Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just Jennifer

Brooklyn Story by Suzanne Corso (Gallery, December 2010)

Set in 1978 Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Brooklyn Story is a coming-of-age tale about Samantha Bonti who is half-Jewish, half-Italian living in an Italian neighborhood, longing to be on the other side of the fabled bridge.  Samantha lives with her Jewish grandmother and her converted-to-Catholicism mother who has a substance abuse problem and is on welfare, to the embarrassment of Samantha.  Her best friend Janice sets fifteen-year-old Samantha up with Tony, half-Dutch, half-Italian, all twenty-years old, the best friend of Janice’s boyfriend Richie.  Tony is very good looking, and always has money he’s willing to spend on Samantha, and Samantha is quickly drawn into his world, a world that is not all glitz and glamour as it first appears.  Samantha accepts Tony’s overbearing ways as proof of his affection for her, but when he turns violent, she realizes she is in over her head and looks to the adults in her life, including an English teacher and a nurturing priest, for guidance. 

The story becomes engaging, but Samantha’s strength of character and determination is hard to believe at times, especially given her young age.  Certain things in life can make you grow up quickly, but I didn’t see that growth in Samantha, though she is an admirable young woman.  The setting is very authentic and anyone who remembers 1978, especially the city, will remember the same sights and sounds Samantha describes.  Brooklyn Story ends with hope for Samantha, leaving readers wondering what she will do next; a sequel is in the works according to the author’s website, which includes questions for discussion.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Just Jennifer

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard (Ecco, January 2011)

Nora Lindell disappeared the Halloween she was sixteen, leaving in her wake a neighborhood unsure of what happened, and a group of boys on whom she had a very lasting effect. This sparse, thoughtful novel is told in the first person plural, as the boys who were Nora’s playmates and classmates work through this event that haunts them, even into adulthood. Nora disappeared without a trace, and her true fate is never learned, but as each boy, or man, reflects on her disappearance, conjectures are made, some based on unconfirmed “Nora sightings” over the years. The enclave which has kept the boys safe for the first part of their lives now has a chink in its armor and everyone is left wondering what happened, how could it have been prevented and who will be next? With an economy of words, none wasted, the family life of each boy as a child and as an adult is revealed, as is the boy’s relationship with Nora. The boys become very protective of the other girls in their life after this incident, but the focus on the story is the boys and how Nora affected them before and after her disappearance. Nora becomes a symbol for what the boys have left behind as they grow into adulthood and for the part of each of us that will stay sixteen forever in our minds.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Just Jennifer

You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (Amy Einhorn Books, January 2011)

In eight short stories, connected through families at Fort Hood, Texas, Siobhan Fallon explores soldiers being deployed, deployed and returning home from deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan and the effects it has on the soldiers and the families they leave behind.  Trying to fit in as a military wife, suspected infidelity, home and at war, cancer, relationships, children and the death of a spouse are all explored with sensitivity and grace, making the reader part of the story, not left feeling as if they were looking in on something.  Fallon doesn’t leave any emotion out:  loneliness, sadness, frustration, anger or despair; she writes with such intimacy that the reader becomes a part of Meg, David Mogeson or Carla’s world for a short time.  Life in the military, especially for civilian wives, is largely unknown to the rest of us.  New fiction author Siobhan Fallon gives us a glimpse into this unknown world and we leave a bit in awe of these men and women.

Just Jennifer

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly (Pamela Dorman Books, January 2011)

Karen Clarke has lived a predictable, if somewhat boring, life until the summer she is twenty. Karen is just finishing up her degree as a multi-language linguist and meets Biba who seems exotic by comparison. Karen becomes totally absorbed with Biba’s seemingly carefree, bohemian lifestyle and allows herself to become immersed in that life which includes Biba’s older brother Rex. Rex and Biba’s casual lifestyle belies the underlying emotions surrounding their parents and lives growing up. Told ten years after the fateful summer, as Rex is being released from jail, the story seamlessly moves between Rex’s reassimilation into Karen, and their nine-year-old daughter’s life, and the summer when events spiraled out of control, ultimately causing Rex to go to jail and Biba to disappear from Karen’s life.  The plot begins quietly, and quickly creeps up; before you realize it, you are totally immersed in Biba and Karen’s worlds. The pacing of the ending is a bit too fast and is over before you know it, but under the circumstances, that it probably all for the best.