Book Review

Halsey Street

Halsey Street

Naima Coster

LIttle A, Jan 2018

331 pages, ebook. Hardcover, audiobook, MP3 CD, MP3 Audio

Women’s Lit, Debut Novel


I was provided an ARC of this book by Little A and NetGalley. This is my honest review for which I receive no compensation of any kind.

The cover is very appealing. It caught my eye with its wonderful red house, yellow-lit window and single figure in front. The story is a familiar one of what happens to the child when parents split up and she’s left to live her own life in between. The characters were wonderfully drawn so that you could really see them living their lives. Some you sympathized with and others you didn’t. The pace was the pace of life with events that took their time and events that didn’t, so the tension was sometimes low-key and sometimes screaming in your ears or pounding on the door. This is a debut novel which seems to guarantee that the author will get at least one more chance to sell her work. This was outstanding and I will definitely buy her next book.

And here begins the reveal…

Penelope Grand is living in Pittsburgh when she gets a letter from her father’s neighbor that he has taken a fall and is not doing very well. He’s not taking care of himself and needs help. So Penny moves back to Brooklyn to help her father. But she refuses to move back into the old family home where he lives, in spite of the fact that there is plenty of room. She refuses to go backward in her life, she will only go forwards even in Brooklyn. Does that sound like justification to you? Twisted logic? A very mixed up young woman?

Penny rents a third-floor attic room with the Harpers and takes a job as a substitute art teacher, for which she really is not qualified but she figures she can fake it. What does it take to do art with elementary children? She actually is an artist herself and does quite well with the children. It helps her bring her own art back to life some.

Penny goes to see her father daily and tries to get him to move down to the first floor of the big house, but he is stubborn and is determined to remain up on the second floor where he has always been. She is just as stubborn about not living there. I think if she had been willing to move into the house, he would have been willing to meet her halfway in her demands. But these two stubborn people just couldn’t give in to each other in any way. So the very friendly neighbor lady visits Ralph and feeds him a lot of the time and keeps him company while Penny is busy living her new life in Brooklyn. But Ralph wants Penny to have the house eventually. He’s signed the papers, but they also need the signature of Mirella Grand, Penny’s mother. Mirella left one night when Penny was a child and hasn’t been heard from since as far as Penny knows.

She’s gotten to know her landlords a bit more. Samantha is a lawyer and works long hours in an office in the city. Marcus is an architect and works at home quite a bit. Grace is their little girl who is lonely. They have only recently moved into the house since it was completely renovated for them. Grace hasn’t had enough time to make friends in this area yet. She’s not allowed to play outside since it could be dangerous. But she makes friends with Penny very quickly. They do a lot of talking and Samantha asks Penny to watch Grace from time to time when neither she nor Marcus can be home. It’s good for both Penny and Grace to talk. Penny sees the innocence of Grace and treasures it. Grace is shown a bigger world than the one she has and gets some of her questions about life answered in a realistic way.

Penny gets a postcard from her mother asking her to visit her in the Dominican Republic where she has made her home. At first, Penny doesn’t want to go, but Ralph convinces her that she should. She needs to understand why her mother left and see what sort of life she has made for herself in the DR. So Penny flies to the DR and is met by her mother, who looks wonderful. She’s been living a life that obviously agrees with her. She has bought herself a house and made it a home, which she is very proud to show to Penny. She is ready to try to explain to Penny why she had to leave all those years ago. Why she could no longer live with Ralph. Mirella and Penny spent time getting to know one another again. Mirella tells Penny that her house will be Penny’s when Mirella is dead. Penny has brought the papers for Ralph’s house for Mirella to sign also. Mirella signs the papers. Penny goes back to Brooklyn and her life. Mirella misses her greatly. Ralph has taken a fall and is recovering in a nursing home, so Penny is no longer responsible for him. His doctor, Dr. Elias, tells Penny that Ralph is not taking care of himself and that he will be better off in the nursing home with constant care. Ralph and Penny argue about why he’s not taking care of himself and their fight goes too far. They have both said too much.

Penny returns home to the Harper’s house one night in the snow, which is turning into a blizzard, to find Marcus working in his office with the door open. They’ve gotten to be friends over time. Samantha is spending the night at her office because of the storm. Grace is downstairs in her room all set for the night. Penny tempts Marcus and he has no will. He gives in to her faster than Adam gave in to Eve. They carry on for two days and nights while Samantha is snowed in at the office. The storm has ended and the streets are cleared. Samantha is home from the office and the air is thick with the suspicion of betrayal. Marcus has decided to try one more time with his wife. He cuts Penny cold.

Penny is still very close to Grace. One night Penny comes home to find Grace the only one home. Her parents are both out with the understanding that Penny would be home soon and would see to Grace. Penny is a bit miffed about this. Grace is really bored and she convinces Penny to take her for a walk. They take the A train and walk around part of the city to the Brooklyn Bridge. Penny acts as her tour guide and shows her different places in the city, the place where the World Trade Center had been and other places. They stopped to get tea and watch people being people. When they get home, Samantha is in a tear. She’s ready to terminate Penny’s lease and put her daughter back in her plastic bubble.

Penny finds some relief in talking with Jon, the bartender at the Sheckley, one of the few old businesses still around in the old neighborhood. Jon is also a street artist, and he takes her with him one night to try his brand of art. He had also helped her move her things into the rooms on the bottom floor of the Halsey Street house and repaint the rooms she was using. He listens to what and how she talks about what’s going on. He doesn’t necessarily agree with her point of view on all these things or that what she has done is right. She gets aggravated with him. Then she gets a phone call that has her visiting her father in the nursing home. Mirella has died in an accident. Her ashes are sitting in her house waiting to be taken care of. Ralph responds by getting on a plane with his daughter and flying to the DR. Something he has never done in his life. But this was his wife and this is his duty to attend to. Penny painted a picture for her mother to commemorate her house that she was so proud of and takes it with her to the DR. Penny and Ralph bond through this last service to Mirella and music.

I have left out a major factor in this whole story and that’s the backstory of it. But to go into that would take a whole lot of time. I didn’t want to do that. The backstory, of course, ties things together and explains a lot of things. I have simply told you what happens to this very angry young woman. This is an amazing and emotion prompting story of one young woman’s search for her place in life. She could be any young woman. I strongly recommend reading this book. It will be one that you think about picking up for a reread in time, I believe. This is a debut novel and I look forward to seeing what else this author produces.

Highly recommended.

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