Truong remains a stunning wordsmith and a whiz at intellectual showmanship, but Linda’s story tastes of artificial plot...

BITTER IN THE MOUTH

After the dazzle of her debut (The Book of Salt, 2003), Truong returns with a coming-of-age narrative about a young girl who has always felt like an outsider in her small North Carolina town, not to mention within her own family.

Narrator Linda, born in 1968, hears words as tastes. There is no obvious logic—“Mother” becomes chocolatemilk, “tomorrow” becomes breakfastsausage—but the result makes for lovely juxtapositions. Adored by her lawyer father Thomas and her uncle Baby Harper, a librarian, Linda senses she is merely tolerated by her mother DeAnne. At seven, Linda begins what becomes a lifelong written snail-mail correspondence with best friend Kelly. After 11-year-old Linda is raped by the teenager who mows the family’s lawn, she blames her mother for neither noticing nor protecting her. The rape interferes with Linda’s budding romance with sensitive Wade, the object of Kelly’s affection as well. In high school, previously overweight but precocious Kelly thins and dumbs down to join the popular crowd until she gets pregnant (father unnamed but obvious) and must leave town her senior year. Tomboyish Linda takes the school-valedictorian route, smoking cigarettes to block taste “incomings” that make academic concentration difficult. After her father’s death when she is 17, Linda leaves for Yale. Flash forward to 1998. Now a lawyer whose fiancé leaves her when cancer makes childbearing impossible, Linda discovers she has an actual neurological condition called synesthesia, which causes “involuntary mixing of the senses.” She also finally acknowledges what readers have long suspected: by birth Linda is Vietnamese; she was adopted after her birth father and mother, whom Thomas had loved while in law school, if not more recently, died in a fire. As Linda learns about her secret history as well as her Uncle’s sexual secrets and DeAnne’s private heartache, she and DeAnne grow closer and learn to forgive, perhaps even love, one another.

Truong remains a stunning wordsmith and a whiz at intellectual showmanship, but Linda’s story tastes of artificial plot manipulation.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6908-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

more