A deeply affecting and fearlessly descriptive story that charts the complexities of life with a potentially fatal illness.

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AND THROW AWAY THE SKINS

A cancer patient searches for direction and fulfillment in Jones’ (A Rising Tide of People Swept Away, 2016, etc.) novel.

In 2008, following a breast cancer diagnosis, Rebecca “Bec” Robertson undergoes a double mastectomy and begins aggressive chemotherapy. Her husband, William, is a chaplain in the U.S. Army serving in Afghanistan. Near the start of the novel, William boards a plane from Dallas to begin a journey back to Kabul, leaving his sick wife behind. As they part, there’s the sense that an emotional chasm is opening between them. Ever since Bec became ill, William has taken to treating her with excessive caution, and she senses his relief as they bid farewell to each other. Bec, meanwhile, feels a growing sense of detachment from him and a nagging suspicion that her recovery may be “Easier alone.” Furthermore, the couple is in dire financial straits; Bec chooses not to burden William with the knowledge that their money has “bled away” and that the bank is foreclosing on their house. Soon, she relocates to a cabin in New Mexico. There, she meets an oddball set of locals—the first of whom, Marcus, she finds sitting in her truck, expecting her to drive him somewhere. The narrative also looks back over Bec’s grueling childhood, her courtship with William when they were both teenagers, and her stoic efforts to carve out a life for herself after cancer—part of which may involve a relationship with an unpredictable former Marine named Michael. Some readers may be unnerved by Jones’ unflinching descriptions of the physical realities of cancer treatment: “Tribal marks, two slices of purple thread ruled out in straight horizontal lines below her chest….At least they had left the muscles underneath, so she didn’t have craters.” These graphic revelations of the treatments’ brutal violence can be difficult to read; in Bec’s case, surgeons are said to have “Cut away hunks of her body to fend off death.” Along the way, Jones vividly captures the character’s sense of emotional torment: “Sometimes she wanted something to blame, someone to scream at.” In her struggle for survival, Bec lives on a razor’s edge, and Jones subtly charts her progress and psychological shifts—which, the author points out, are also affected by medication: “At first, the steroids drove her crazy and the anticoagulants left her so vulnerable she feared to touch anything. When her desire for intimacy returned, she couldn’t find William.” As the story progresses, readers will be drawn ever closer to Bec—they’ll gain a profound understanding of the challenges she faces and be awed by her spirit of survival. But there are also feelings of joy in this harrowing novel, as Bec’s newfound conception of self arises from her sense of loss and despair. Overall, this novel offers a nuanced and thoroughly believable portrait of a cancer patient’s everyday life that offers hope and sadness in equal measure.

A deeply affecting and fearlessly descriptive story that charts the complexities of life with a potentially fatal illness.

Pub Date: March 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944388-61-4

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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