A winning narrator enlivens a charming tale of a town facing modernity.

DANCING WITH THE SANDMAN

Garvin’s (And They Came, 2017, etc.) latest novel offers a reflection of one girl’s coming-of-age in small-town Texas in the 1960s.

Billie Jo Dunstan has returned to her hometown of Viney to help her mother move. Along the way, she can’t help but to reflect on the changing times. Short, scattered vignettes about friends and family illustrate an account of her childhood, which she spent on the cusp of the counterculture. Garvin has an entertaining way with metaphor. Billie Jo describes the onslaught of memories during her journey thusly: “Splat! Hit one ghost. Then another.” Growing up in a small town as the youngest of three sisters, Billie Jo developed a talent for “making [her] own fun.” Among her exploits were tagging along to her sister’s drive-in theater outings, growing brine shrimp marketed as “Sea-Monkeys,” and idly speculating about the world around her. Her models for womanhood are diverse and reflect the times: her sisters Beth Ann and Dena Jo; a cosmopolitan cousin from Arizona, Henrietta, who goes by the nickname “Hank”; and a seemingly perfect Southern belle named Lacy Jean. Billie Jo’s fantasies of teenage life hint at possibility, just as her family history does; she recounts, in great detail, her ancestors’ gruesome experiences fleeing war and surviving the arid West Texas landscape, while tracing her family’s origins back to Scotland in the 1600s. Garvin portrays this history with unflinching honesty, never shying away from depicting the overt racial bigotry of the time and place. Interwoven with Billie Jo’s adventures is the story of Ernesto, also known as “Big Daddy,” a local rock musician who leaves Texas in search of fame. Together, their stories illustrate how social change affected the slow-paced, deeply Christian town. While Ernesto hunts for rock band Santana in Los Angeles, Billie Jo takes trips to the local soda shop, where she hears the music of the Beach Boys and the Cowsills. Garvin is at her best when offering these cheeky nods to the past, never getting bogged down in nostalgia.

A winning narrator enlivens a charming tale of a town facing modernity.

Pub Date: March 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942624-25-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crystal Publishing LLC

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2018

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

FLY AWAY

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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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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