A good strong voice that never lets in the waterworks.


A hilariously caustic first novel by storywriter Rosen (What About the Love Part?, 2002) follows a girl drawn in the wake of her dingbat California mother’s “grand adventure.”

Addicted to abusive men and floundering in service jobs, single mother Colleen Hanley hits on the harebrained scheme of dragging her two girls, Rona, 5, and Justine, 11, to Massachusetts to look up an old boyfriend who won’t even remember who she is. Her last boyfriend, Dale, a nasty Jesus freak and actually Rona’s father, ends the shaky relationship when he punches sassy Justine in the back after a disastrous trip to Disneyland. Justine is no fool about her mother’s lunacies, and, as the ill-begotten road trip is undertaken in a rented truck, it’s plucky and intrepid Justine who serves as the responsible parent—foraging for food and reminding their mother that the truck must be returned following an extended layover in Salt Lake City, when Colleen becomes infatuated with a new loser. Finally, in Hadley, Massachusetts, the penniless, homeless, ragged three must stay with Colleen’s manipulative high-school friend Marie, whose attempts at making Colleen employable become a means of further debasing her already nugatory self-esteem. As a fifth-grade assignment, Justine begins a diary of imaginary pioneers and their numerous children on a dangerous trek in reverse, from Amherst to California; pages from the diary, chronicling hardships of cold, hunger, and sickness in tongue-in-cheek fashion, are interspersed with Justine’s eye-rolling real-life narrative. And while Justine’s troubles would make a bonanza for any social worker—her newly growing body provokes swinish ribbing from the boys in the class, while her mother sinks into such a profound winter depression that she can’t even get out of bed to take the girls to school—Justine’s belligerent resistance to self-pity works in clear-eyed counterpoint to her delusionally doomed mother.

A good strong voice that never lets in the waterworks.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-44825-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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