An affecting portrayal of an emotionally abandoned girl.

DARLING GIRL

In this debut novel, a child grows up under the shadow of her family’s dysfunction. 

When DG’s mother, Margaret, begins to leave home for extended hiatuses, the girl is far too young—only 5 years old—to understand why. Her father, Alcide Louis Pitre, blames it on her recurrent fatigue, and her grandpa chalks it up to extreme sensitivity: “Your mama, I think she just feels too much. Feels everything too much.” When Margaret is around, she seems to float in and out of a fuguelike trance, sometimes sleeping the entire day away, leaving DG to tend to her younger siblings. One day, she greets DG with warm affection but forgets her name, a moment heart-rendingly captured by Watkins. Alcide is a pipeliner, and as a result, the family moves often and broadly—Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Australia, South Africa—and that peripatetic rootlessness only adds to DG’s feelings of dislocation. But over time, she starts to see evidence that her mother’s chronic mental illness isn’t the family’s real disease, which is her father’s despotism. A serial philanderer, he is also maniacally controlling, physically abusing Margaret. At a neighborhood party, he’s discovered having sex with a local’s wife and unashamedly laughs off the indiscretion. While he’s capable of great sweetness, he can mercurially shift in an instant. Margaret finally asserts herself and demands a divorce, but she’s infinitely forgiving and terrified to be alone. Disgusted by her father, DG plots with her mother to find a way to decisively liberate herself from the clenched grip of his cunning dominion.  Watkins relates the entire story from DG’s first-person perspective, masterfully capturing her shifting voice from early childhood to her teens. Still, the novel’s principal strength is its beautifully conceived characters: DG and her mom are both infinitely loving but deeply wounded, and Alcide is incorrigibly unpredictable, by turns a tyrant and a charmer: “The best way to describe him is like a lighthouse beacon. As long as you are in the warmth of his regard, it seems the best place to be. Safe and bright and beautiful. Outside of his regard, there might be monsters—cold, dark, scary.” The author’s writing is self-assured and nuanced, and even in DG’s youth one can detect her precocious intelligence. In addition, the cumbersome weight of the girl’s premature domestic obligations in the absence of a responsible parent is shatteringly depicted. On two occasions, Margaret summons DG to drive a vehicle illegally—in the second instance, to help break her out of a rest home. (Margaret even provides elaborate instructions on how to look older.) One minor criticism: DG’s siblings are resigned to the background, a largely mute supporting cast. Giving them more life and agency could have furnished a fuller perspective on the family’s emotional fragility as well as Margaret’s neurasthenic stupor. Nevertheless, this is a powerful drama that impressively manages to both haunt and inspire. 

An affecting portrayal of an emotionally abandoned girl. 

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73226-624-7

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Green Place Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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