A dark, deeply stirring novel about the quiet tragedy of growing up in a broken family.

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GHOST HORSE

A Texas boy grapples with his parents’ estrangement in McNeely’s debut novel.

Eleven-year-old Buddy lives with his mother in 1970s Houston at a time when proper, white middle-class living means that mothers don’t work, parents don’t divorce, and white children don’t befriend the Mexican children down the street. Buddy’s young life has missed all these supposed marks of propriety: His mother, Margot, works in a hospital laboratory; his absentee father, Jimmy, has blown back into town and wants a divorce; and Buddy spends much of his time with his Latino best friend, Alex, who’s working on a film about a ghost horse. Buddy’s torment slowly, steadily grows throughout this sensitive novel as his immature father and his bafflingly stubborn mother make him choose between them again and again. His cold grandparents, meanwhile, only exacerbate the bitter divide. He finally tries to find solace in a new friendship with a fellow student whose home life is similarly caustic. As he struggles to survive the failures of the adults around him, he careens down a path of unhappiness and destruction. McNeely beautifully portrays the confusion of a boy doing his best to deal with matters that are beyond his understanding but fully capable of doing him harm (“He wishes a sheet of fire would cut through the yard; he wishes [his mother] would disappear. But the questions still pulse, there, in the darkness: What will happen when his father comes back?”). The author effectively shows how evil is not born but made; as the grown-ups continue to pile their burdens on him, something hateful begins to bloom in Buddy that wasn’t there before. Overall, the novel will be a haunting read for anyone who’s experienced the childhood anguish of divorce and a powerful reminder to mothers and fathers of the unseen damage that their behavior can inflict on their children.

A dark, deeply stirring novel about the quiet tragedy of growing up in a broken family.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1928589914

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Gival Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2014

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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