Putala’s debut explores unrequited love and other hardships in this coming-of-age novel set at a Northeastern college.
Jamie Tarnowski, a student at Amherst College, is infatuated with classmate Jessica Dorfmann, aka “the Princess.” Although Jamie maintains a busy social life on campus, he suffers regular rejection from Jessica. When he isn’t thinking about her, Jamie ponders the lives of writers and hopes to join their ranks. His ties to the town of Amherst are complicated: His mother graduated from University of Massachusetts Amherst, where his father was a professor. As a child, Jamie asked his mother to explain the difference between the state university and the private college. She told him Amherst College is “where you get to go if you’re very smart and very lucky. People of privilege send their sons there.” Despite this promising setup, Jamie’s story grows dull and repetitive. Too many characters appear, yet too few are sufficiently described. Conversations are cluttered with small talk, and the richer dialogue flirts with pontification. “Does liberal arts still exist?” Jamie asks his father. When his father suggests that “a college can become a place for vocational training,” Jamie responds that the pressure to earn money “could totally take humanity off whatever positive track it might be on, and just become this cold world where everyone works for the economy and there’s no higher meaning or beauty or anything like that.” Jamie’s thoughts are often variations on clichés: “You can lead a horse to water, but fail in making him drink it” or “Life comes at you in waves.” Presumably pivotal moments—a car accident, a physical threat, the death of the family dog—are glossed over, while classroom discussion is presented in excessive detail. Even the Princess remains underdeveloped and opaque.
An ambitious attempt undermined by an aimless plot and flat dialogue.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.
Pirates, magic and a secret society collide in this fantasy middle-grade novel.
This fast-paced novel follows best friends Cameron and Miguel, who are looking for adventure while cruising through their Arizona town on a tandem bicycle. They find it when an enchanted pirate ship flies overhead and lands in a convenience store’s parking lot. The ship sets up as a shop, which uses an intoxicating mist to trick customers into buying overpriced sea-themed merchandise, while simultaneously making them defenseless against pickpocket pirates. Cameron has bigger problems when Blackbeard, the ship’s intimidating captain, decides that the tween has stolen a powerful ring that would allow him to shape-shift into any person he imagines. Raising the stakes, the pirates kidnap Miguel and force him to perform grunt work with no chance of release. Cameron enlists the help of his best gal pal, Marcella, to free Miguel, but their mission takes a surprising turn when they discover a secret society protecting an underground gold mine. Author Loge keeps the action coming as the trio encounter a nasty doppelganger, a sinister talking parrot and a gang of violent pirates. The breezy writing ensures that the story doesn’t get stale. With so many quick twists and turns, young readers could get lost along the way, but Loge clearly explains all the unexpected changes to keep his audience on track. In addition to a sprinkling of black-and-white illustrations, Cameron’s easy friendship with Miguel and Marcella keeps things light and youthful when the tale could have been bogged down with one too many odd, mystical events. The heart of the book—a young boy as the chosen one who must defeat an evil enemy—has been a common YA plotline in recent years, but Loge’s energetic style makes the theme seem fresh.
A fun adventure for anyone who’d love to see a few spunky kids trick some bad-news pirates.