It's too bad about the dogs, but they died for a good cause.

THE DOGS OF LITTLEFIELD

Ranked sixth on the Wall Street Journal's list of Best Places to Live, the fictional town of Littlefield, Massachusetts, is far from paradise.

First there are crude brown-paper signs—"Leash Your Beast Or Else"—stuck up around the park. Then there's a dead white bull mastiff, the first in a series of dogs to turn up poisoned. Dr. Clarice Watkins, a sociologist who's just moved to town to study "what must be the world's most psychologically policed and probably well-medicated population," soon realizes her subjects' supposed state of grace is under siege. She's causing a bit of a stir herself as a short, black woman who wears a turban and is believed to know the Obamas; she's invited to share her "tribal cuisine" at Celebrate Your Heritage Day. One of the more troubled residents in Watkins' study cohort is Julia Downing, the preteen daughter of a fraying marriage between a hypervigilant, bored mother (about to embark on an affair with the town's literary novelist) and a depressed, recently jobless dad. Their little girl is a bit of a sociologist herself. She keeps a popularity report on the seventh grade in which the top 10 shifts every day, but her own position remains at 73. For her history class, she's working on a survey of Littlefield, in which she counts 23 banks, 6 dog groomers, 4 yoga studios, 4 liquor stores, 1,146 psychotherapists, and 679 psychiatrists. For all her mother's helicoptering, Julia manages to get into some real scrapes. She falls through thin ice when trying to rescue a dog out on a wintry pond. Soon after, she screws up a babysitting job so badly that hospitalization and euthanasia are involved. These disasters have the perverse effect of making her a celebrity on social media. Berne (Missing Lucile, 2010, etc.), who won the Orange Prize for her first novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood (1997), is a sure hand at the dinner parties, school concerts, teacup tempests, and true moments of suspense that make a suburban comedy of manners par excellence.

It's too bad about the dogs, but they died for a good cause.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9424-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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