Despite engaging moments, Simon’s didactic tone strains readers’ patience.


Outrage against a mental-health system no longer in service is the guiding force in this pointedly uplifting love story from novelist and memoirist Simon (Riding the Bus with My Sister, 2002, which became a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie) about a deaf African-American man and a mentally disabled woman who meet in a Dickensian mental institution in the 1960s and overcome all obstacles through force of will and spiritual goodness. 

In 1968, childless retired schoolteacher Martha briefly gives shelter to Lynnie and Homan, runaways from the residential facility in northern Pennsylvania, until the corrupt head doctor and his henchmen track them down. Homan gets away. Lynnie is taken back in a straightjacket, but the authorities don’t know about her newborn baby, delivered by Homan but the product of a rape. Keeping her promise to Lynnie, Martha hides infant Julia with the help of various former students and eventually raises her as her own granddaughter. Over the next four decades, Homan never ceases to long for Lynnie and the baby. Deaf since a childhood fever, he uses his street smarts, spiritual wisdom and mechanical skills to survive a picaresque series of adventures until he lands in California, where he more than prospers. Meanwhile, Lynnie remains in what she calls “the bad place,” where she was placed as a child by a middle-class parent embarrassed at her lack of cognitive skills. Fortunately, saintly staff member Alice helps Lynnie develop her artistic talent and keeps track of Julia through one of Martha’s students. The publication of an exposé on “the bad place” changes conditions in the late '70s. Gradually Lynnie learns to talk. She reunites with her beloved older sister Hannah, who sells Lynnie’s art in the gallery she runs. Now living independently, Lynnie still longs for Homan and Julia. The question is not if but how they will unite (and why resourceful Homan takes so long).

Despite engaging moments, Simon’s didactic tone strains readers’ patience.

Pub Date: May 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-446-57446-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


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.


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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