The day before Joanna starts seventh grade, two things happen: her mother, Georgia Higgens Hirsch, leaves home to become a world-famous sculptor, and she meets Billy Overmeyer, a beautiful, sensitive boy who will become her best friend and, like her mother, an unattainable love of her life. Joanna, now 32 and a talented actress, recounts these events in a prose that is lyrical yet painfully honest. She remembers her father's sorrow and eventual second marriage to Billy's mother; her alcoholic liaison with Nigel, an aspiring director who leaves on the heels of her first success; and Billy's fatal beating before her eyes in Central Park. Always at the core is Joanna's aching need for her mother, a need that is finally realized when Georgia, who always claimed she needed no one, reaches out to her daughter for healing and love. An absorbing novel of complex relationships and basic needs. Highly recommended. BOMC selection.-- Donna L. Schulman, Cornell Univ. Libs., New York
Shapiro's first novel, "Playing with Fire" , tugged in two directions: fluff and literature. Her second is a strong, cohesive, and firmly dramatic work that entertains both viscerally and cerebrally. It is also one of the few novels that span a life and remain as compelling at the end as they were in the beginning. Joanna Hirsch's childhood, and innocence, is sacrificed to the needs of the people she loves: her artist mother, doctor father, and neighbor Billy. After her dashing, soon-to-be-famous mother flees New Jersey domesticity for a loft in New York City, her father marries Billy's mother. Becoming stepbrother and stepsister is not the true barrier to intimacy between Joanna and Billy: their love is thwarted by Billy's homosexuality. As Joanna grows up and channels her creative drive into acting, she tries to hold on to an increasingly troubled Billy and her overly reclusive mother. Shapiro sees through the veneer of glamour and success. Beauty conceals pain the way the trendiness of New York City conceals its vermin and violence and the accoutrements of adulthood conceal weakness and selfishness. This is a sophisticated and deeply felt story of fugitive love and the crucial instinct for survival and forgiveness.