Earnest and sensitive—to a fault.

DEAR ZOE

In an epistolary first novel about the process of grieving, a 15-year-old girl writes letters to the younger sister whose death she feels responsible for.

First-timer Beard hangs his story on the coincidence that Tess’s three-year-old half-sister Zoe was killed in a car accident in the Pittsburgh area just as thousands were dying on September 11, 2001. Tess, who describes herself as a mediocre student who wears lots of makeup, had been watching Zoe but left her alone in the front yard for a few minutes to watch the news on television. Now she is racked with guilt. Although readers may consider Tess’s relationship with her parents more loving and healthy than most, she feels increasingly disconnected from her beautiful, grief-stricken mother and educated, hard-working stepfather, David. She resents being excluded from their anguish and is particularly uncomfortable around David despite his obvious caring sensitivity. She claims she feels a stronger connection to her birth father, with whom she has never lived and whom she knows is a loser drifting from job to job. She draws closer to her other half-sister, Emily, a precocious first-grader who depends on her support; but after Tess discovers that her mother has been flirting with another man to relieve her own sorrow, Tess leaves her middle-class home to stay with her birth father in his run-down neighborhood. There, she becomes involved with Jimmy, the pot-smoking “bad boy” next door, and realizes her father is a small-time dealer. Though undisciplined and shady, Jimmy and her father are nothing if not protective and sensitive where she’s concerned. Smoking dope and carrying on with Jimmy, she begins to enjoy herself, until a series of events on the eve of her 16th birthday causes her repressed grief to bubble over.

Earnest and sensitive—to a fault.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03401-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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