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The Little Friend    by Donna Tartt order for
Little Friend
by Donna Tartt
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt's second novel, is a compelling and wonderfully told story of a young girl's summer in Alexandria, Louisiana in the 1970s. Harriet's older brother Robin had been found years earlier hanging from a rope in his own backyard. His death, as one would expect, colored Harriet's and her family's life from that day on. One hot, humid day, Harriet and her friend Hely decide to find and punish the person responsible. What ensues is the meat of the book; the potatoes, gravy and vegetables are the engagingly diverse characters involved in Harriet's world.

Harriet is a brash twelve-year old, one who doesn't make friends easily. She batters her way through the summer with a single-minded purpose - to catch and punish Robin's murderer. She reminds me of Scout, in To Kill A Mockingbird - independent, intelligent, and with a fierce will to achieve her goal. Donna Tartt's reminiscences of what hot, drowsy summer days could be for a child roused many sweet memories in me. She captures the essence of the Southern mind set and describes Harriet's surroundings vividly and vibrantly. Harriet's despair at the firing of Ida, her family's long time retainer, and the loss of her beloved Aunt Libby is crushing but recognizable.

This is a beautifully written book, one that quickly engrossed me so that I was sorry to put it down after 555 pages of a well-executed plot. With her well-chosen words, Tartt gives us back our own childhood, with all its heartbreaks, uncertainties, and those all too few moments of soaring joy. Note her description of Harriet's sister Allison's attitude toward sleep. 'Sleep was Allison's refuge; it welcomed her with open arms the moment she lay down. But, now, she lay on her side, open-eyed and untroubled, humming to herself in the darkness; and sleep was a shadowy forgetful distance, a curling like smoke in abandoned attics and a singing like the sea in a pearly shell.'

Just as the reader sinks into the complacency of memories, the action picks up and Harriet is again consumed by her quest to find her brother's murderer. The last pages race toward an ending that leaves the reader gasping. I wonder, will Harriet's name in the literary world be as quickly identified as Scout's?

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