A sparsely detailed but engrossing dystopian tale with well-rounded lead characters.


In Palmer-Baker’s debut fantasy, an elementary school teacher stumbles into an apparent other world rife with pleasures—but it’s a realm some people are trying to escape.

Sara is at a typical shopping mall with her generally indifferent husband, Carl. When Carl brazenly flirts with a female clerk, Sara, desperate to get away from him, leaves through an unmarked door. Though she still seems to be in a mall, she eventually learns it’s simply Mall, which is another world entirely. After Mall guards detain Sara for “amoking”—their variation on running amok—she gets an assigned “Mental Health Practitioner” in Nona. The MHP is shocked that Sara claims ignorance of Mall’s various regulations, such as administering drugs to neutralize negative feelings. Fascinated by the woman from Outside, Nona helps her avoid unwanted attention by securing for her an ID, customary flashy Mall attire, and employment. Sara, looking for a way home, zeroes in on Junkers, a group of people anonymously wreaking havoc, whose apparent goal is making it Outside. But with a loveless marriage awaiting, Sara may prefer staying right where she is. Nona, meanwhile, starts questioning some of what Mall’s Code forbids, like sex with certain people. There’s a discernible parallelism between Sara and Nona. While Nona ultimately sees Mall’s shortcomings, Sara sees its appeal, including that of a potential partner in lieu of Carl, who actively avoids sex with her. Despite abundant discussions on sex, both hypothetical and realized, there are no erotic scenes. Rather, Palmer-Baker showcases characters’ frosty attitude toward sex, one that Sara discovers has little to do with love. The frequent use of dialogue unfortunately comes at the expense of the particulars of the environment, like creepy “moving mannequins” that the narrative mentions only sporadically. Nevertheless, the author amps up the story with notable threats against Sara and Nona; if either has ties to Junkers, they could face Judgment (with a prisonlike sentence) or Mem-wipe, in which they’d lose some or all memories. 

A sparsely detailed but engrossing dystopian tale with well-rounded lead characters.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9998425-5-3

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Del Sol Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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?