A whimsical, funny, and poignant historical novel.

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THE GIRL PRETENDING TO READ RILKE

Riddle debuts with a pleasantly offbeat coming-of-age novel that looks back at the changing roles of women in the 1960s.

In 1963, 19-year-old Bronwen Olwen has just completed her junior year in a prestigious Portland, Oregon, college and is heading to Boston for a prime summer internship in a biochemistry lab—and, not incidentally, a couple of months of living with her boyfriend, Eric Breuner. He’s four years older, ensconced in Harvard, and working toward a junior fellowship in the biology department, where he’s a superstar. Indeed, Bronwen is daunted by what she accepts as his intellectual superiority. But this summer, she’s decided to become an expert in the literary works of early 20th-century Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke as her nonscientific area of proficiency, because “All the scientists in Eric’s crowd had a little niche, a subarea of nontechnical knowledge on which they could hold forth.” Her boss, Felix, is a strange whirlwind of frenetic energy, always “rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.” Bronwen helps him with some problem experiments, enabling him to complete his long-overdue doctoral thesis. Her grueling hours at the lab prove more gratifying than her time spent with the obnoxiously arrogant Eric and his cohort of pseudo-intellectual male scientists. However, it takes a series of crises to force her to reexamine her life. Although Riddle’s narrative is often humorous and frequently quirky, it also offers a stark reminder of the scientific community’s treatment of women joining its ranks in the ’60s. For example, Felix can’t fathom why Bronwen would choose to study science given her other options: “Girls don’t just whimsically decide to give up a social life and nice clothes to hang around in smelly hellholes with slavedrivers like me ordering them around.” Throughout, Riddle mixes solid, straightforward storytelling with long, stream-of-consciousness sections in which the omniscient narrator jumps into Bronwen’s chaotic mental meanderings. The run-on sentences in the latter can be confusing at times, but they effectively reflect the protagonist’s inner struggle as familiar young adult angst meets bubbling social change.

A whimsical, funny, and poignant historical novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-615-90432-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Pilgrim's Lane Press

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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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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