An enjoyable read for fans of prep-school drama.

BOARDING PASS

In this debut coming-of-age novel, a college senior gets on a plane to visit his best friend from boarding school, reminiscing along the way about their time as roommates.

Twenty-one-year-old history major Matt Derby, and firefighter Trey Daniels, 22, aren’t very compelling characters, but this novel, told in flashback, is mostly about their interesting teenage selves—specifically during their sophomore year at the not-quite-top-tier Ashford River School. Narrator Matt, a scholarship student, is a well-grounded if unsophisticated middle-class kid from Buffalo, N.Y. Trey is more knowing, attending his third prep school and hailing from a dysfunctional family with residences in Manhattan; Georgetown; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and the Bahamas. Unlike the other students, Trey doesn’t care about grades, making it to the Ivy League or even his image, which earns him Matt’s admiration. As the plot unfolds, the reader is treated to the usual endearing hijinks: the boys cheat on exams, sneak out to a “mixer” at a nearby girls’ school and carry on a steady trade in cigarettes and porn. It’s all pheromones, sweat and dirty T-shirts at Ashford, and readers may find it vaguely reminiscent of Dead Poets Society, minus the angst. There’s even a tough but kindly rowing coach; Matt and Trey are members of his crew training to compete in a regional race. First-time author Cumbo, a teacher and coach at a residential boys’ high school, knows this subject matter, and when he sticks to it, the dialogue is authentic, the pace fairly brisk and the characters sufficiently developed. When the book strays from school grounds, however, it sometimes loses its footing; the denouement, such as it is, feels pat, and the descriptions can become mired in minutiae, such as a 17-title list of the magazines on sale at an airport stand. However, most of the action recreates the intricate, intense boyhood bonds that will likely engage readers.

An enjoyable read for fans of prep-school drama.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0988208605

Page Count: 338

Publisher: One Lane Bridge

Review Posted Online: April 8, 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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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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