An enjoyable story of teen independence and exploration.

THE SPEED OF LIGHT IN AIR, WATER, AND GLASS

In Scalzo’s debut novel, a teenager skips a STEM competition to pursue her own interests.

Fifteen-year-old Julia Bissette is an aficionado of fractals (“You can draw a circle with geometry, but you can draw a snowflake with fractal geometry”). She’d initially planned to go to a national conference that awards a monetary prize to the best fractal diagram produced by one of its young entrants. Instead, she spends a Holden Caulfield–esque week exploring her hometown of Washington, D.C., on her own terms. She uses her father’s credit card to check into the Hay-Adams Hotel, and at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Julia meets Kal Kovac, a tall teenage boy trying to solve the mystery of why his grandfather never returned from the war. Julia and Kal hit it off, and they team up to investigate his relative’s past—a journey that takes them to the National Archives, CIA headquarters, and, eventually, to the very competition that Julia’s been avoiding. The present-day chapters are intercut with excerpts from Kal’s grandfather’s journal, including an account of his work during secret missions in Laos, and both narratives reach their resolutions in the book’s closing pages. Julia is a compelling protagonist who’s both self-aware and self-indulgent (“I guess I might be in trouble, but for what?”). Indeed, readers may have trouble deciding whether they want to root for her or shake some sense into her. Her relationship with Kal is refreshing, as it doesn’t instantly transform into a romance; they’re strangers united by a cause rather than sudden soul mates. Scalzo knows her District of Columbia setting well, and she develops it in detail throughout the story, allowing both Julia and the reader to become reacquainted with a familiar place. The prose is strong—quiet but evocative—and it does an excellent job of capturing the unanswered questions that drive Julia and Kal: “His isn’t a war story I understand from school and field trips, a Civil War soldier breathing his last breath, Walt Whitman holding his hand at the Patent Office, not even a mile from the White House and President Lincoln himself.”

An enjoyable story of teen independence and exploration.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73269-400-2

Page Count: 206

Publisher: One One Two Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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