A fascinating concept that might have been a terrific novel.


Nancy Drew meets The Baby-Sitters Club meets Girl, Interrupted by way of Judith Butler.

This elaborately constructed novel begins with 16-year-old Margaret in her car, listening to Fiona Apple, obsessing about food, and sadly reminiscing about the club for junior detectives she led as a tween. Her one-time friends have long outgrown amateur sleuthing, but Margaret hasn’t found a new identity for herself since Girls Can Solve Anything disbanded. Margaret has become a mystery to herself. After this prelude, the narrative takes us back to a happier time, a time when the mysteries Margaret confronted were much easier to solve. “The Case of the Stolen Specimens” centers on the theft of rare butterflies from the local botanical garden. After beginning in a realist mode, Milks takes a hard left into science fiction. It turns out that the thief Girls Can Solve Anything has been hunting is using butterfly DNA to turn herself into a bug. The case that gives this book its title involves a client who wakes up to discover that she no longer has a body. When the novel shifts gears again, Margaret is in a residential treatment program for teens struggling with disordered eating. And, once again, a realist narrative opens up to the fantastic. The facility where Margaret is staying is haunted, and a ghost leads her and two other patients on a terrifying quest. The final portion of the text is, essentially, an essay explaining the novel. It’s here we learn that the protagonist we met as Margaret no longer identifies as a woman. What Milks presents here is thought-provoking, but the novel they’ve written never quite coheres as the project they describe. “What is the difference between the fantasy of anorexic body mastery and the magic of hormone-based transition? I don’t know,” Milks writes. It’s fine to not know, but it’s odd to append this very interesting question at the end of a novel where it might have been more thoroughly explored. There are a few moments in which we see Margaret struggle with her sexuality and question her gender, but those moments get trampled by distractions like a disembodied brain and a spectral suffragette. The ultimate problem is that the fantastical apparatus doesn’t help the reader understand the novel’s central character; instead, it pushes the reader further away from understanding.

A fascinating concept that might have been a terrific novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952177-80-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

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The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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