Second-novelist Moynahan (Parting Is All We Know of Heaven, 1989) has a wonderful ear for how kids talk and think, but her...


A teenaged girl comes to terms with her grief over the random murder of the boy she loves.

Millstone Academy senior Matt is the local golden boy: not only smart and talented but also wise and sensitive beyond his years. He goes to Mexico over spring vacation planning to break up with his troubled, drug-abusing quasi-girlfriend so that he and Alice, his soulmate since kindergarten, can finally commit to their true love. Instead, he disappears, and the authorities later find his bones in a mass grave. Back in New Jersey, Alice is distraught. So is everyone else at Millstone who knew Matt. The boy’s mother is a reformed alcoholic who had a brief romance with Alice’s otherwise caring father after her husband left her for a pregnant student; Matt knew about the affair but protected Alice from it. He confided other things he couldn’t tell Alice to Ms. Hardwood, a teacher now in a committed gay relationship who was engaged to Alice’s uncle before he died in Vietnam. Alice’s classmates at Millstone include fatherless Morgan, a geek with a future who’s in love with her, and motherless Sigrid, who witnessed the murder of a beloved babysitter years ago. When Alice chooses as her senior project to teach writing to inmates at Rahway Prison she ends up instructing the very man who killed Sigrid’s babysitter. Despite a multitude of subplots and meanderings, the heart of the story lies in its juxtaposition of Sigrid’s and Alice’s reactions to the two murders and how they resolve issues of evil, responsibility, forgiveness, and revenge.

Second-novelist Moynahan (Parting Is All We Know of Heaven, 1989) has a wonderful ear for how kids talk and think, but her tearjerker with a veiled spiritual message suffers from a surfeit of sensitive and caring characters sharing their earnest, profound thoughts.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-054426-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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