ALL OF ME

A second effort from Berry (So Good, 1996) offers all the usual ingredients of the contemporary novel. Which is exactly the problem. The story begins with 30-something Serpentine Williamson waking up in a hospital room, then traces the events that led to her suicide attempt and follows the new life she tries to create afterward. A successful TV journalist in Chicago with a house of her own, a loving boyfriend, and a place in a prizewinning choir, Serpentine seems to have it all, but once her world starts to crumble, so does her resolve. When she discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her and also that the station would like her to lose weight (a lot of weight), her insecurities push her over the edge. Although the long road to self-acceptance after her suicide attempt is the main theme here, unfortunately it’s a pallid, Oprah-style version of life’s struggles, and Berry frequently uses self-help dialogue in place of the real thing. An issue since her teens, Serpentine’s roller-coaster weight gain and loss is inextricably tied to her sense of worth, and much of her depression is focused on the culture’s stringent requirements for women and beauty. The futility of fad diets (explained with biting humor), the challenges for African-American women in the workplace, and the age-old problem of finding true love, all of these are the hurdles Serpentine learns to face and overcome without internalizing her anger. The novel redeems itself when it focuses on her tender family relationships—with her tough mother, her inspiring aunt, and her loving sister—yet too often it rehashes ideas found in other, similar works. Admirable in intent, lackluster in all other ways.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2000

ISBN: 0-525-94463-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1999

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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