MY SISTER FROM THE BLACK LOGOON

With powerful descriptions but low-watt plotting, a first novel details a sister’s acceptance of her sibling’s mental illness and her own struggle to survive. Fox, a poet, gets down pat the sensation of a walking-on-glass-life with the mentally ill, but the story itself —loosely autobiographical—told by Lorna, of life with older sister Lonnie, relies far too much on long set-piece scenes overburdened with imagery. And Lonnie, though vividly evoked, seems an elusive if immensely tragic figure, her illness never fully diagnosed. Lorna begins with their childhood in a Los Angeles suburb, where it is soon apparent that something is very wrong with Lonnie. Her emotions are volatile, she’s precociously intelligent, yet also dysfunctional, preoccupied with violence, fond of horror comics, decapitating toys, and creating multiheaded monsters with her stuffed animals. Later, Lonnie takes hormones to become the boy she feels she really is. She also dearly loves Oozy, the name she gives Lorna, who thinks Lonnie knows “stuff we can’t even imagine.” As she grows up, Lorna makes “an art out of normalcy,” trying to compensate for Lonnie’s craziness. She records her parents’ struggle to help her sister, the futile visits to doctors, hospitalizations, her mother’s growing emotional exhaustion, and the breakup of her parents’ marriage. At the same time, she is also maturing, making friends in high school, getting a boyfriend, discovering a talent for poetry and acting. But in college her normality begins to dissolve, and, haunted by Lonnie’s tragic plight, she breaks down. A long-evaded visit to Lonnie, now in a group home, helps her finally accept her family, herself, and her sister, whom she can now love and admire for her courage and her difference. Heartfelt, for sure, but told at a pace too stately to convey to readers the raw pain and tragic urgency of the situation.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-84745-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

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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