A Balm in Gilead

In this debut novel, McKeon traces a young woman’s post-traumatic stress disorder.

After being raped on her Pennsylvania college campus, Quinn Carlisle testifies at her attacker’s trial. Although he’s convicted, he’s mysteriously set free. Sometimes, Carlisle tells her tale to anyone who will listen; at other times, she can’t bring herself to talk about it, even with a girl who was recently raped herself. She thinks that her guilt and anxiety are under control for nearly a decade; one day, however, she leaves her boyfriend to strike out on her own. In her new apartment in Maryland, she meets Joe Armstrong, a helpful man who will go on to play a pivotal role in her life. The trauma continues to haunt her, however, until the murder of a woman in another state forces her to again confront her assailant and her own fragile psyche. While watching the news one night, Carlisle sees a story about a woman found murdered in a state park. She has the same word carved in her arm (“NOTHING”) as Carlisle’s assailant carved into hers. At the same time, she receives an ominous phone call that could well be Dennis Price, the man who raped her. Armstrong convinces her to go to the police, but when they seem disinterested, he and Carlisle start playing detective themselves. This well-plotted tale, written in a seemingly effortless style, initially seems to be a chronicle of Carlisle’s PTSD, but it slowly blossoms into a complex crime drama with an array of fascinating characters. McKeon alternates between the 1987 rape and the late ’90s, slowly fleshing out the incident and the details of Carlisle’s current life. She then introduces more characters that Carlisle doesn’t know. A man named Billy O’Brien, for instance, is shown drinking himself to death in a sleazy hotel room when he learns that the case of his brother’s murder is being reopened because the judge was found to be on the take; before long, his life intertwines with Carlisle’s. This fine novel will keep readers guessing—even about the good guys’ motives.

Fans of crime fiction, mysteries and psychological thrillers will love this tightly written portrayal of PTSD and redemption.

Pub Date: July 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0990433828

Page Count: 326

Publisher: White Bird Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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