An inspiring, albeit somewhat unbelievable, depiction of human connection.

Zefram's Journey: A Tale of New York

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, a young woman leaves behind her formerly frivolous life and devotes herself to befriending a mysterious and troubled man and his family.

Erika Klein worked for a giant advertising agency, had a glamorous Manhattan apartment, and spent all her money on clothes. Then the airplanes hit the World Trade Center and “Lower Manhattan became a ghost town.” Laid off and forced to move in with her parents on Long Island, Erika spends months moping around, plagued with nightmares of 9/11, before starting over at a small agency. Every day, outside her new office building, an odd man sells used newspapers and never looks at or speaks to anyone—until, one day, he looks at Erika. Intrigued, Erika investigates and learns that the man, who calls himself Zefram, suffers such debilitating depression and anxiety that he has removed himself entirely from his old life; he doesn’t even speak to his two adult sons or his worried sister. Instead, he occupies himself with collecting and selling used newspapers, listening to music, reading about the Civil War, and going for walks with his cat, Gandalf, when he’s not plagued by horrible panic attacks. Soon, it becomes clear that Erika and Zefram have a special connection. With his family’s permission, Erika tries to guide Zefram back toward the real world. But he isn’t the only troubled individual in the city, and some are far more dangerous. Debut novelist Saltzman touchingly illuminates the way chance meetings and compassionate consideration can change the course of people’s lives; however, one needs to somewhat suspend one’s disbelief to truly buy the connection between Erika and Zefram. New Yorkers will appreciate the attention to detail regarding life in and around the city post–9/11, a place where “people still seemed somewhat dazed and literally jumped whenever they heard a car backfire.” 

An inspiring, albeit somewhat unbelievable, depiction of human connection.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4575-4578-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dog Ear

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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