From the Publisher
null Publishers Weekly
"Prose so taut and full of feeling that it enters the mind as though it were being whispered in the dark" Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
"Episodic, intensely imagined and darkly portentous." Publishers Weekly, Starred
"Brilliantly imagined and infused with a raw spirituality that cuts to the bone." Starred review.
"Thon writes so searingly...that the reader is not compelled to judge, but to understand...the violent lives she depicts." Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"...A richly nuanced portrayal of a community whose relationshipsand historyare fraught with difficult complexities." Publishers Weekly
". . . her most haunting and devastating [novel] to date . . . shattering yet deeply spiritual." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
"The range of emotion Thon has her narrator intuit in other characters' livesand share with usis remarkable." The Los Angeles Times
"A powerful, pitch-perfect novel." Elle
"Sweet Hearts conjures our relentless search to find a kind of personal, imperfect transcendence." The San Francisco Chronicle
"Thon manipulates the pieces of her story like colored gems at the end of a kaleidoscope." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[Thon] has an arresting prose style, confrontational and searching." Newsday
"Thon is an immensely gifted prose stylist and storyteller . . . that homework results in passages of breathtaking authenticity and power." The Washington Post
"Thon's writing is incredible . . . her plots are driving, and what she has added to this one is a contagious empathy." The Oregonian
The fragmented structure and lyrical prose of Sweet Hearts convey a truth: that frontier cruelties still poison our society, just as rivers are tainted by toxic runoff from long-abandoned mines. And if the family pattern she insists on seems stark and fatalistic at times, the range of emotion Thon has her intuit in other characters' livesand share with usis remarkable.
Los Angeles Times
The San Francisco Chronicle
Sweet Hearts conjures our relentless search to find a kind of personal, imperfect transcendence.
The Los Angeles Times
The range of emotion Thon has her narrator intuit in other characters' lives and share with us is remarkable.
Thon is an immensely gifted prose stylist and storyteller . . . that homework results in passages of breathtaking authenticity and power.
San Francisco Chronicle
Sweet Hearts conjures our relentless search to find a kind of personal, imperfect transcendence.
[Thon] has an arresting prose style, confrontational and searching.
Thon writes so searingly...that the reader is not compelled to judge, but to understand...the violent lives she depicts.
A powerful, pitch-perfect novel.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Thon manipulates the pieces of her story like colored gems at the end of a kaleidoscope.
Thon's writing is incredible . . . her plots are driving, and what she has added to this one is a contagious empathy.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
How hard and how long will we persist in the often hopeless quest to save the "starved nestlings" among usDneglected children? In her latest novel, Thon poses this question via the story of two delinquent children on the lam. Just turned 16, Flint Zimmer, who was conceived during, has just been released from a five-year term in a Montana reform school after a history of juvenile offenses, including setting fire to an expensive boat when he was eight and housebreaking when he was 11. On a day that brings "bad weather and bad luck," he hitchhikes across the state to the house where Frances, his mother, lives, hiding there for 11 days in the cold mud under the porch. When he finally slips inside, his heavy-drinking mother allows him to spend only one night. Flint persuades his 10-year-old sister, Cecile, to join him; the two children assault and rob the kindly local pediatrician and hit the road. The frightening yet heartbreaking story of their flight is "told" by their mother's unmarried sister, Marie, a "deaf girl" who refuses to speak aloud but addresses herself mentally to Frances. Marie's narration is multifaceted, including a history of six generations of "motherless girls," a meditation on the nature of language and memory, an angry dirge for the passing of the Crow language and culture (now a persistent but faint strain in this "mixed blood" family) and an expos of prison conditions. Episodic, intensely imagined and darkly portentous, the novel's suspense accrues to the ultraliterary drumbeat of metaphor. Evincing the psychological acuity demonstrated in the author's earlier Iona Moon and the stories of Girls in the Grass, it benefits from Thon's skillful use of nontraditional narrative devices, haunting evocation of Native American history and legend, and mystical vision of the power of forgiveness and love. Agent, Irene Skolnick. Author tour. (Jan. 14) Forecast: Thon was selected one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. The lyrical intensity and intricate play of voices in this novel may make it a word-of-mouth favorite among discriminating readers. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Fans of Louise Erdrich's The Bingo Palace (Perennial, 1998) will take to Thon's world quickly. Flint Zimmer, 16, freshly broken out of a Montana juvenile-detention facility, goes to his mother's home long enough to collect his 10-year-old half-sister before the two resume the delinquent activities in which they engaged eight years earlier. Children of an often drunk woman who has enough Native American blood to be enrolled in a tribe, Flint and Cecile live in a world haunted by the bleak metaphorical history revisited in flashbacks to the deaths of Sitting Bull and Custer. Brief chapters trace the youths' crime spree, interspersed with equally brief sections that form a catechism of failed relationships between peoples and between persons. There is nothing noble in the present, except, perhaps, Cecile's long-gone father and her new stepfather. Thon's tone, however, claims a kind of dignity for Flint and Cecile, even in their most devastating and deadly forays. This book invites discussion and could prove suitable as a read-aloud with reluctant teen readers.- Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
1 G h o s t B r o t h e r
I am the daughter of a drowned woman.
I have stories to tell but do not speak.
Who will trust me?
When I’m afraid of what I see, I pretend it’s a play. The dead will rise for applause. We’ll all go home. I promise.
First there’s the girl, Cecile Vaughn, ten years old.
She stands barefoot in the muddy yard.
Montana in March, the earth just thawed.
Why is she the only one to know Flint’s home?
Ghost brother, she smells him in her stepfather Dexter’s truckwet fur, rags, bloodsomething the dog might dig up.
These are my sister’s children.
The missing boy brings bad weather and bad luck. Rain turns to sleet, then snow; his mother Frances singes her hair; Dexter passes out by the porch and wakes five hours later, left leg so numb and cold he thinks he’s paralyzed himself.
Chained to a tree, the dog howls and howls.
Flint leaves his mark on Cecile’s bedroom window, smears on the panefingers, nose, open moutha map of his body on the glass shroud. From inside, Cecile measures him against herself.
No ladder, no trellishow did he climb to the second floor?
At dawn, bare trees burst with squawking crows.
Dexter loads his .22, hates the birds, wants some damn peace in his own house.
But crows watch us through our windows, see us loading guns and setting traps, lacing bait with poison. Any farmer knows this. You have to be smarter than a crow to kill one.
Dexter Bell is no farmer. He owns a tow truck and a snowplow, lives by other people’s troubles.
By the time he gets outside, the crows have vanished.
Dusk. Clouds break. Wind rocks the pines and pink sky glows between branches. In the woods, coyotes cry while hundreds of boys try to slip their own shadows, all of them hungry and lost, like Cecile’s brother.
Under the porch Cecile finds the rolled-up rug where one boy has been sleeping. She leaves him a jar of milk and a box of chocolate raisins.
All week, that rain.
The yard becomes a shallow lake and keeps spreading. Beneath the porch, the ground turns spongy.
Even the invisible boy can’t sleep. He sinks. Cold mud seeps inside his scrap of carpet.
If the weather had been warm and dry, would he have stayed outside forever?
The little girl forgets to ask him.
The eleventh day, early morning.
A shivering child taps lightly at the kitchen window.
Dexter grabs his rifle, opens the back door, blocks the entry with his body.
But the boy is quick.
Fast as breath, he’s in the house.
He’s with them.
His mother giggles, inching backward. He’s small for his age, but harder than Frances remembers. Dark-skinned or only dirty? There they are again, two brothers in a field, fingers sticky from cotton candy. They follow Flint everywhere. Their shadows can’t be cut and peeled; one of them must be his father. He’s grown from child to little man, skinny in that way that shows every vein and tendon. He could be either one of those boys from long ago. One summer night Frances Zimmer ditched her deaf sister and twirled in a mad teacup. The Kotecki brothers paid for all her rides at the carnival. Ponies skewered on poles rose and fell while the carousel played its bright tune over and over. Those boys left fingerprints and the smell of sugar on her thighs and throat and stomach.
Flint, she says; and Dexter says, No wonder. He means his bad luck, the numb leg, snow that melted too fast for him to plow it. He says, Feed him, give him twenty bucksif he’s gone when I get back, I’ll pretend I never saw him.
Outside, Dexter fires three shots at empty branches, then unchains Dixie to take her with him. Dixie: half mutt, half boxer, sixty-two pounds and dumb as a rock but absolutely faithful. My girl, that’s what Dexter calls her.
Cecile crouches in the hallway. When her brother was a ghost, she liked him better. Now he’s flesh and mud. Just like Dexter. And the two men before Dexter. Just like Grandpa. And Cecile’s father, who always smelled of blood and was blood-spattered. A butcher, he couldn’t help it, but all the same, that’s why Frances left him. The blood, she said, I couldn’t stand it. Caleb Vaughn wanted his young wife to work in the shop beside him. But no, she’d rather go back to her own father, Lowell Zimmer, live cramped in one of his motel rooms with Cecile and Flint; she’d rather scrub floors and scour toilets than stay with Caleb.
Did Cecile’s father beg? The child can’t remember.
And Cecile doesn’t remember Daddy’s hand under her back, Daddy teaching her to float in the bathtub, Daddy singing hush, little baby in her dark bedroom.
All this she forgets on purpose. She remembers instead his stained apron, the marks of his handds where he’d wiped them, all the good reasons Mother had to leave him.
Cecile can visit her father any day she chooses. Can ride her bike to town, a gravel road Creston to Kalispell, nine miles. Cecile VVVVVaughn can walk past Caleb’s shop and see Daddy through the window. Sometimes she does this when she’s supposed to be at school. When the man looks up, does he know her? She watches Caleb’s new wife hack through bone with a cleaver. This wife doesn’t mind slabs of beef hanging in a cold locker. They have three daughters, plump girls, soon to be good workers. Not like Cecile, Caleb’s first mistake, skittery child born of a delicate mother. Look at her wrists, Caleb. If his mother had been alive when he’d made his choice, she would have warned him.
Free or runaway? Frances doesn’t need to ask Flint this question. Superintendent Beckett phoned last week. Most of them come home, he said. When he does, you call us.
He’s hitched six hundred and twelve miles across Montana, a jagged route to find them. He keeps the map in his head, can name every town where he wasn’t arrested: Rosebud, Sumatra, Slaytonthe beginning of his journey. He’s slept in barns and unlocked cars. Wolf Creek, Choteau. Once he walked all night to keep from freezing.
Frances says, You must be hungry.
She fries eggs and pork chops, gives him toast and jam, then coffee. He tries to eat it all, but can’tswallowing is work; his stomach’s shrunken. He smokes. That’s easy. Frances lights her own cigarette from the flame of the gas stove, and he says, You shouldn’t do that. He knows. The day her hair caught fire, he was a crow yammering at the window. He beat his wings against the pane, but couldn’t help her. She spun and flailed. Mother, burning. That night he turned all boy again, arms and legs, no wings to lift him. He climbed the maple high enough to see his mother naked in her bedroom. He watched her lips move; he read her body. So he knows this too: she’s pregnant, breasts and belly rounded, hipbones fading, not that far along really, but too late to end it. Dexter’s forbidden her to drink or smoke, has named his boy Jake, Jacob, a good name, from the Bible. His dead father’s name, and his father’s before him. A name too good for Dexter or his brother Gerry. When Frances said the baby might be a girl, Dexter looked befuddled. No, he said, you have one of those already.
Frances tells Flint she can spare a hundred dollars; and Flint says, How far do you think that will get me?
He means he’s tired. He wants to eat every day, stretch his stomach, take a bath, sleep under blankets. Like a person.
When he says this, his voice is high, the voice Cecile remembers. He’s her brother, and she comes into the kitchen. He stares. She’s too big; that’s what he’s thinking. It’s me, she says, really.
Copyright © 2000 by Melanie Rae Thon. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.