One spectacular sci-fi novella dragged down by three tedious ones.

THE RACE

Four semi-intertwined novellas featuring genetically engineered dogs and a troubled family.

Jenna and her brother, Del, live in a future England ravaged by war and environmental disaster. The seaside town they live in, Sapphire, is dominated by illegal greyhound racing. The dogs, called “smartdogs,” are genetically modified with human DNA, facilitating a telepathic link with humans whose brains have been implanted with special chips. Jenna’s and her brother’s lives quickly unravel, though, when their niece, Maree, is kidnapped. This tautly written first novella creates a brilliantly weird world that’s utterly riveting—which makes it especially disappointing when the next one reveals that everything you’ve read was created by a woman named Christy, who lives in present-day England with her brother, Derek. Christy dreamed up that world to escape from her life after her mother abandoned their family and her brother became increasingly violent. When Derek’s girlfriend vanishes, Christie suspects the worst. This story should be fraught, but instead it’s flabby and inert, save for a stomach-turning assault that feels as if it’s only there to shock. The next novella jumps ahead 20 years and is told from the point of view of Alex, who’s acquainted with Derek’s vanished girlfriend. Christy seeks him out to determine what happened to her, but instead the narrative gets bogged down by details of Alex’s life and an unsubtle, tin-eared examination of the racism he’s experienced. The final novella returns to the first’s dystopian future, although readers will likely find it difficult to work up enthusiasm for this now doubly fictional world. Maree is now a young adult with no memory of her family. She’s able to communicate with smartdogs without a neural implant and was raised with other psychic children as part of a scientific program. When she finds out details of her past, she’s left to decide her own fate. The book ends with a baffling and extraneous appendix of short pieces drawn from both fictional universes, which read like writing exercises that were never meant to see the light of day.

One spectacular sci-fi novella dragged down by three tedious ones. 

Pub Date: July 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-907069-70-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Titan Books

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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

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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

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