(reviewed by Kam Aures JAN 25, 2004)
Nine-year-old Hannah Kierson, her mother Elaine and Hannah's five-year-old sister Daisy have been on the road for three years, "moving from town to town in a flight from tragedy ever since Hannah had discovered her father dead in his study." They have moved eleven times since that horrible day her father committed suicide. Each time they arrive in a new town, her mother finds a cheap motel room, which becomes their new home, and finds employment as a cook in a nearby restaurant. After about three months, she packs their belongings and they move on to the next place and start over again.
In May of 1983, they move to California and into the Sunset Terrace apartment building. Sunset Terrace is a rent-controlled complex consisting of six apartments and is "governed by single mothers." Shortly after they move in, Hannah befriends another Sunset Terrace resident, nine-year-old Bridget. Bridget, abandoned as a baby in a grocery store parking lot and since shuffled from home to home, lives with her foster mother Joan. Bridget is a foul-mouthed and troubled girl. She quickly teaches Hannah how to steal, climb fences, and play tricks on their neighbors.
Tanya, one of the mothers in the building, had warned Elaine about Bridget and her neglectful foster mother Joan. But to Elaine, "Bridget sounded like a poor lost child." Elaine quickly takes Bridget under her wing. On weekends, Joan goes to Culver City to visit her boyfriend and leaves Bridget alone with her older brother. On one of these nights, Bridget shows up on Elaine's doorstep and asks if she could spend the night. Pretty soon, Elaine is encouraging Bridget to come over for frequent dinners and sleepovers in an attempt to help this wayward child. She is blind to the "dangerous influence that Bridget is having on Hannah." At the same time, Elaine starts dating a man named Sam whom she met at one of Tanya's "Parents Without Partners" meetings. Elaine and Sam become very close which further makes her blind to Bridget's influences.
Hannah thinks that Bridget is her best friend, until the day that Bridget runs away from home. As she talks to the other children in the complex, particularly Sandi and Sue-Sue, she realizes that Bridget had told them where she had gone but had not told her. Hannah is hurt and confused because Bridget had always talked bad about Sandi and Sue-Sue. She can't understand why she was not told the secret also. However, once Bridget is found, Hannah and her quickly go back to being the friends that they were before which ultimately leads to a path of destruction and "a malicious game that irrevocably alters the course of all of their lives."
Rebecca Donner's expertly written debut novel is a gripping and page-turning book. Her writing encompasses a wide range of emotions including compassion, pain and happiness and the character description and development is remarkable and complex. The reader learns about each and every resident of the Sunset Terrace apartment building, which provides for a very well rounded story line. Donner's character and setting descriptions are so detailed that the reader is able to vividly picture the building, the grounds and all of the characters in the novel.
The book is fast moving and intriguing all of the way until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this unique novel and feel that Rebecca Donner will be a contemporary fiction author to watch in the future.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Sunset Terrace (May 2003)
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- Small Spiral Notebook interview with Rebecca Donner
- Beatrice Interview with Rebecca Donner
- Curled Up review of Sunset Terrace
- Small Spiral Notebook review of Sunset Terrace
- Bookslut review of Sunset Terrace
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About the Author:
Rebecca Donner was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and received degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University. She was the literary director of the Sunday Night Fiction Series at New York City's KGB Bar from 1998 to 2002, and is the editor of On The Rocks: The KGB Bar Fiction Anthology.