Among the plethora of first novels tracking preteen daughters of sorry single mothers, Moriarty’s gutsy opener is hard not...

THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING

A pleasantly wry, spunky debut, set in the Reagan era, about a fatherless girl who uses her brains as the way out of her mother’s hopeless welfare state.

Ten-year-old Evelyn Bucknow, plain but brainy, has learned something about the inequities of the world from her less-than-privileged, conservative vantage point in Kerrville, Kansas. Her Vietnam vet grandfather has disowned Evelyn’s mother, Tina, for her early sins and still considers her a “whore.” Evelyn’s grandmother, Eileen, is an Evangelical Reaganite who doesn’t believe Tina will make it to heaven. And Evelyn’s own fourth-grade classmates rub in her state of impecunious fatherlessness. Yet Evelyn is at the top of her class, winning the science prize over the town’s rich girl because our heroine plays by the rules. And even when her first love and neighbor, handsome kleptomaniac Travis Rowley, falls ungratefully for Evelyn’s beautiful new friend Deena, Evelyn resists the entrapments of failure that the welfare state seems to expect of her. Much as in another recent storyteller clashing with a dim-bulbed mom (Stephanie Rosenfeld’s Massachusetts, California, Timbuktu, p. 638), Evelyn finds her wits sharpened by adversity and by her mother’s ill planning—in this case, her getting pregnant by a kind but married boss, who skips town. Still, when it seems the new baby’s retardation is the demonstration of God’s just deserts, Evelyn finds strength—and Moriarty pumps literary vigor into her narrative—by reversing a reader’s expectations. Evelyn’s voice is a lone, steely cry against the chorus of small-town righteousness for which President Reagan’s TV speeches form the background noise. And while Moriarty is no fancy prose stylist, she listens carefully to the speech of her characters, and Evelyn and Tina’s voices, especially, ring true without sounding dopey or sentimental.

Among the plethora of first novels tracking preteen daughters of sorry single mothers, Moriarty’s gutsy opener is hard not to like.

Pub Date: July 2, 2003

ISBN: 1-4013-0031-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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