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Brinkman's debut is an astonishing first-person narrative that reveals a family struggling to regain its footing after the sudden death of its matriarch. The tragedy blooms slowly through the eyes of a precocious narrator, nine-year-old Sebby Lane. An unusual and sensitive child, Sebby knows more of what is swirling around him than the adults in his life are willing to admit. Challenged by an autistic-like condition, he is able to render -- in the simplest of terms -- the complexities of emotion that stymie the adults around him. As his father retreats into self-imposed exile at the family's summerhouse and his older siblings break away from the family, Sebby is left alone to fathom his grief and navigate his way back to the world of the whole.
Up High in the Trees is not a novel that proceeds with a linear progression, but this is one of its strengths. Rather, it is like the journey of a fallen leaf that becomes caught in the current of a powerful river: tossed and turned by troubled waters, sometimes becalmed in a rare eddy of solitude, but always in danger of submersion. Like a floating leaf, Sebby's natural buoyancy is a flare of hope for an end to his journey of grief, and a new beginning.
(Fall 2007 Selection)
No one could blame you for turning away from Kiara Brinkman's haunting first novel. The muffled pain of Up High in the Trees will trigger your reflex for emotional protection but, if you can bear it, the treasures here are exquisite. I can't remember when I ever felt so torn between recoiling from a story and wishing I could somehow cross into its pages and comfort a character.
The Washington Post
The Asperger's afflicted narrator of Brinkman's sincere, sober debut struggles to cope with his pregnant mother's recent death after she was hit by a car. Already keenly sensitive to emotional and sensory stimuli, Sebby Lane finds his mother's loss almost unbearable; he acts out at school, biting a girl on the shoulder. Sebby's father, Stephen, is nearly unable to function, and, in an attempt to help both Sebby and himself, takes Sebby to the family summer home, hoping that a change of scenery will ease their mourning. Once there, however, Stephen slips ever deeper into his misery. Sebby, however, reaches out, writing letters to his teacher and befriending two unpleasant neighbor children. Though the narrative direction is muzzy and the conclusion is saccharine with forced uplift, the cast is portrayed with keen sympathy and sensitivity-no easy task with a young, on-the-spectrum narrator. Told in brief poetic vignettes, the novel moves quickly and episodically, like a series of snapshots from the camera of Sebby's unique mind. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
A nine-year-old tries to cope with his mother's death. Sebby Lane and his mother shared tendencies that made their family both love and worry about them. Sensitive, impulsive and sometimes shut down, the two understood each other without language or even thought. When Sebby was a toddler, his mother would wake him in the dead of night, strap him into his stroller and take him for a run. Sebby loved the sound of her bare feet slapping against the road. She occasionally ran naked, her skin alabaster in the moonlight. Now she is dead-hit by a car during a solo late-night run-and everyone in the family-Sebby's professor father, sister Cass, a high-school senior, and brother Leo, a sophomore-is emotionally derailed. Cass takes on the responsibility of running the household, since their increasingly remote father lets everything slide. Leo spends more time in the library. And Sebby, who narrates, barely holds on. School, which was never easy for Sebby, becomes unbearable. His father decides to take Sebby away to their summer house, even though it's November, leaving Cass and Leo behind to fend for themselves. In their isolation, the father and son sleepwalk through their days and nights in a stunned pantomime of a life. Sometimes the father finds Sebby hiding underneath the kitchen table. Another time Sebby finds his father underneath his bed. Who can save whom becomes the urgent through-line of this spare, elegiac novel. According to publicity materials, the author intended to sympathetically showcase Asperger's Syndrome, but since readers only meet Sebby after his mother dies-and since all the other family members grieve in their own idiosyncratic ways-that aspect of the novel pales. Whatdoes come through strong and clear, however, is the author's impressive ability to connect with and portray the myopic grief of a bereft child. A promising debut. Agent: Alice Tasman/Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency