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

THE LAST LETTER

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

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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