A sweet, twangy tale about a boy finding his future on the way to his past.

A SONG FOR THE ROAD

A debut YA road novel tells the story of an Oklahoma teen traveling across the West with his father’s guitar.

Fifteen-year-old Carter Danforth raids his single mother’s savings in order to buy back the left-handed acoustic guitar that his father—a successful musician—pawned on the way out of town six years ago. (“ ‘Creativity, Victory, Heart, and Discipline.’ Those four words had mattered to his father, enough to have them custom-stained into the guitar. The inscription was as valuable to Carter as the guitar itself, proof his father once had some good in him.”) But a tornado strikes Tulsa while Carter is in the pawn shop, and after a night hiding in the building’s basement, he walks home only to discover that his house has been torn in two by the storm. When he finally locates his mother, she’s lying in a hospital bed. She instructs him to buy himself a plane ticket to Reno to stay with his aunt—using the money he’s already spent on the guitar, of course—but instead Carter decides to find his father in California. If he can get him to sign the guitar and increase its value, he’ll be able to pay back his mother. On the road out west, he runs into all sorts of interesting characters, including a carpenter named Darren Bartles, who teach Carter about life and music—making the instrument that he’s lugging around less a memento of his father’s departure and more a tool to express the songs inside himself. Lacko’s prose is as full of grit and color as a classic country ballad: “The old man on the stage jutted his jaw in Darren’s direction. ‘We’ve seen him before,’ he said with a voice made of velvet and gravel. ‘He’s about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.’ ” Carter’s is a heartwarming tale that mostly avoids sounding sentimental, with stakes that are simultaneously kitchen table and larger-than-life. It reads like the origin story of some mythic troubadour, and one can’t help but start to feel romantic about Americana by the time Carter reaches the end of his road.

A sweet, twangy tale about a boy finding his future on the way to his past.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68463-002-8

Page Count: 243

Publisher: SparkPress

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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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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