An empathetic coming-of-age story, overtaken by overwrought emotions and repulsive descriptions.

MRS. LANGLOIS' HOUSE

An emotional Canadian teenager is sent to live with a neighbor in this YA novel.

At 16, Nix Baines is a tightly wound ball of anxiety, anger, and pain. Her mother, a nurse, works hard and never has time for her, and her father isn’t in the picture. Nix’s emotions tend toward the histrionic; for instance, when her doctor recommends an ultrasound for unexplained abdominal pain, she imagines “her naked body on the operating table with her lower abdomen sliced open and her blood and organs oozing out.” She also has a friend, whom no one else can see or hear, named Paula. Nix’s attention is drawn to her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Langlois, who is, like Nix and her mother, a transplant to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago. When the rude and defiant teen becomes too hard for her mother to handle, she sends her to live with her grandmother—Mrs. Langlois, as Nix discovers to her astonishment. The old woman is troubled by the pains and indignities of age, has inflexible rules and habits, and, like Nix, is prone to overreaction and has an invisible friend—in her case, a cat named Oscar. As Nix tries to find equilibrium in her life, she begins flirting with an attractive teenager, a gas station worker named Claude; from Mrs. Langlois, she learns more about her family history and a vital message: “Stand up for your heart and spirit.” In her debut novel, Pacheco shows great sympathy for alienated youth and other outsiders, such as Beatrice Laird, a homeless Irish-Canadian man who works in Mrs. Langlois’ garden. In some cases, Pacheco explores these conditions in illuminating ways, as when Paula’s physical condition echoes Nix’s fears about herself. However, Nix’s emotions (self-pity, anger, shame) are so disproportionate—and her level of dissociation, represented by Paula, so pathological—that they go well beyond the usual heightened feelings of adolescence, making the relatively optimistic ending feel unlikely. Also, the book’s frequent preoccupation with morbidity and bodily effusions, including every detail of Mrs. Langlois’ nighttime incontinence, makes for unpleasant reading.

An empathetic coming-of-age story, overtaken by overwrought emotions and repulsive descriptions.

Pub Date: March 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5255-1391-6

Page Count: 210

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2018

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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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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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