Four coming-of-age novels set in the states and abroad show that no matter where you're from, it's tough to be a kid.
A Blessed Child
, trans. from the Norwegian by Sarah Death. Knopf
, $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-26547-0
Amid summering tourists on the tiny Swedish island of Hammarsö, a blended multinational family comes together in this arresting and well-observed saga from Ullmann (Grace
). Isak, a professor prone to fits of rage, has a loving second wife in Rosa and three daughters by three different women. The eldest, Erika, 13, and the youngest, Molly, five, are flown to Sweden in the summer by their mothers to spend some time with their brilliant, and infuriating father. Middle girl Laura, Rosa's daughter, welcomes them; together, the girls apprehend terror in Isak's irrepressible fits and, tragically, in Ragnar, a local boy Erika's age who doesn't fit in. The narrative moves back and forth in time, as the three daughters converge 25 years later on Hammarsö to visit their aging father, now mourning the loss of Rosa. In adulthood, each woman possesses a profound inner life haunted by buried childhood memory. While the book's tonal coolness won't be for everyone, the observations of teen life are exceptional, and Ullmann (daughter of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann) successfully mines the traumas of youth for powerful adult emotions. (Aug.)