A fun YA read about the pressures of adolescence, and about cultivating a healthy attitude toward change.


In McCowan’s debut novel, a young girl copes with her parents’ divorce and her academic responsibilities, while struggling to define her own sense of identity.

Yolanda Phillips is just starting sixth grade, but she’s already feeling a great deal of pressure. Her parents have recently divorced and are still ironing out some of the finer points of their co-parenting responsibilities. They’re also attempting to redefine themselves as individuals: Her mother takes dance classes, and her father becomes a volunteer coach at her school. Meanwhile, she finds that the onset of puberty is changing the dynamics of her life, as male-female relationships become increasingly complicated. Her friends and older sister seem to be just a beat ahead of her in their physical development and newly romantic views. At school, Yolanda likes her new teacher, Mr. Jones, despite his no-nonsense approach. But she becomes mired in procrastination when he assigns the class a report: “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.” Her friends seem sure of their future plans and confidently complete the assignment, but Yolanda must do some frantic self-analysis to determine who she is and what she wants from life. In the novel’s poignant climax, she acknowledges her passage into young adulthood, while also refusing to grow up too quickly. McCowan tells the story from Yolanda’s chatty, first-person point of view, and the book’s primary strength is the authenticity of that voice, as she energetically rambles through adolescent triumphs and travails. Yolanda is a charming creation: wary yet game, critical and questioning, without ever resorting to snarkiness. Her observations of her parents’ attempts at amicability (“They were making small talk, but I could tell it was different than before”) and of their post-divorce loneliness are touching. But although the author does a wonderful job of capturing the girl’s vivacious personality, younger readers may have difficulty envisioning some scenes due to the story’s overall lack of physical description.

A fun YA read about the pressures of adolescence, and about cultivating a healthy attitude toward change.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1478709619

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Outskirts Press Inc.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2014

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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

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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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