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Sittenfeld's poignant if generic follow-up to her bestselling debut, Prep, similarly tracks a young woman's coming-of-age, but rather than navigating an elite school's nasty and brutish social system, this time the narrator contends with a dysfunctional family and her own yearnings for love. Fourteen-year-old Hannah Gavener is abruptly shipped off from Philadelphia to live with her aunt in Pittsburgh when her mercurial, vindictive father breaks up his marriage and family, which includes Hannah's older sister, Allison, and their browbeaten mother. Sweet but insecure and passive, Hannah had "been raised... not to be accommodated but to accommodate," an upbringing that hobbles all her subsequent relationships. The novel follows Hannah through her teens and late 20s (from 1991 to 2005), as she searches for romantic fulfillment, navigates friendships (e.g., with her larger-than-life cousin Fig) and alternately tries to reconcile with her father and distance herself from him. But the most influential connection Hannah makes is with her psychiatrist, Dr. Lewin, whom she begins seeing her freshman year at Tufts. Although the novel aspires to be taken seriously and Hannah is a sympathetic protagonist, she remains a textbook case of a young woman who wants "a man who will deny her. A man of her own who isn't hers."
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Sittenfeld's second novel is as sharply written as her first, Prep(2005), which chronicled one girl's experiences at an elite private high school. The heroine of her follow-up novel is Hannah Gavener, who, at age 14, is grappling with her mother's decision to stand up to her controlling father. The storyline follows Hannah through college and afterwards as she tries to find the kind of romance she believes she's looking for. Her glamorous, beautiful cousin, Fig, never seems to have trouble finding guys, and it is one of Fig's on-again, off-again boyfriends, Henry, who captivates Hannah and becomes her ideal. She goes through two boyfriends--one who is smitten with her, and one who isn't able to stay faithful--before deciding to pursue Henry and find out if he really does hold the key to her happiness. As is often the case in life, things don't work out quite according to plan, and the result is a novel that rings completely true. The magic of this coming-of-age tale lies in how it captures a generation of young women's anxiety and confusion about finding love and direction in their lives. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.