An odd cross between angst-ridden youth memoir and women’s adventure yarn: solipsistic, mildly entertaining.

AVOIDING PRISON AND OTHER NOBLE VACATION GOALS

ADVENTURES IN LOVE AND DANGER

Television writer Dale whips up a lightweight tale of travel and romance in daunting locales.

After a dutiful, dull youth and a disillusioning first job as a corporate newsletter writer, the author concluded, “I had tried life on, but had yet to grow into it. My life had been a triple-A training bra.” Determined to avoid the fate of her joyless middle-aged colleagues at Hughes Aircraft and inspired by her free-spirited parents’ sudden move to a farm in Honduras, she embarked upon a less responsible, more adventurous course. Initial journeys to Lebanon and Cuba whetted her appetite for experience: “After Beirut, everything around me seemed so trivial.” She got more than she bargained for with two Costa Rican romances, the first with Michel, who was arrested for defrauding her and others, the second with Francisco, a luckless Colombian national who was imprisoned due to trumped-up accusations by his estranged wife. Dale impulsively moved to Costa Rica to be near Francisco, only to find his legal situation worsening. After a nine-month struggle, her efforts aided Francisco at trial; they fled Costa Rica for Panama, Colombia, and further complications, including a scary period of destitution, and Francisco’s eventual betrayal. Dale portrays Central America with colorful generalities, captures the luckless milieu of its prisons, and writes sympathetically about the ordinary people she encountered as her journey grew rockier. Like many television writers moving into books, she hews to a style best described as Mass-Cult American: casually chatty, sprinkled with snide asides, vague sex talk, and inevitable pop-culture references. Her determinedly airy, chipper tone ultimately becomes problematic, since she treats everything she experiences and sees, no matter how grave, as material for sitcom-like riffing. She’s also much too focused on her own woes, as witness this characteristic observation upon seeing the Panama Canal: “How easy it must be to be a ship’s captain, I thought to myself.”

An odd cross between angst-ridden youth memoir and women’s adventure yarn: solipsistic, mildly entertaining.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-609-80983-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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