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The stereotypical depiction of sociopathy, that hoary trope, leaves a bad taste.

Fifteen-year-old Ariella Benton, nicknamed Ella, finds herself in Hoboken, New Jersey, at the mercy of her own ideas regarding her long-dead father, her mom’s new husband, her love for cats, a new love interest, a belief in the supernatural, and the stigma of mental illness.

All of these story elements become a psychological-thriller Mobius strip with the appearance and then encroaching insinuation of the “tall and blond” “Beautiful Boy” she meets at the mall—and who turns out to be her future stepbrother, Blake. If the incestuous undertones don’t creep readers out, Crystal Kite winner Ventresca (Pandemic, 2014) ploddingly layers on Blake’s manipulations, from his constant gaslighting of Ella—with the participation of Ella’s best friend and the aforementioned love interest)—to bloody and muddy fingerprints on mirrors and walls and other, far nastier, deeds. Does sociopathic Blake get away with his dastardliness toward his white (by inference) family? The author tries to build the suspense and empathy, but it falls flat due to the grating characterization of Ella herself—as well as the unkind characterization of sociopathy. The lesson is that, at best, Blake, with his mental illness, cannot be incorporated into family life but needs to disappear, optimally of his own accord.

The stereotypical depiction of sociopathy, that hoary trope, leaves a bad taste. (further reading) (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5107-0988-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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Blackwood goes from Elizabethan England (Shakespeare Stealer, not reviewed, 1998) to a Depression-Era Ozarks setting for this poker-faced tale of a self-reliant but naive teenager. Although he and his mother are dirt poor and he doesn’t remember his father, Thad is an optimist; he has a girl, a loyal bluetick hound, and a good if risky source of income, selling corn liquor for Dayman, a sour, one-armed recluse with a hidden still. He begins to get a glimmer of other lives and possibilities when Harlan James comes to town, claiming to be a land scout for tobacco growers. Harlan is well-dressed, a free spender, and free with his time, too; he allows Thad to use his fancy tackle to land a huge catfish, teaches him how to use a rifle, and even loans him clothes for a date. Blackwood knits characters together with threads of “moonshine”—not liquor, but a steady diet of stories, jokes, yarns, and outright lies’so that the story becomes a study in layers and varieties of honesty. Thad’s feeling of betrayal is sharp but brief when he finds out that Harlan is a revenue agent, stalking Dayman’s still, which literally explodes in his face. Blackwood drops plenty of hints that both Harlan and Dayman are more than they seem, so alert readers are always ahead of Thad, which adds drama; the twin revelations that Dayman is Thad’s father and that Harlan’s friendliness wasn’t all moonshine close this backwoods bildungsroman on a high note. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7614-5056-4

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999

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The sudden death of her twin leaves a teenager struggling with grief and her fragile sense of self in this absorbing, inwardly focused import from Sweden, part fiction, part memoir. So close are the sisters that after Cilla is killed by a motorist Tina can still hear her voice, still see her just by looking in a mirror, still hold conversations; she even finds herself taking on some of Cilla’s character traits, seeking an inner balance that she has lost. Able to describe her experiences only by switching back and forth between third person and first, Tina observes the different ways those around her grieve, and finds temporary solace in many places: reading and writing poetry, performing on stage, playing her violin, trying a brief but intense fling at summer camp, even talking to a perceptive psychologist—but unlike many such stories, there is never any sense here that the authors are running through a catalog of coping strategies, or offering trite platitudes. A year later, Tina discovers that, in forming new friendships and moving on in life, she has passed the worst of her pain, and found ways to distance herself from Cilla without losing her completely. In a smooth, natural-sounding translation, this is a thoughtful, complex reminiscence. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: March 23, 1999

ISBN: 91-29-63935-2

Page Count: 247

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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