THE LAST LETTER

A gripping, sensitively written account of a terrible affliction that is more common than realized.

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Adolescence is bad enough, but suppose you also have Lyme disease and no one can diagnose it?

In this novel, Amelia “Lia” Garrett Lenelli is your garden variety teenager. But in addition to the usual teen angst, she has more subtle problems—such as getting a D on a test that she should have aced (she’s clearly bright, a good student) and then experiencing panic attacks, memory loss, and physical debilitation. She has been referred to a therapist, a guy who simply sits patiently and encourages her to keep producing the letters that she has admitted to writing and burying in her garden in a “time capsule”: her old My Little Pony lunchbox. These letters, addressed to “Dear Whoever You Are,” make this a strange sort of epistolary novel and form the basis and bulk of the book. Lia has a loving and supportive family. She gets even more support (eventually) from her friend Mollie’s big brother, Josh. But a big problem is that Lyme disease is so mysterious that many of her friends (like Mollie) simply don’t believe that she is really sick, but rather that she is some sort of drama queen. She finds all of this maddening. The doctors have no clue—Lia is losing patience with them and they with her. Finally, almost as a fluke, Lia finds a fellow sufferer. Yes, it’s Lyme disease, and yes, there is a kindly physician who understands and treats it. A slow recovery begins, though there can be relapses. Battles are won, but Lia acknowledges that “the war still lingers dormant within me.”

“Whoever You Are” is, of course, you, dear reader, a powerful device to yank you into the riveting story. (Ultimately, while planting a rose bush, Lia’s father unearths the lunchbox, but that is just a bit of stagecraft.) Pogorzelski is an experienced writer and has created a wonderful character in Lia, who is tough but always on the brink of being overwhelmed. The teen also has a wicked way with observations. When the Lenellis decide to have a garage sale, to Lia it looks “like our childhood threw up all over our lawn.” Lia finds school excruciating, with the students being pack-oriented. She is sidelined, if not outright ostracized. Readers will feel her agony, anger, and, most of all, her growing fear. At one point, she comes close to suicide. One exception among the well-meaning but unhelpful people is Lia’s nameless shrink. He has a past of his own from his stint in Vietnam and resists any facile judgments, setting her on the writing therapy path. In some ways, he seems no more helpful than the others, but Lia realizes an essential wisdom in him and suspects that he is a fellow sufferer, not from Lyme disease but from a deep sadness, having seen too much. He is a strong character who clearly represents a lesson in trust. Like Holden Caulfield, Lia can spot a phony a mile off; her therapist is the real deal. In an afterword, readers will discover that this is actually the author’s own story, slightly fictionalized. Pogorzelski is now a crusader and provides helpful links for those who are suffering as she was.

A gripping, sensitively written account of a terrible affliction that is more common than realized. (afterword)

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9888751-3-5

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Brown Beagle Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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