A choppy, experimental tale that follows some students and their teacher during a shift in their school’s curriculum.

THIS RULER

A debut literary novel presents a kaleidoscopic view of the everyday passions and politics of high school.

Seniors Sialia Torres and James Malachite are students at Elysium Hills High School. Sialia studies art and finds beauty in the world around her while James plays soccer and goofs off with his friends. Their social circle revolves around the science classroom of Zach Tyndall, a 10-year veteran teacher who believes in his students even as he has started to become jaded by the job. Tyndall and the other teachers are angered over a new curriculum introduced by Principal Jonathan Stufa and an education consultant. “Spring Forward” is designed by a publishing company to align with standardized tests, though the teachers know that little of the money for three days of in-house training will actually make it to the classroom. The students chafe under the new conditions while learning about biology, art, and history as well as figuring out what they want out of life. A chunk of obsidian that Tyndall keeps on his desk becomes a window into the story of Cualli and Anci, two Aztec teens resisting conquistadors five centuries in the past, whose lives and growth mirror that of Sialia and James. Duff’s prose is highly lyric and fluid, zooming in and out of moments in a way reminiscent of modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf: “So here they all sit together in the sunny science room; a particular place that most of these kids have spent so much time in over the last four years. Though not necessarily in a together fashion. It is a didactic poem unraveled, out of time.” The short chapters are essentially vignettes that jump around through time, and the narrative that emerges—such as it is—is fragmentary and somewhat difficult to parse. While some of the writing is strong, the dialogue is often awkward and unnatural. Moreover, the author’s palpable interest in what he views as a corrupt school system feels incongruous with the book’s mercurial structure. The novel demonstrates clear ambition, but it is not very much fun to read.

A choppy, experimental tale that follows some students and their teacher during a shift in their school’s curriculum.

Pub Date: March 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-47631-5

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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