KISSING DOORKNOBS

With a trenchant portrait of Tara Sullivan from ages 11—14, Hesser’s first novel puts obsessive-compulsive disorder under the microscope. Troubled Tara is preoccupied with orderliness and impending disaster, and dedicates her attention to painstakingly trivial rules and rituals. She counts cracks in every sidewalk, worries that her mother’s back will indeed be broken, lines up grains of rice on her plate, prays every time she hears a swear word, and “kisses” doorknobs in a ritual of her own invention. Her devotion to these activities leads to the exclusion of friends and the alienation of family. Incredibly, her parents allow her condition to drag on, undiagnosed, for years; when she does come under scrutiny, the various diagnoses are Attention Deficit Disorder, immaturity, borderline anorexia, anger issues. Tara’s condition isn’t easily conveyed: Readers may tire of her depressive, self-deprecating immersion in disorder, no matter how natural her perspective is to her illness: “In a fetal position, I rocked myself like a sad baby in a cold white crib. I had no language to describe my pain. I had no company in my pain. I just had pain. Isolating, solitary pain. And loneliness. And humiliation.” Understandably self-absorbed, Tara lapses into stilted, self-conscious moments that distance readers rather than elicit their compassion, e.g., “After a few months, I got over my separation anxiety.” Only a serendipitous meeting with fellow sufferer Sam promises a rescue for Tara in an otherwise onerous story. (Fiction. 13-15)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32329-8

Page Count: 163

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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TIES THAT BIND, TIES THAT BREAK

Namioka (Den of the White Fox, 1997, etc.) offers readers a glimpse of the ritual of foot-binding, and a surprising heroine whose life is determined by her rejection of that ritual. Ailin is spirited—her family thinks uncontrollable—even at age five, in her family’s compound in China in 1911, she doesn’t want to have her feet bound, especially after Second Sister shows Ailin her own bound feet and tells her how much it hurts. Ailin can see already how bound feet will restrict her movements, and prevent her from running and playing. Her father takes the revolutionary step of permitting her to leave her feet alone, even though the family of Ailin’s betrothed then breaks off the engagement. Ailin goes to the missionary school and learns English; when her father dies and her uncle cuts off funds for tuition, she leaves her family to become a nanny for an American missionary couple’s children. She learns all the daily household chores that were done by servants in her own home, and finds herself, painfully, cut off from her own culture and separate from the Americans. At 16, she decides to go with the missionaries when they return to San Francisco, where she meets and marries another Chinese immigrant who starts his own restaurant. The metaphor of things bound and unbound is a ribbon winding through this vivid narrative; the story moves swiftly, while Ailin is a brave and engaging heroine whose difficult choices reflect her time and her gender. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-385-32666-1

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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