THE WINTER ROOM

More a prose poem than a novel, this beautifully written evocation of a Minnesota farm perhaps 40 years ago consists of portraits of each of the four seasons, along with four brief stories told by old Uncle David in the room the family calls "The Winter Room." And, in its way most revealing, there is also an introduction ("Tuning") so skillfully written that it ironically belies its own message: that books cannot have smells, or sound, or light, since these must be supplied by the reader in response to the author's words. With his authentic descriptions, Paulsen makes it easy for the reader to comply. It's not clear to whom Eldon, the 11-year-old narrator, speaks—mostly he describes, rather than explains, though the explanatory creeps in: "Each cow has to have a calf or it won't. . .give milk." Unlike the novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jean George, which also conjure life in a particular setting through the accumulation of detail, this presentation of the marvelous minutiae of farm life supports only a gossamer plot hinging on the relationship between story and reality. As carefully structured as cobweb, the idea is there, almost invisible, from early on, when emulating a feat in a Zane Grey novel results in a dangerous prank; it resurfaces in the character of Father, who doesn't answer questions but enjoys speaking in simile; and climaxes when Eldon's brother challenges the fragile illusion of Uncle David's stories by calling them lies, causing a moving philosophical crisis in this taciturn family. Readers will be rare, but this is too fine to be ignored as a shelf-sitter.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1989

ISBN: 0531058395

Page Count: -

Publisher: Orchard/Watts

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1989

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Thoughtful and entertaining.

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BETTER TOGETHER

Estranged sisters plan a scheme à la The Parent Trap but are met with an unexpected twist.

Eighteen-year-old Siri Maza from New Jersey is mired in anger and uncertainty after an injury cuts short her burgeoning ballet career. At her mother’s insistence, she agrees to attend a wellness retreat in Colorado—and crashes into a barely remembered long-lost sister she’s been told was an imaginary friend. After bombing spectacularly onstage, 20-year-old Los Angeles comedian Jamie Federov is happy to escape to the Rediscover Yourself retreat, even if it is one of several conditions set by her father upon her moving back home. Jamie’s shocked when she encounters the younger sister she hasn’t seen since their parents split up 14 years ago. Spotting an opportunity for comedic inspiration, Jamie hatches a plot for the two to temporarily swap places and confront their parents. Only when they’re on their respective flights home do they realize that they’ve been transformed to look like one another. The relative ease with which various characters accept the magical element strains belief, but the sisters’ growth over the course of the story is convincing and satisfying. With help from their love interests, Pakistani Zarar and Filipina Dawn—both of whom are well developed and endearing—Jamie and Siri, who are White, confront their individual flaws and strengths and learn to accept the work inherent to healthy familial relationships.

Thoughtful and entertaining. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-76006-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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