A dispiriting reminder that youth is wasted on the young.



First-novelist McCandless revisits—in loosely connected chapters—the cringe-making years of adolescent missteps and mistakes.

Narrator and Everygirl Emma Harris is about to enter sixth grade the summer her family move up from an apartment to a house in tony Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She’s soon best friends with neighbor Katrina, also a rising sixth grader. Katrina introduces her to the local landmarks—the department store, the ice-cream shop, and the drugstore—and helps her choose school clothes at the mall. The two are inseparable, but nothing lasts, especially in adolescence, and these tales are darker and more elegiac than the bouncy prose suggests. As Emma describes adjusting to middle school, being mortified by a popular boy, getting her first bra (embarrassingly ahead of the other girls) and her first period, her parents separate. Her father moves out; she and her mother have to find an apartment. Her friendship with Katrina, now more difficult to keep up, ruptures when a group of girls make insinuations about Katrina, and Emma, wanting to be popular, begins to ignore her. High school offers more challenges. Emma is attracted to Brian but insists on being friends because she fears losing those she loves. She loses her virginity to another boy. Emma and her friends go to parties where they drink too much and cross the river to nearby Canada with false IDs so they can drink in bars. A classmate commits suicide when rejected by Yale. The inevitable prom trauma—finding the dress and the date are equal chores—is followed by the almost anticlimactic graduation. At a reunion ten years later, Emma is drinking hard and Billy is still single. The drawings by comic-book illustrator Christine Norrie underline the numbingly familiar nature of these experiences; combined with McCandless’s shallow insights, they suggest the book would be more appropriately marketed as a YA title.

A dispiriting reminder that youth is wasted on the young.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5612-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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