A mixed bag that succeeds in spite of itself.

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QUEST OF THE SLEEPING PRINCESS

In her second novel, Sheeran (Who Have the Power, 2006) explores a woman’s fascination with the ballet world.

Structured around a gala performance of the New York City Ballet in ’88, the book names each chapter with a piece from the program. The action revolves around Susan, who is watching the performance (as italicized paragraphs describe the dance onstage) and is a story within a story. This voyeuristic subplot, which also involves singing, romance and some backstage melodrama, is the most interesting aspect of the book and could stand on its own. Yet a different part of the narrative has Susan taking care of her dying mother and being involved with ballet boosterism. The book covers many areas, including dance theory and history. The author uses letters to elaborate on Susan’s dance analysis and gives a complete bibliography to a character. The book also discusses artistic motivations, Balanchine, how dance is interpreted over time, what the dancer brings to the revival of a classic, music, the image of women in folklore and dance, Campbell’s Masks of God series and the use of the sleeping princess as a motif. The book is impressive in its research with quotations throughout, but sometimes Susan comes across as a sort of walking graduate thesis on Balanchine. Sheeran captures the escapist nature of watching ballet and the identification of the audience with the dancers. With an autobiographical slant, the author also delves into the artistic process of singing and indulges her interest in Balanchine (she has performed Songs From the Balanchine Repertory). Her elliptical style takes some time to adapt to, and the many layers of the book can make it challenging for the reader to know whether he is in Susan’s mind, outside the theater or with her mother. But the story moves along, keeping the pages turning.

A mixed bag that succeeds in spite of itself.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0982632109

Page Count: 265

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2010

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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