"The book... shows how catastrophic the secret world of grown-ups can truly be on the delicate web that is a family... it shows Fakih as a gifted chronicler of children's helplessness and familial angst." — Kirkus Reviews
"[In] this sharp depiction of a Midwestern girl's coming-of-age... Fakih's vivid depictions of Kimmy's adolescent dilemmas blend nostalgia for the period with a visceral sense of her protagonist's pain." — Publishers Weekly
"This is one of my favorite books of the year. Kimberly Olson Fakih perfectly captures the ways in which children see everything adults wish they would miss, and the intense effects those things, both the good and the bad, have on them as they grow. From the beginning to end, Kimmy is a character that drives home that the adults around her continuously let her and her siblings down, and sometimes with a row of sorrows and a journal of broken things, it is up to the child to stop generational curses and step up to bring the little miseries to the light." — Lydia McCollum, Still North Books, Hanover, NH
"Kimberly Olshan Fakih's Little Miseries is a lively and energetic account of growing up in the Midwest in the last century, in a variegated family assailed by disasters great and small." — Lynne Sharon Schwartz, author of Truthtelling
"Little Miseries, indeed. But first there's joy, wonder and resiliency. Fakih lovingly captures the rapture and mysteries of childhood en route to a loss of innocence that is heartbreaking yet triumphant." — Michael H. Weber, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and co-writer of (500) Days of Summer
Praise for Kimberly Olson Fakih: "Fakih offers a refreshing and often humorous child's-eye view of the world…” — School Library Journal
Praise for High on the Hog: “…Fakih's characters are leading fully examined (and discussed) lives; but though her narrative is leisurely, it holds interest with its unexpected flashes of humor and its engaging evocation of the Heartland and some of its sons and daughters, as well as the tantalizing mystery. A beautifully constructed book, rich in offbeat descriptions and exchanges that leave room for just the kind of serendipitous insights that ‘GS’—who does turn up—extols.” — Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Grandpa Putter & Granny Hoe: “…It's all amusingly recorded in Fakih's briskly lilting narrative and neatly cadenced dialogue. … meanwhile, the grands' bickering makes a comical stand-in for the more bitter conflicts children endure between parents or siblings.” — Kirkus Reviews
Children’s book author Fakih (High on the Hog) makes her adult debut with this sharp depiction of a Midwestern girl’s coming-of-age. Kimmy grows up in late 1960s Iowa surrounded by markers of her family’s former fortune as seed magnates. In a series of vignettes, Kimmy, her parents, and two siblings suffer a litany of bad experiences ranging from the quotidian (her mom forces her into dark clothes to “slenderize” her larger figure) to traumatic (a seemingly friendly man nearly kills all the children during an erratic boat trip). As well, Kimmy suspects her grandfather is sexually abusing her younger sister, but her chain-smoking, short-fused mother dismisses the concern. Fakih’s vivid depictions of Kimmy’s adolescent dilemmas blend nostalgia for the period with a visceral sense of her protagonist’s pain, as Kimmy fixates, without really understanding the details, on the real-life murder of Pamela Powers; longs for her mother to appreciate her; and crushes on a dad whose family she babysits for. Despite the lack of a central arc, each episode ably captures Kimmy’s grappling with her place in the world amid adult secrets. Though readers will find the structure lacking, the depiction of a teen navigating a confusing phase of life rings true. Agent: Mary Krienke, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Jan.)
DEBUT School Library Journal Senior Editor Fakih's coming-of-age debut novel reads like a memoir. Narrated by Kimmie, stuck between sporty older brother Paul and cute baby Nellie, and told in vignettes, it conveys Kimmie's growing awareness that adults aren't infallible and that sex is a thing. Readers witness the bully gym teacher who gets his comeuppance, the snobby grandmother constantly criticizing Kimmie's weight, and the other relatives, friends, and acquaintances who don't always act right. Kimmie is the chronicler of the family's goings-on, constantly aware of the tension that lurks below the surface of their booze and cigarette-filled Mad Men lifestyle: neighbors behaving badly at a birthday party; her father's semi-creepy treatment of a family friend; her mother's unhappiness. She is living through that teenage phase of discovering who she is and separating herself as a person from her family. By the time she comes to grips with who she is and can clearly see the big misery that is happening there, it's too late. VERDICT A heartbreaking and realistic view of childhood that would be a great addition to any library collection. Not just for fiction readers but also for fans of memoirs like Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle and Mary Karr's The Liar's Club.—Marianne Fitzgerald
A young girl growing up in 1960s Iowa learns that grown-ups are rarely what they seem.
The Castle family name once meant greatness—or, rather, a particular sort of Midwest greatness, when their seeds were sold all over Iowa and their name adorned signs and silos everywhere they looked. But the Castle family of the 1960s, as seen through the eyes of the middle child, narrator Kimmy, no longer lives in the big house on the hill that they still drive by every Christmas Eve. Instead, Mr. Castle is a church deacon and a mortgage broker with a scotch- and cigarette-loving wife and three children: plump, bookish Kimmy, older brother Paul, and little Nellie. While the book is labeled a novel, it reads much more like a collection of linked stories or personal essays, its string of vignettes taking place mostly during Kimmy’s tween years. They recount Kimmy’s eyes first opening to the rules and constrictions that govern the lives of the adults around her, from the gym teacher who unleashes his cruelty upon two of Kimmy’s classmates to Kimmy’s cadre of grandparents and extended family in Des Moines. Though many of these figures appear in lower-stakes anecdotes (such as the disappointment Kimmy experiences when family friends skip out on a shared holiday tradition to stay at home with their new color TV), the book’s main throughline shows how catastrophic the secret world of grown-ups can truly be on the delicate web that is a family. Fakih’s book, her first for adults, will appeal to anyone who looks back on their own childhood with a mixture of nostalgia and horror.
Despite the book's unwieldy structure, it shows Fakih as a gifted chronicler of children's helplessness and familial angst.