A slave seizes her chance to be free, taking two of her three children with her, and finds that freedom for an African-American woman in the 1850's is not without trials and temptations—in this smooth and sincere, yet overly placid, fictional debut from memoirist Cary (Black Ice, 1991). When Virginia Pryor's master takes her along to warm his bed as he takes up the post of ambassador to Nicaragua, she wastes no time in making her move. During a short stop in Philadelphia she contacts the local Vigilance Committee and with their aid boldly escapes in broad daylight—an event marred only by her knowledge that she leaves her favorite boy still in bondage in Virginia. Changing her name to Mercer Gray, she goes into hiding among the Quick family, a prosperous if contentious Philadelphia clan dominated by patriarch Manny, greedy and bilious though weakened by a stroke. Mercer starts a new life with her children, but her case gains notoriety when her ex-owner brings charges against all who took part in her flight, especially a prominent white abolitionist, who is jailed before being brought to court. In response, Mercer does a lecture tour of New England to stir public sentiment in her favor, proving herself an inspired speaker. Not even her oratorical skills, however, can save her from a pro-slavery mob at her last stop in Pennsylvania, where she has to be rescued by Tyree, the smitten but ill-married Quick family scion, who brings her back to Philadelphia for a night of single, wishful passion. Mercer and her children then head north to Canada, but Tyree, head of the family after Manny dies, sends with them a measure of his love: the remains of the Quick fortune, just enough to purchase Mercer's son's freedom. The history here has depth, but characters for the most part don't, and dramatic touches are rarely potent enough to give pause. Well-intentioned, then, if not noteworthy.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-42106-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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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

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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

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