Lengthy coming-of-age set apart by the hero’s African identity, but never is the willful Midnight believable as a...

MIDNIGHT

A young Sudanese immigrant struggles to hold onto his traditional values while growing up on New York’s meanest streets.

Fleeing Africa at age seven with his young pregnant mother, Umma, the boy later known as Midnight is not seeking a better life so much as hiding out from the political fallout of his powerful father’s role in the Sudanese government. Adrift without any friends or much money, the once-wealthy family has to start fresh, forcing Midnight to act as de facto patriarch of the clan. They first settle in a Brooklyn housing project, where gentle Umma creates a peaceful Islamic household in a neighborhood that is anything but. Midnight quickly learns to defend himself from the gangsters, drug dealers and other unsavory characters who populate his hood, while protecting Umma and his baby sister Naja. Home schooled, he escorts his veiled mother to and from her sweatshop job, helps her start a lucrative handmade clothing business and studies martial arts at a Japanese dojo. He also purchases two guns, and in his early teens stalks and shoots a shady Jamaican who lusts after Umma. Highly motivated (to say the least), Midnight also excels at basketball and takes a part-time job at a Chinatown fish market to help save up to buy a house for his family in a less dangerous neighborhood. It is in Chinatown that he meets Akemi, a lovely 16-year-old Japanese art student. Their language barrier is no match for their hormones, but Midnight courts her properly, adhering as best he can to his Muslim principles. Obstacles abound for their teenage love, including her rich father back in Japan and the many local young ladies ready to offer everything to the strapping youth. In spite of its interesting point of view, Souljah’s latest (The Coldest Winter Ever, 1999, etc.) reads more like a setup for future volumes than a freestanding cohesive story.

Lengthy coming-of-age set apart by the hero’s African identity, but never is the willful Midnight believable as a 14-year-old.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4518-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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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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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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