This resulting quiet but satisfying novel about a long, hard summer expands her original raw, exquisite portrait of a girl in crisis into a broader examination of American adolescent anxiety and grief, contextualized by devastating global conflict ... Not every great short story is the seed of a great novel, but Kenny by and large succeeds. This suicide is far from the only tragedy in the book, which even so never veers toward the melodramatic. Instead, Kenny reveals, with a clarity so delicate it is sometimes painful, the human reaction to trauma ... Though Kenny offers little exposition about the era, her austere landscapes and careful attention to color and light evoke the paintings of Andrew Wyeth or Edward Hopper, or the poetry of William Carlos Williams, suffusing the book with a midcentury mood throughout.
Throughout the book, this is always the way Kenny operates: she walks right up to a situation, and forces her characters, and her readers, to live in these uncomfortable moments, to feel their weight. There were times when I cringed for the characters, when I “didn’t look,” wanting to alleviate the pressure, but it is this honesty and this willingness to confront that makes this novel so fresh and successful. The tension never wavers ... For much of the novel, one bad event follows another and, at first, it felt like too much. How much more can this family endure, I kept thinking. When will this girl get a break? But I came to understand that the book is about survival as much as it’s about grief and coming-of-age. What’s particularly wonderful here is how unsentimental this all is. Kenny is not interested in nostalgia, or in describing a world of the past where everything was simpler and, therefore, better. While this is a historical novel, it’s primarily a character study: the characters lie in relief against the backdrop of history.
Based on her award-winning short story of the same name, Kenny’s debut novel is a quiet and moving coming-of-age tale set during WWII ... Kenny artfully weaves Cielle’s story of coming to terms with the fact that though loving people won’t necessarily save them or keep them safe, those relationships are still worth it ... With a light touch, Kenny tells an impactful story of everyday lives in trying circumstances.