A serious subject cheapened by melodrama that rings inauthentic.


Greenwood’s earlier novels of family dysfunction (Rust and Stardust, 2018, etc.) have hooked onto issues ranging from anorexia to child abduction; here Down syndrome disrupts a young woman’s life and marriage.

In 1963, 22-year-olds Ginny and Ab, drawn together by their oh-so-sensitive appreciation of poetry, fall in love despite class differences—he’s a student at Amherst College; she’s a working-class “local girl." By 1969, stay-at-home mom Ginny is caring for their 4-year-old son, Peyton, in a wealthy suburb while Ab, who never wanted to be a lawyer, is toiling away in his father’s high-powered Boston firm. After the premature birth of their second child, Ginny holds her daughter, Lucy, only briefly before the doctor whisks the infant away, explaining she is “mongoloid” and unlikely to survive long. Once her tranquilizers wear off, Ginny learns Ab has followed his rigidly autocratic father’s dictate and removed Lucy to a state-run facility called Willowridge, coincidentally located just outside Amherst. Though distraught, she accepts Ab’s decision. What is most problematic in the novel is not Down syndrome as an issue but Ginny as a character. Her passive dependence (not even learning to drive), “willful ignorance” in accepting whatever conditions her husband’s family demands, and further “willful ignorance” of current events like Vietnam and feminism make her seem anachronistic. In 1971, when Ginny learns that Willowridge, where she’s never visited although her mother lives nearby, is under investigation for mistreating children, she finally goes to see Lucy. What begins as a legally permitted off-campus weekend stay spirals out of control into technical kidnapping when Ginny decides she cannot take fragile but increasingly alert Lucy back, Ab and his family be damned. Poor Ab is portrayed as a spineless wonder even when he succumbs to Ginny's miraculous new strength of will.

A serious subject cheapened by melodrama that rings inauthentic.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-16422-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.


Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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