A coming-of-age and kidnapping story that is certain of its characters but confused about its identity.

What Happened to Clara?

Halleson (The Origin of Fear, 2015, etc.) makes picturesque Wisconsin farmland the backdrop of disturbing crimes in this novel.

As Silje Reiersen grows from adolescence to young adulthood in the 1950s, she shares the same concerns as most of the girls in her rural Wisconsin area: her grades, her shifting friendships with female classmates, and her growing interest in boys. Silje chafes at the restrictions in her life, such as the loneliness of existence on her farm and her Norwegian-American family’s taboos against showing emotion. She escapes into books, imagining the day that she can flee for good into the world outside of the farm. Her imagination also causes moments of paralyzing fear, such as when her mind runs wild with terrible possibilities on a night when her parents are late coming home from a trip. But she has reason for her trepidations to be concrete. Children and teens keep disappearing from all over Wisconsin. Unbeknown to their parents, or to the authorities, they are being kidnapped by multiple individuals who take advantage of their victims’ isolation and funnel the captives to larger child-trafficking rings in Chicago. As Silje ages, the abductions start hitting closer and closer to home, until it seems like anyone, even Silje, could be next. Halleson clearly has a strong understanding of the Norwegian-Americans who populate her novel, and their depictions seem extremely authentic. She’s equally skilled at representing the criminal mind, and the passages from the perspective of a kidnapper are chilling. But these talents are at odds with each other, to the point that it seems that two separate novels, a coming-of-age story and a thriller, are happening simultaneously. The work tries to force a connection between the narratives, as when Silje learns how to drive the family tractor a few pages after a kidnapper calls his victim a “prize heifer,” but the two agricultural references only highlight the plotlines’ stark differences. It is unclear if the book’s focus is meant to be Silje’s experiences of growing up in the country or an increasingly implausible abduction yarn that seems custom-made for a “stranger danger” public service announcement. Either would make an absorbing tale, but together they are discordant.

A coming-of-age and kidnapping story that is certain of its characters but confused about its identity.

Pub Date: July 1, 2016


Page Count: 152

Publisher: Gjerda Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2016

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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