangers, such as assault and waterborne disease, which such errands expose many African women to.

A vivid, if incomplete, account through American eyes of sub-Saharan poverty and sustainable ways to help.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947159-00-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: One Elm Books

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2018

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...


 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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