A promising premise—tracking a bright girl's rebellion against her pinched, alcoholic South Dakota family—degenerates into a long set-piece populated by stereotypes and suffused with tacky adolescent sex. At first it appears that Moira McPherson—in her early teens, intellectually gifted, big-breasted, and reeking of sex—will never grow up. That's because throughout the novel's first 225 pages the author finds it necessary to catalogue every sexual thought, look, and encounter that Moira undergoes. And they are plentiful: From her ne'er-do-well drunken father's evident lust for Moira to her adulterous mother's nasty cracks about Moira's breasts, which kids and adults alike are always staring at, to a series of river's-edge encounters with greasy high-school boys and sadistic teachers, Moira is usually thinking about or having secret sex. This is her one release from a grim, emotionally crippled, occasionally violent family life that includes a younger ``good'' sister named Taryn, who blames Moira for everything that's wrong with their family. Then, at 16, Moira comes home from her first real ``date'' (no sex) and her father, drunk, aims a rifle at the boy she's with but shoots and kills himself instead. For the final 150 pages, Moira, oddly unaffected by her father's suicide, rapidly experiences the 60's at Columbia, the 70's in med school and Vista, and the 80's in a Chicago penthouse happily married to her college sweetheart, a rich Jewish political activist named Zeke. Meanwhile, back in South Dakota, Taryn undergoes a series of nervous breakdowns, and Moira's mother prospers in a pinched, unpleasant way, glad to be rid of both her drunken husband and her annoyingly sexy daughter Moira. Second-novelist Saiter (Cheerleaders Can't Afford to Be Nice, 1990) offers some vivid, compelling insights into life as the scapegoated child of an alcoholic family. Beyond that, much steamy bathos and nobody much to like. (First printing of 40,000)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-55611-372-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1993

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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...


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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