The quasi-cosmic, picaresque journey of twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer—across America on foot, "flipping" in and out of a parallel universe called the "Territories"—in quest of a magical talisman that will save his widowed mother (a former B-movie star) from dying of cancer. Jack's trek begins on the Atlantic coast, where an old black man at a seedy "Funworld" tells him about the Territories, The Talisman, and the "Twinners" (parallel-universe doppelgangers); and these first chapters recall the murky hoo-hah of Straub's opaque Shadowland—as Jack learns that his nemesis is his dead father's evil business partner Morgan Sloat, known in the Territories as "Morgan of Orris." Still, Jack plunges ahead—walking west but flipping into the Territories whenever Morgan's pursuit becomes lethal. . . and vice versa. In the real world his ordeals include: slave-labor at an upstate N.Y. tavern; harassment from pederasts; dreadful days in a neo-Diekensian "Home" for delinquent boys. In the semi-medieval Territories, he faces tree-monsters and assorted "thing" attackers—but also acquires a devoted, brave sidekick: a werewolf named Wolf, who travels with Jack into the real world. (This 150-page section, midway through, is prime alien-fiction à la King—funny, touching, complete with a Carrie-like outburst of retaliation from poor, sweet Wolf.) And eventually, after Wolf's noble demise, lack reaches the midwestern prep school of chum Richard Sloat (son of Morgan)—who'll reluctantly accompany him the rest of the paranoid-peril way: across the radioactive Blasted Lands on a magical train, then flipping into real-world California. . . where The Talisman awaits ("COME TO ME! COME NOW!") in a black hotel. Fans of King's horror, then, will probably be irritated by the pretentious, verbose, psycho-gothic/philosophical fantasy here—which involves coming-of-age, the Twinner gestalt, the sinful secrets of Jack's dead dad, and heavy good-vs.-evil breathing. (See King's The Stand as well as lesser Straub.) At the other extreme is a lot of King-style sentimentality and jokey vulgarity—with Jack's mind implausibly embracing four decades of pop-culture allusions. But, with some gripping sequences along the way and the double-whammy byline, this grandiose, meandering saga—echoing Oz, Alice, and Huck Finn—is sure to reach a massive audience. . . and satisfy about half of it.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1984

ISBN: 0345444884

Page Count: 774

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1984

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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