Bites off more than it can possibly chew, then—poof—makes it all go away in the last 20 pages.

THE YEAR OF NEEDY GIRLS

When a 10-year-old boy is murdered and a high school teacher is accused of molesting a student, a small Massachusetts town is rocked to its ignorant core.

In the prologue of Smith’s debut novel, a Little Leaguer named Leo Rivera is kidnapped by his next-door neighbor, an unprepossessing auto mechanic named Mickey Gilberto. Not long after, Leo’s corpse is found at the bottom of the river in a plastic container. Meanwhile, lesbian Deirdre Murphy, a dedicated and popular French teacher at a private girls’ school, has been canned because an uptight mom witnessed her daughter planting an unsolicited kiss on the teacher’s lips. These two events tangle in the public imagination to produce a citywide outbreak of homophobia and a weirdly nonsuspenseful witch hunt, since the reader already knows who did and didn’t do what to whom. On the same day Deirdre loses her job, her librarian partner, SJ, attempts to break off their relationship, though bad timing prevents the severing of the limp connection. SJ has also recently received a problematic smooch—hers from the murderous pedophile Mickey Gilberto, whom she’s been tutoring in reading at the library. Even after the unasked-for kiss, she can’t help thinking he’s a nice guy. Alienated as they are, Deirdre and SJ can give each other no support as they endure their twin trials; each mentally muddles through her own back story and future prospects as she becomes the focus of police and public suspicion. The most promising part of this book is the depiction of Deirdre’s teaching, but it's buried under an avalanche of half-baked elements: police work on the two cases, unconvincing letters to the local paper, two-dimensional supporting characters, and unwarranted allusions to The Scarlet Letter. “How did Hester Prynne do it? she wondered. How did she face the town with her quiet pride and go on living her life, raising Pearl, not minding what anyone said or did? Deirdre didn’t think she had the strength in her.”

Bites off more than it can possibly chew, then—poof—makes it all go away in the last 20 pages.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61775-487-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Kaylie Jones/Akashic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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