A story that effectively anatomizes the selfishness of grief despite a descent into sentimentality.



In Wells’ (Mademoiselle Renoir à Paris, 2018, etc.) novel, a dysfunctional family struggles to cope with a death.

“There never has been much happiness in the world,” says mother of three Jewell Hendricks, one of multiple narrators in this novel. In the fall of 1964, the Hendricks family has been in Dallas for 18 months after a move that Jewell instigated but now regrets. She wanted her husband, Ross, to get a more stable job, but now that he’s home more often, his heavy drinking has become more apparent. He’s never gotten over his World War II experience, and he suffers from nightmares and bouts of erratic, mean behavior. The household also includes 14-year-old Holly and 13-year-old Jake; the eldest child, 20-year-old Kathleen, is already married and lives elsewhere. Jake’s birth delighted Ross, who always wanted a son; he later becomes obsessed with Jake’s going to West Point and becoming a commissioned officer. Holly is always fighting for parental attention, although ever since she contracted polio, Ross has tried to please her. However, when Jake falls ill and dies, the family falls apart: “We were the unhappiest family I knew of,” narrates Holly, “each of us journeying through the darkness alone.” Holly, angry and forlorn, is sent to stay with her grandmother for the summer, where an African-American caretaker named Antarctica passes on “little seeds of wisdom” that help change Holly’s perspective and give her new hope. In this novel, Wells describes a tragedy that doesn’t draw family members closer together but instead sends them whirling into their own private hells—each person sure that he or she has it the worst. The resulting character sketches are convincing throughout, and the prose can be lyrical at times: “The world was too beautiful for the way I felt,” says Jewell in a scene set in springtime. The novel’s ending, however, is rather precious in tone, and it relies on a tired stock character—a person of color whose special insights aid the white protagonist: “She had come into my life at a time when I needed her most.”

A story that effectively anatomizes the selfishness of grief despite a descent into sentimentality.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-945805-53-0

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2019

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Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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A three-time Newbery Honor winner tells—in a memoir that is even more immediate and compelling than his novels—about his intimate relationship with Minnesota's north woods and the dog team he trained for Alaska's Iditarod.

Beginning with a violent natural incident (a doe killed by wolves) that spurred his own conversion from hunter and trapper to observing habitant of the forest, Paulsen draws a vivid picture of his wilderness life—where bears routinely help themselves to his dog's food and where his fiercely protective bantam adopts a nestful of quail chicks and then terrorizes the household for an entire summer. The incidents he recounts are marvelous. Built of concrete detail, often with a subtext of irony or mystery, they unite in a modest but telling self-portrait of a man who has learned by opening himself to nature—not to idyllic, sentimental nature, but to the harsh, bloody, life-giving real thing. Like nature, the dogs are uncontrollable: independent, wildly individual, yet loyal and dedicated to their task. It takes extraordinary flexibility, courage, and generosity to accept their difficult strengths and make them a team: Paulsen sees humor in their mischief and has learned (almost at the cost of his life) that rigid discipline is irrelevant, even dangerous. This wonderful book concludes with a mesmerizing, day-by-day account of Paulsen's first Iditarod—a thrilling, dangerous journey he was so reluctant to end that he almost turned back within sight of his goal. lt's almost as hard to come to the end of his journal.

This may be Paulsen's best book yet: it should delight and enthrall almost any reader.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0-02-770221-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bradbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990

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