A smart, highly entertaining update on a classic story.

THE BALLAD OF HUCK & MIGUEL

DeRoche reimagines Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in modern Los Angeles.

The story starts, like Twain’s, in St. Petersburg, Missouri. There, Huckleberry Finn is looking to get loose of his abusive father, Pap, who has a get-rich-quick scheme that involves moving to Los Angeles. Huck can’t get away before Pap bundles them both into their camper to head west. Soon, the youngster finds out that his father is involved in a drug deal, which goes sour. However, Huck and his new friend, Tom Sawyer, find a way for the LAPD to capture the drug kingpin; the boys collect a reward while Pap goes on the lam. A judge then puts Huck in the care of a lesbian couple, Miss Watson and Ms. Douglas, who try to “civilize” Huck, just as their namesakes did in the original novel. Huck also finds himself drawn to his new friend, Miguel, a stable hand and undocumented immigrant. Pap had always told Huck that so-called “Mexigrants” were ruining the country and that homosexuality was evil—but in Los Angeles, Huck sees the wrongness of these notions. Pap resurfaces to try to get some of Huck’s reward, and he injures Ms. Watson and Ms. Douglas in the process. Miguel defends Huck and fends off Pap, who appears to be dead. Because Miguel is undocumented, he can’t tell his side of the story to police. He and Huck wind up traversing LA’s man-made rivers, meeting helpful folks and rapscallions. Overall, this is a charming, politically minded tale. What DeRoche truly understands about the Huck Finn character is his outsider’s perspective. For example, the book addresses a range of explosive topics, such as religion, revolution, electoral politics, and even a bit of reality television, but because Huck is encountering all of these things for the first time, he has no preconceived notions about any of them. This allows the author to mine different situations for pointed humor without ever turning the narrative into an obvious polemic. Along the way, debut illustrator González’s occasional black-and-white, woodcut-style images are nice additions.

A smart, highly entertaining update on a classic story.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9992776-7-6

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Redtail Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2017

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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