Sweet, clever, and fun.

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HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL

How a kid can help her broke, widowed, overwhelmed mom: write a novel!

Aristotle "Aris" Thibodeau carefully follows the advice in Write A Novel In Thirty Days!, a book she receives as a gift for her 12.5th birthday from her mother, whom she calls Diane. She divides her autobiographical narrative neatly into sections: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Denouement. She limits herself to one use of hyperbole, avoids superfluous characters, and tries her best to heed the warning that "two flashbacks in one chapter might kill sales." In her writing studio, which is the space under her bed, she has posted the recommended motivational sticky notes to remind herself why she took on this project: to avoid therapy, to attract a man for Diane, and to make money. She truly becomes a writer on Page 140, when the English teacher she's shared her work in progress with says "I like your novel." Instant, total bliss! Then the teacher asks, "When is your protagonist going to face a situation she can't handle, the outcome of which will change her life?" Darkness descends: "She hated it!" Sumner (The Ghost of Milagro Creek, 2010, etc.) obviously knows what she's talking about, and of course the complications the teacher calls for are just around the corner. Including exercises from Write A Novel In Thirty Days!, excerpts from Diane's purloined journals, text messages with Aris' so-called long-distance boyfriend, and student essays from Diane's classes at Kanuga Christian College, this book may appeal to younger readers as much or more than gnarled sophisticates. The central adult characters, Diane and her friend Penn, the family's nanny, handyman, and "PMI"—positive male influence—both belong to AA and have been through the wringer, but through Aris' eyes, they are inevitably somewhat idealized.

Sweet, clever, and fun.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-87347-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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