A mostly satisfying rendition of the complex mother-daughter relationship, told with edgy humor and deep sympathy.



An episodic first novel of divorce, motherhood, and coming-of-age in Manhattan of the 1970s and ’80s, by the author of the story collection Out of the Girls’ Room and Into the Night (1999).

Born-and-bred New Yorker Roz Rosenzweig marries midwestern Edwin Anderson, because she’s tired of being single and can’t believe how nice he is. But after the birth of their daughter Miranda and the death of Roz’s mother, their many differences cause the marriage to founder. “The Mess Under the Bed,” a chapter composed of letters to Miranda at camp, Miranda’s letters home, and camper reports, deftly depicts the family’s strife.(Nissen has an instinct for coupling sorrow and humor.) Edwin gone, 12-year-old Miranda finds a surrogate dad in an older boy who gives her piggyback rides and her first drink. Miranda is well-drawn; the feisty child and mixed-up preadolescent grow into a wily, first-in-the-bunk-to-have-sex teenager. Sometimes the wry here tone seems to breeze over this often disheartening account of the aftermath of divorce. There’s a comical quality to the scenario of Roz falling in love with Miranda’s orthodontist and moving in with him, only to have Miranda respond by having a furtive affair with Ben, the orthodontist’s son. But when Miranda and Ben learn that his father is carrying on his own clandestine affair, Nissen captures precisely the terrible feelings of these two teenagers who are still children but behaving like adults. After the orthodontist moves out, however, the story flags: Roz takes in boarders with their own problems, and Miranda has a disastrous affair with a teacher. At the close, she’s home from college for a potentially awkward Thanksgiving with Roz’s New Age boyfriend. But what’s important, Miranda realizes, is that she and her mother are still together: they have survived her childhood.

A mostly satisfying rendition of the complex mother-daughter relationship, told with edgy humor and deep sympathy.

Pub Date: May 30, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-41145-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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