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Library Journal Review
Lauren Clay returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to her small, dead-end upstate New York town on Christmas Day. A gifted singer, she had given up a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in order to enlist. Practically a mother to her beloved younger brother since their mother abandoned the family years earlier and with a father incapacitated by depression, Lauren single-handedly supports her small family. Hoffman (So Much Pretty) opens the novel with an ominous prolog that creates a mild sense of dread that lasts until the final chapter, and she tells Lauren's story in glimpses and through multiple viewpoints, which helps build suspense. It takes a long time for the reader to comprehend the true nature of Lauren's emotional instability and the extent of her post-traumatic stress disorder, which is revealed in a trip with her brother that turns into something else. VERDICT Though Hoffman manages to incorporate comic elements, this is a searing, unforgettable, and beautifully written tale about the corrosive effects of war on the psyche, a contemporary version of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried with a female protagonist. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/13.]-Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Hoffman's excellent sophomore effort (after 2012's So Much Pretty) describes the troubled homecoming of U.S. Army Sergeant Lauren Clay to Watertown, N.Y., from a tour of duty in Iraq. Lauren, left as a young girl by her mother to care for her little brother, Danny, and her depressed, bedridden father, is bitter and skeptical of her parents' newfound eagerness to play an active role in her life. Once a promising classical singer, she is now permanently on edge, quick to anger, and plagued by nightmares and hallucinations. Upon her return, Lauren is alarmed to find that 13-year-old Danny has become an Internet junkie, and she decides to take him on a road trip to Canada. There, she plans to look for work with former soldier Daryl Green, a kindred spirit with whom she served. Lauren chucks Danny's phone and subjects him to a crash course in wilderness survival as the two head north. Meanwhile, Lauren's acquaintances become concerned about her unusual behavior, especially after several calls from an Army psychologist. Hoffman fills her tight narrative with an ominous sense of imminent violence. The sunny ending sounds a rare false note in this haunting page-turner, which otherwise rings true in its depiction of a veteran's plight. Agent: Rebecca Friedman, Rebecca Friedman Literary. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In this story about a female soldier returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, Hoffman (So Much Pretty, 2011) does many things well, including her depictions of sibling dynamics, setting (both upstate New York and Iraq), and the working-class mind-set. But what she does best of all is to capture the symptoms and fallout of PTSD. Lauren Clay is an excellent student, but her parents' divorce has wreaked havoc on her father's ability to earn a living and care for his children, so Lauren, ever the responsible one, has taken up the slack. She's the one who makes sure her younger brother has enough to eat and arrives at school on time. When her father receives a foreclosure notice, she decides to enlist in the army for the signing bonus instead of attending college. But what she undergoes in the bloody desert of Iraq changes her forever. She comes home, but everyone who knows her best can sense that she's not quite right. Hoffman describes in visceral prose the disorientation, guilt, and shame of returning war vets. A page-turner that also offers impassioned social critique.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2014 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Hoffman's (So Much Pretty, 2011) latest novel centers on a female soldier who comes home to a reality in which she feels alienated and out of sync. Lauren Clay didn't follow the rest of the cream of her high school graduating class into college; instead, the gifted student with the beautiful, classically trained voice opted for the Army, where she ended up in a war zone, dodging bullets and losing her identity to a case of PTSD. But no one at home wants to acknowledge that the Lauren who has returned to Watertown isn't the same girl who left. While her dad, Jack, and her boyfriend, Shane, puzzle over her changed behavior, Lauren experiences difficulty reintegrating into her old life. Although she loves her younger brother, Danny, more than anything or anyone, she takes him on a hazardous trip to a basin that has become the site of an oil field and seeks out her friend Daryl, another soldier. That trip turns into a race against time as her family tries to find Lauren before the unthinkable happens. For those who like their prose spare and unembellished, beware: Hoffman has nothing in common with the Hemingway school of writing. But she does an admirable job of conveying the confusion and helplessness of a returning warrior with PTSD who is trying to reintegrate into society and finds it makes little sense. And Hoffman has a knack for bringing her characters to life while providing readers with a reason to care about them. But in this instance, Hoffman's talent may not be enough to keep readers focused on a tale that tends to drift and, despite her considerable skill as a writer, sometimes becomes more about the beauty of her words than the story she's trying to tell. Hoffman weaves an intricate plot, but a tendency to overwrite shadows her story, leaving the reader to make a complicated literary journey that, for some, may not be worth the effort.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.