Another deft helping of absurd social comedy and unconventional wisdom from a writer of singular, decidedly English gifts.


An English teenager with a rackety home life finds part-time work in a local retirement home and encounters old people, eccentricity, gossip, and death.

Lizzie Vogel was 10 when she narrated the first tragicomic installment of life with her family in Stibbe’s fiction debut (Man at the Helm, 2015); now it's 1977, and she's 15 and no longer needs to search for a partner for her fragile mother or a substitute father for herself and her siblings. These days, home includes tolerant Mr. Holt and a new baby, and Lizzie can concentrate on other distractions: school, friends, better shampoo, and—after taking a job as “auxiliary nurse” at Paradise Lodge, a home for the elderly—bodily functions and mortality. On her very first day of work (“boring, slightly exciting and briefly horrible”), Lizzie glimpses a corpse in the morgue (“I’d seen a dead man’s toe”) and will later experience the demises of several more patients. (Elvis, Marc Bolan, and Maria Callas also meet their ends in this volume.) Meanwhile, her role at the Lodge includes assisting the elderly clients, helping them (frequently) to the bathroom, and weathering the peculiar comings and goings of patients and staff alike. Stibbe’s deadpan first-person delivery once again balances quirky charm with beady insight while this new chapter in Lizzie’s life introduces a larger community of characters. As in the earlier book, the plot is episodic, charting upsets in the lives of the kindly and the kooky, underpinned by Lizzie’s search for some kind of momentum and meaning. Looser and less unified than the first book until near the end, the novel closes on a celebratory note, knitting multiple loose ends together and propelling frequent-truant Lizzie back to school to fulfill her potential as “an intellect-ual.”

Another deft helping of absurd social comedy and unconventional wisdom from a writer of singular, decidedly English gifts.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-30931-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 4, 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...


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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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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