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The Sharp Time Hardcover – November 8, 2011

4.9 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Hardcover, November 8, 2011
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100 Young Adult Books to Read in a Lifetime
100 Young Adult Books to Read in a Lifetime
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Sandinista’s life is not going as planned. Her mother has just died; she lives alone, terrified in their house; and an abusive teacher has made her flee school. Something different is in order, so Sandinista goes to her favorite vintage shop, the Pale Circus, and takes a job. Now she is living in two worlds. One is work and the not-yet-gentrified neighborhood that also hosts a pawn shop, an erotic bakery, and a monastery, home to jam-making monks. The other is the world of her imagination, where she plots to kill her teacher. Though the central will-she-or-won’t-she question moves the plot, what will hold readers spellbound are the words and images that swirl through the pages. Set in the winter, the story is wrapped in cold: Sandinista’s icy inner dialogue; the frigid feel of a pink gun against her hand; the “sweet lacquered crescendo of glass crashing on snow,” when she throws a granite toad through the teacher’s window. But there is also warmth, especially in the form of the Pale Circus’ other young employee, Bradley, whose own pain allows him to know how to ease Sandinista’s. O’Connell’s references to the beauties and evils of Catholicism add elements in equal parts transcendent and gritty. The book takes place over the course of a week, but there are so many thoughtfully drawn characters and intense emotions that it reads like a small lifetime. Which, for Sandinista, it is. Grades 9-12. --Ilene Cooper


Starred Review, Booklist, January 1, 2012:
“The book takes place over the course of a week, but there are so many thoughtfully drawn characters and intense emotions that it reads like a small lifetime.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, October 3, 2011:
"O’Connell shows exceptional skill in building tension and creating atmosphere."

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2011:
"Palpable grief plus irreverent humor equal one extraordinary debut novel. Sharp storytelling indeed."


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (November 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385740484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385740487
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,738,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Even though this is Ms. O'Connell's debut novel, it doesn't have the feel of a first book. It's too fluid and captivating to be the work of a newcomer. Sandinista Jones will feel like a hilarious best friend whose voice you'll love to have banging around in your head for a couple of days. Even though the book bears a sense of tragedy (18 y.o. Sandinista's single mother recently died) she's so sharply observant and mordantly funny that each page is a literary minefield of jabs and jewels to be savored slowly.

In truth, though, what I loved best about THE SHARP TIME was the schoolyard revenge fantasies Sandinista gives voice to. The novel's tension builds as she plots pay-back on an abusive teacher at her school. Seriously--don't we all wish we could make someone pay for past wrongs?

On a sidenote, it's also a must-read for anyone with Kansas City ties, if you like to see your own stomping grounds represented on the page in all their sinewy seediness. People who came of age in the 80s punk rock scene surrounding Lawrence and Kansas City will also find a lot of personal touchstones to enjoy in THE SHARP TIME, the glory days of Sandinista's late mother.

O'Connell's storytelling is a thing of not only rare beauty, but subtle truth-telling. Lastly, THE SHARP TIME's stark originality will stand out in a current Young Adult book landscape crowded with sameness.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After being injured in an attack by a hysterical algebra teacher, Sandinista Jones realizes, "I am not some child trapped in a subpar day care, I am an eighteen year old adult with my own goddamn getaway car," and slips away from her classroom "as if for a dental appointment." She promptly applies for a job at the Pale Circus, her favorite vintage clothing store. There is nothing, and no one, to stop her. And there's the rub. Her mother, her sole adult guardian, has died in a freak accident, leaving Sandinista to negotiate the world alone.
Sandinista is too open-hearted to remain alone for long. She's "a glammed Rosie the Riveter, off her shift and searching for love: Hello, you big bad world." Her heart becomes "agog with sudden cuckoo bird love" for almost every character she encounters on 38th Street in downtown Kansas City-- the Trappist Monks, the storekeepers, and most especially her co-worker, who is "going retro with his angst." His "vintage Sex Pistols T-shirt, Levi's with a two-inch rolled cuff and black motorcycle boots," pairs prettily with her "wolfish soft pink mohair sweater, plaid pencil skirt, cream tights, chocolate suede T-straps and waist length raspberry fake fur."
Yet even as "the aesthetic of my life has improved about one hundred and five percent," something remains missing. Sandinista returns to her empty house eagerly "expecting the wild siren flash of multiple missed messages: maybe not the police, but at least the principal, the counselor, my Honors English teacher, Ms. Lisa Kaplansky. A friend or two. But no." Could the "big bad world" be truly indifferent to Sandinista's existence?
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Format: Hardcover
"And look at me: My mother gave me a punk-rock name, but my spirit is composed of elevator music: Tra-la-la-la./Don't mind me./I'm a nice girl./I have good manners./I'll not bother you./Tra-la-LA!"

Mary O'Connell's The Sharp Time is a unique, quiet novel that sneaked up on me. I credit Trish Doller with my discovery of The Sharp Time, as she posted about it on her (fabulous, must-follow) Tumblr, and since I adored Trish's book, Something Like Normal, I figured that The Sharp Time was worth the read based on her recommendation.

The Sharp Time begins shortly after ADD-afflicted 18-year-old Sandinista Jones--her free spirit mother named her after the Clash album--has left school following a bizarre conflict with a teacher. Sandinista's mother has recently died in a fluke accident and the incident at school was the last straw. She's lonely and angry and lost, wrestling with violent urges.

She says "so long" to school and gets a job (after a truly bizarre interview) at The Pale Circus, a vintage clothing store run by the eccentric Henry Charbonneau. While working at The Pale Circus, Sandinista becomes friends with Bradley, the other employee of the shop who has secrets of his own, and makes connections with the other neighborhood characters, including a pawn shop owner, erotic candy maker and a monk. These characters combine to create a lively story of a week in the life of a character on the edge.

This urban setting absolutely dazzles with its realism. I'm always on the lookout for fiction set in urban environments, so this was an unexpected treat.
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Format: Hardcover
When you have a name like Sandinista Jones, it doesn't really matter how much you'd love to just blend in and be normal; it probably won't happen. And Sandinista is also saddled with being 18, parentless, and seemingly without any allies. After an incident at school gets out of hand, she decides she can do without high school and gets a job at The Pale Circus, a trendy secondhand clothing boutique.

In the week encompassed in THE SHARP TIME, Sandinista is finally given the time and space to decompress since her mother's death; to process her feelings about Catherine Bennett, a cruel teacher whose bad treatment of Sandinista and others may be related to her own grief; and to create bonds with new friends like Bradley, the other part-time cashier at The Pale Circus, and Erika, the proprietress of an erotic cake store.

Not only can Sandinista not get over what happened at school before she up and left on Monday, she's also trying to figure out exactly what happened. Why did Catherine Bennett treat Alecia, the "slow girl," so badly? How did she not understand that Sandinista's ADD was at least in some way related to the fact that her mother has recently died? And what is Sandinista going to do about it? What can this shiny new pink gun do for her?

THE SHARP TIME is not so sharp. Instead, it's cloudy and a bit confusing, with occasional moments of lucidity, just like Sandinista herself. Sandinista narrates exactly how she's thinking, which means she jumps around from memory to memory, makes impulsive decisions, repeatedly visits the school she thinks she's happy about leaving, and obsesses over the phone calls she should be receiving from adults about her well-being.
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