The New York Times Book Review has noted, "Alice Hoffman writes quite wonderfully about the magic in our lives," and now she casts her spell over a Long Island neighborhood filled with dreamers and dreams. In a dazzling series of family portraits, Hoffman evokes the world of the Samuelsons, a family torn apart by tragedy and divorce in a world of bad judgment and fierce attachments, disappointments and devotion.
With rich, pure prose Hoffman charts the progress of Gretel Samuelson from the time she is a young girl already acquainted with betrayal and grief, until she finally leaves home. Gretel's sly, funny, knowing perspective is at the heart of this collection, as she navigates through loyalty and loss with the help of an unforgettable trio of women: her best friend, Jill, her romance-addled cousin Margot, and her mother, Franny, whose spiritual journey affects them all. Told in alternating voices, these stories are funny and lyrical, disturbing and healing, each a lesson in survival, a reminder of the ties of blood, and the power of friendship.
There's an old saying about life, "You have to play with the hand you're dealt." For the Samuelsons and Harringtons of small-town Franconia, New Hampshire, the deck always seems to be stacked against them. After Gretel Samuelson's father moves out and marries a younger woman, her mother Frances goes into a depression and then discovers she has cancer. Gretel, a smart, shrewd teen, becomes passionately involved with hood Sonny Garnet, the town amphetamine dealer, while her younger brother, Jason, turns from Harvard plans to drugs. Jill Harrington's mother also suffers from severe depression, and pregnant Jill quits school before her junior year, marrying Eddie LoPacca, a decent guy, though not the world's brightest. The two girls have been close "local girls" all their lives, just as Frances Samuelson and Margot Molinaro, her recently divorced cousin, have been. In fact, it is Margot who helps Frances rebuild her life by starting a catering business with her, called The Two Widows. Surprisingly, while the events in this novel are the material of classic family tragedies, the tone is rather upbeat, downright funny at times, and attitude is everything. The womenMargot and Frances, Gretel and Jillencourage each other through the hard times of life. This sisterly bond enables them to survive "the hand they've been dealt." On the last page, when Gretel and Jill discover a firefly, Jill says, "Should I kill it?" As it flies away, Gretel says, "It decided to live." "Good for it," says Jill. "Good for us." They, too, have made that conscious decision. In our society of dysfunctional families and personal struggles, this is an important message for YAs to hear. An easy read that shouldcapture the interest of many teen readers. Reviewer: Susan G. Allison; Libn., Lewiston H.S., Lewiston, ME, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)