A well-crafted, beautiful novel about a fraught childhood moment.

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DAHLIA IN BLOOM

A young girl in Appalachia during the Great Depression copes with her family’s move to a new farm in Koehler’s (The Complete K-5 Writing Workshop, 2013, etc.) novel. 

Dahlia Harrell is an 8-year-old girl in a family of tenant farmers in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s the 1930s, and though Dahlia is in a loving family, not everything is quite right. She has recently recovered from a case of diphtheria. Money is tight. The family can eat what they grow and rely on the chickens and cow, Ol’ Rosie, but having cash in hand is rare. Dahlia thinks: “With enough money, a person could buy away any reason they ever had to feel afraid.” Though Dahlia’s world is small, her life on Harrell Mountain is full of wonder, mystery, and big dreams. Her brother Charlie believes there is buried treasure on the property that will make them as rich as the Rockefellers. Grandpa talks of the family’s history in the area as he and Dahlia lie on the ground gazing at stars. But her father breaks the news that the family will be moving to a new farm, one owned by another family. He hopes it will improve their circumstances, but to Charlie, it means giving up on the buried treasure, and Dahlia can’t imagine living far away from her grandfather. But they do move—the girls in flour-sack dresses with cornhusk dolls—and a relief society steps in to give the kids new clothes for school. Nervous about her skills and fighting with her sister, Dahlia worries about her grandfather and wonders if she’ll ever be able to return to Harrell Mountain. Koehler’s Depression-era novel is concise but effective and weighty. In a time of great change for Dahlia, Koehler paints a clear portrait of this family and their circumstances with writing that is subtle and strong. Dahlia’s world has just gotten much bigger, and her increasing awareness of herself as compared with others is thoughtfully described. Rich details abound on everything from meals to economics to a precious missing doll, but it’s the author’s gift for making a specific story so universal that stands out.  

A well-crafted, beautiful novel about a fraught childhood moment.  

Pub Date: July 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9859438-8-2

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Turtle Cove Press

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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