From Publishers Weekly
A series of upbeat, sentimental fables, the 10 stories of Russell's debut are set in an enchanted version of North America and narrated by articulate, emotionally precocious children from dysfunctional households. Each merges the satirical spirit of George Saunders with the sophisticated whimsy of recent animated Hollywood film. In "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," a motherless girl, "staying in Grandpa Sawtooth's old house until our father, Chief Bigtree, gets back from the Mainland," struggles to understand her big sister's blooming sexuality, which seems to grow scaly and incarnate. Timothy Sparrow and Waldo Swallow Heartland, the two brothers of "Haunting Olivia," search for their sister's ghost near Gannon's Boat Graveyard using a pair of magic swimming goggles. In the title story, the human daughters of werewolves are socialized into polite society. Russell has powers of description and mimicry reminiscent of Jonathan Safron Foer ("My father, the Minotaur, is more obdurate than any man," begins "Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration"), and her macabre fantasies structurally evoke great Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor. If, at 24, Russell hasn't quite found a theme beyond growing up is hard to do (especially if you're a wolf girl), her assorted siblings are rendered with winning flair as they gambol, perilously and charmingly, toward adulthood. (Sept.)
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*Starred Review* Russell's short stories, some of which have been published in the New Yorker
and other journals, have already generated widespread attention, as has her youth: at 24, she's been included in New York
magazine's list of "25 under 25 to Watch." This unusual, haunting collection confirms that the hype is well deserved. Like the individuals in Gina Oschner's stories (People I Wanted to Be,
2005), Russell's characters are caught between overlapping worlds--living and dead, primal and civilized, animal and human--and the adolescent narrators are neither children nor adults. Even the settings, the murky swamps and coasts of the Florida Everglades, reinforce the sense of wild impermanence. In "Haunting Olivia," two brothers spend their nights diving in search of their drowned sister's ghost ("Then what? Do we Genie-in-the-bottle her?" one brother asks). The title story, about the daughters of werewolves who are sent to boarding school to learn human behavior, is unforgettable. Russell writes even the smallest details with audacious, witty precision: an acne-plagued kid's face is a "pituitary horror, a patchwork of runny sores and sebaceous dips." And her scenes deftly balance mythology and the gleeful absurdity of Monty Python with a darker urgency to acknowledge the ancient, the infinite, and the inadequacies of being human: "Marooned in a clumsy body . . . I'm an imposter, an imperfect monster," says a young diver among silvery, streamlined fish. Original and astonishing, joyful and unsettling, these are stories that will stay with readers. Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved