An atmospheric confection that will thrill YA readers.

STALKED

Gregory’s (My Darlin' Clementine, 2009, etc.) latest YA thriller features a young seamstress from Denmark who encounters a dangerous stranger on her journey to early 1900s America.

Fifteen-year-old Rikke Svendsen is down on her luck. Unfairly ousted from her comfortable position as seamstress to the queen of Denmark and then banished from the country, she makes her way to New York aboard a passenger ship. She hopes to reunite with family members in Racine, Wis. As an unaccompanied young woman, however, she needs sponsorship in order to successfully pass through the doors of Ellis Island. The family she connects with seems amiable—until the father makes unwanted advances on Rikke. Spurned, he becomes more and more obsessed with her, until she breaks away by cleverly eluding him and his family at the immigration station. She slowly settles into a life as a seamstress in New York’s Lower East Side, saving money for the train fare to Racine. Through letters from friends and family there, she learns that a mysterious man has arrived and has been asking about her. When inexplicable “accidents” lead to injuries and even the deaths of her loved ones, Rikke realizes the man from the boat is determined to find her, and he’ll harm anyone in his way. Rikke and her New York friends devise a cunning plan to lure him to New York—and justice. Gregory achieves a realistic, rich atmosphere with insightful details about the immigration process and New York’s tenements in the early 1900s. Rikke is a resourceful, intelligent protagonist, but she exhibits too few character flaws to be truly convincing. She displays a relatively small degree of the fear and excitement someone in her position must have felt, and readers may also be distanced by her rather quiet emotions, especially in relation to her suitor, Viggo. The story moves at a satisfyingly rapid, suspenseful pace, although the too-tidy denouement is a bit of a letdown. Upon finishing the book, readers will have enjoyed Rikke’s company, but they may also wish she’d left more of an impression.

An atmospheric confection that will thrill YA readers.

Pub Date: May 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-1477434826

Page Count: 152

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2012

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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