A lackluster book from a writer who’s done much better.


This disappointing follow-up to Pulitzer finalist The Bright Forever (2005) centers on the apparent 1955 suicide of Dewey Finn, a gay teen who lay down on railroad tracks in his Illinois town.

Our protagonist is Sam, Dewey’s first love from years ago. The closeted, elderly Sam, still in his hometown, has opted for solitude, with only a basset hound for company. He has long been estranged, for mysterious reasons related to Dewey, from his older brother Cal. Sam’s neighbor is a boyhood acquaintance, Arthur, a lonely widower and ex-Navy man who speaks in seagoing clichés. Arthur helps Sam build an elaborate sailing-vessel doghouse, a curiosity that attracts a cub reporter, Dewey’s grandnephew, who’s begun looking into the circumstances of his relative’s death. After the doghouse story appears, Cal—now surfaced, on CNN, as hero of a hostage crisis at an Ohio grain elevator—arrives on Sam’s doorstep, on the run; he’s caught up somehow in a McVeigh-like bombing scheme. Alas, this terror plot is a red herring that grows up to be a great red whale. Herbert Zwilling, less a character than a barely embodied symbol of menace, shows up in chase of Cal, and mayhem ensues. Counterpointing the violence is a good bit of small-town hokum (household hints, cooking tips and much earnest dialogue about love). But the real disappointment comes with the conclusion to the Dewey mystery. Sam, it turns out, is a far more morally ambiguous figure than we knew, and the book’s overshadowed initial mystery turns out to be the interesting one.

A lackluster book from a writer who’s done much better.

Pub Date: April 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-307-39124-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?