A historically valuable, well-written, and unrelentingly bleak read.



A grim, gritty historical novel set in and around Arkansas’ Indian Territory during the last decade of the 19th century.

Gaiter (Whites Shackled Themselves to Race and Blacks Have Yet to Free Ourselves, 2017, etc.) revisits the story of the brutal Rufus Buck Gang—a collection of Native American, mixed heritage, and black teenage boys seeking personal glory and revenge for the mistreatment of Native Americans. The gang has just been captured after two weeks of rape, murder, and torture. The townsfolk of Okmulgee want immediate vengeance, but the boys are taken to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where they will be tried in front of Judge Isaac Parker. Parker will go down in history as “The Hanging Judge,” and this will be his last trial. He is sick and tormented by what he perceives as his failure to “civilize” the territory. He also knows he is partially responsible for enabling a meeting between the young Rufus Buck and Buck’s idol, “Cherokee Bill,” a Native American outlaw sentenced to death. Rufus spent his adolescence reading dime-store novels about Bill’s exploits. The narrative winds its way back and forth, giving some backstory about each of the gang members, with most of the attention devoted to Rufus, the delusional leader. Gaiter adroitly intertwines the personal stories of Rufus and his cohorts with the larger narrative of the cruelty perpetrated against Native Americans. Rufus is scarred by his father’s disillusionment after he watched the Cherokees sell off their land, and their heritage, in exchange for small individual payouts and worthless promises: “To Buck, that was like buying a house and splitting the money evenly between the man, his wife, and each child and telling them all to go their separate ways.” He knew the same would happen to the Creeks. Skillful prose depicts white Americans’ pervasive bigotry and the methodical destruction of Indian sovereignty. Unfortunately, the novel contains not a single likable central protagonist.

A historically valuable, well-written, and unrelentingly bleak read.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-615-49010-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Legba Books

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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


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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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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