Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-day Child Slave by Shyima Hall with Lisa Wysocky; Simon & Schuster, 232 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
This harrowing tale, published in conjunction with National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, is the true story of an Egyptian girl who was sold by her parents into domestic slavery at age 8, brought illegally to the U.S. at 10 and rescued by Child Protective Services in Orange County, Calif., acting on an anonymous tip, at age 12. Hall’s straightforward narrative puts in sharp focus the monsters of her horror story: the parents who sold her, and the captors who forced her to slave 18 hours a day, called her “stupid girl” and refused her proper food, clothing, medical care, schooling. Shyima was born in 1989, the seventh of 11 children of a very poor family. Her parents sold her to a wealthy family supposedly to pay off a debt incurred by an older sister. When Shiyma was 10, the family moved to the U.S. to an exclusive gated community in Irvine, Calif., where she lived in a windowless room over the garage, slaved late into the night and washed her clothes in a bucket outdoors. Her life after rescue was not easy, as she navigated a series of foster homes, struggled to learn to read, ended up in a middle school where she was bullied by gang members and suffered through constant pain which was eventually diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. Her battle for justice is inspiring, as she pursued prosecution of her captors, obtained citizenship and began the steps toward what she hopes will be a career in criminal justice to help other victims of human trafficking.
– Jean Westmoore
Ripper by Isabel Allende; Harper, 496 pages ($28.99)
Chilean author Isabel Allende’s magical realism approach has earned her lyrical novels such as “The House of the Spirits” and “Of Love and Shadows” critical acclaim. But her fails her in her first crime novel. “Ripper” succumbs to an overwrought plot, weak characters and uninteresting details that derail the story.
Ripper is an online community of amateur sleuths around the world united to solve a series of bizarre killings in San Francisco. High school senior Amanda Martin leads the group, assisted by her pharmacist grandfather, Blake Jackson. Amanda is a brilliant student, whose fascination with humanity’s dark side apparently comes from her father, the youngest deputy chief of the San Francisco Police Department’s Homicide Unit. Amanda’s mother, Indiana Jackson, is the exact opposite of her ex-husband. A compassionate holistic healer, Indiana is a free-spirit, empathic to the clients who come to her for massage and aromatherapy. She attracts ardent suitors but is unwilling to settle down either with her longtime wealthy boyfriend or a former Navy SEAL, physically and emotionally injured in battle.
The idea of an online community banding together to try to catch a killer has made for intriguing mystery fiction, going back to Julie Smith’s “New Orleans Beat.” But the members of the Ripper group are too eager for another murder to test their skills, which invalidates the seriousness of the plot.
Allende fills “Ripper” with an overdose of details about her characters, yet the reader never really connects with these characters. The meandering plot’s conclusion is a preposterous letdown.
– Oline H. Cogdill, Orlando Sun Sentinel
Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas; Crown (384 pages, $24)
Koren Zailckas’ fiercely disturbing “Mother, Mother” is, under no circumstances, a book that you should read when you’re feeling depressed, or you’re kind of hating your mom. It is, however, one of the most profound and insightful books I’ve encountered about mother-child relationships when they go devastatingly wrong — as in horrific, mental-illness-inducing wrong.
Zailckas is also the author of two excellent memoirs, 2005’s best-selling “Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood,” in which she recounted nearly killing herself through binge drinking as a teen, and 2010’s “Fury,” a plunge into the nature of anger, both her own and others’.
Her mother comes under considerable criticism in both memoirs; in interviews, Zailckas has said she’s since realized that she understands her mother better now; that, as she said in a 2010 interview with online site smithmag .net: “She just loved me in a way I hadn’t been able to understand. Her upbringing meant she only knew how to express affection in a very limited way.”
One must wonder how that mom-daughter relationship is doing since the publication of Zailckas’ first novel, which is surely one of literary history’s most chilling indictments of bad moms.
—Joy Tipping, The Dallas Morning News