September 2010, The Last Child, by John Hart, and Summer Shift, by Lynne Kiele Bonasia
Summer Shift: A Novel
by Lynne Kiele Bonasia
As with her first novel, Some Assembly Required (2008), Bonasia has set Summer Shift on her home turf of Cape Cod. The story centers on Mary Hopkins, the owner of a local clam bar, who is still laden with feelings of guilt surrounding her husband’s death in a car accident more than a decade past. Over the course of a single summer, events combine to draw Mary out among the living again, including a second chance at love. Bonasia is not a particularly suspenseful writer—few revelations or the ultimate outcome will surprise the reader—and she juggles one too many subplots. Yet she has a gift for vivid and inventive descriptions and a clear affection for and understanding of her characters, who come across as flesh-and-blood individuals as opposed to typical small-town eccentrics. It’s impossible not to root for Mary, particularly as she copes with a beloved great-aunt’s onset of Alzheimer’s, which Bonasia handles with tenderness and poignancy. --Patty Wetli
The Last Child
by John Hart
From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Art Taylor A year and a day have passed since the abduction of 12-year-old Alyssa Merrimon, and her twin brother, Johnny, has never felt more alone. His father abandoned the family soon after the disappearance, and his mother has all but vanished into a haze of drinking, drugs and abusive s*x. The police detective who investigated the case hovers over the remnants of the family like a watchful angel, but his attentions are unwelcome; he hasn't found the girl. In fact, Johnny's only true friend is his frail young classmate Jack, and even he wavers between supporting Johnny's faith that Alyssa's alive and knowing that she's gone forever. But then a clue falls from the sky -- literally: A biker hit by a car and thrown from a bridge lands almost at Johnny's feet. "I found her," he says in his dying words. "The girl that was taken." John Hart's third novel covers only a few days in the life of a North Carolina town, but the minutes all seem breathless. Every few chapters bring new twists and startling revelations: another girl's disappearance, bodies and then more bodies, a surprising series of connections that casts new light on everything that's come before and throws darkening shadows over what's ahead. The young boy at the story's center is a magnificent creation, Huck Finn channeled through "Lord of the Flies," and as a detective in his own right he proves as driven and passionate as any mystery fan could hope for. Along the way, the author returns to the central themes of his first two novels -- class divisions and the bonds of family -- but with a broader scope, delving with grace and empathy into the inner lives of characters across a wide spectrum: policemen balancing the personal and the professional, an escaped convict who hears the voice of God, troubled children growing up too fast, parents undone by grief. And where those earlier novels -- even his Edgar Award-winning "Down River" -- seemed mired in frequent melodrama, this new book strips away the more overt sentimentality and proves all the more poignant and heartbreaking. Hart is still far too young for "The Last Child" to be called a crowning achievement, but the novel's ambition, emotional breadth and maturity make it an early masterpiece in a career that continues to promise great things. Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.