From Publishers Weekly
Sittenfeld's poignant if generic follow-up to her bestselling debut, Prep
, similarly tracks a young woman's coming-of-age, but rather than navigating an elite school's nasty and brutish social system, this time the narrator contends with a dysfunctional family and her own yearnings for love. Fourteen-year-old Hannah Gavener is abruptly shipped off from Philadelphia to live with her aunt in Pittsburgh when her mercurial, vindictive father breaks up his marriage and family, which includes Hannah's older sister, Allison, and their browbeaten mother. Sweet but insecure and passive, Hannah had "been raised... not to be accommodated but to accommodate," an upbringing that hobbles all her subsequent relationships. The novel follows Hannah through her teens and late 20s (from 1991 to 2005), as she searches for romantic fulfillment, navigates friendships (e.g., with her larger-than-life cousin Fig) and alternately tries to reconcile with her father and distance herself from him. But the most influential connection Hannah makes is with her psychiatrist, Dr. Lewin, whom she begins seeing her freshman year at Tufts. Although the novel aspires to be taken seriously and Hannah is a sympathetic protagonist, she remains a textbook case of a young woman who wants "a man who will deny her. A man of her own who isn't hers."
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Sittenfeld's second novel features a heroine, Hannah, much like the one in her widely praised début, "Prep": an outsider who casts a critical eye on her peers. Here, though, the class cues that pervaded the boarding-school milieu of "Prep" are largely absent, as Hannah's turbulent relationships with men mark her navigation into adult life and she wittily dissects the ways in which those around her entice and discourage the opposite sex. Sittenfeld has a brisk narrative style and a rare ability to turn nearly alienating flaws into vulnerability, but her central characters, despite their acute observations of others, have no introspective faculty at all. The final chapter, written as a letter from Hannah to her former psychiatristand perhaps intended to temper the conventional happy ending that would place this novel squarely in the "chick lit" categoryis disastrously clunky.
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