The Solitude

of Prime Numbers


A Novel

Paolo Giordano

Viking: 272 pp.

The pressure we put on children -- to fit in, to be better than we are. The metaphor of prime numbers gives Paolo Giordano's elegant novel its shape. Alice cannot live up to her parents' expectations; Mattia is a twin who feels eternally responsible, and guilty, for his sister, whose brain is "defective." Both are lonely, gifted and antisocial. Mattia is a natural mathematician; Alice a talented photographer. Adolescence is, for both, a big open wound -- until they meet: "Prime numbers are divisible only by 1 and by themselves. They hold their place in the infinite series of natural numbers, squashed, like all numbers, between two others. . . . [A]mong prime numbers, there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes."

The Girl Who

Fell From the Sky

A Novel

Heidi W. Durrow

Algonquin Books: 264 pp.

This little girl, Rachel, has suffered a terrible trauma. Her mother, brother and baby sister have fallen to their death from the roof of their Chicago apartment building. Rachel fell too, but she survived. How did this happen and why? Rachel's Danish mother was white; her father, a sergeant in the Air Force, is black. After the fall, Rachel lives with her strict African American grandmother in Portland, Ore. There, in her new school, she parses out the divisions between black and white and locates herself somewhere in the middle. "Black girls don't seem to like me," she says. "Maybe there is something dangerous about me." Heidi Durrow holds onto the mystery of the fall from the roof until the details hardly matter. What counts is what's left behind.

Bone Fire

A Novel

Mark Spragg

Alfred A. Knopf: 304 pp.

About once in a decade a writer captures the unruly West, wrangles it onto the page somehow and holds it down with just the right words. You can tell the author is infused with it, the air "grainy with pollen and insects and the settling dust," writes Mark Spragg in "Bone Fire," the "sawing of crickets, the gentle exhale of the night winds feeling like an embrace." Characters are fused with the landscape: "Below her the ridgeline rose up sharp-edged, spangling in the sunlight, seeming to beckon as madness is sometimes said to. The bands of muscle in her back and shoulders burned, and her mouth had gone dry." We don't deserve this writing; the space between the words makes us think we've digested it, but we haven't really. Spragg's characters return to Wyoming, to the ranch of 80-year-old Einar Gilkyson. The decisions they make are driven by something more than love. They aren't always right, but at least these people know where home is.

The Boy Who

Loved Tornadoes

Randi Davenport

Algonquin Books: 384 pp.

There are some normal years before Randi Davenport's family is thrown into survival mode -- before her husband starts to display the bizarre, paranoid behavior that she will see echoed in her young son, Chase. No one can tell Randi what is wrong with her son: not the neurologists, psychologists or developmental specialists. His undiagnosable illness paralyzes the family. Bureaucracies, public schools and hospitals offer little help beyond medications. This is the story of Davenport's persistence -- her failures and successes. The feeling of being overwhelmed, socially hung out to dry without help will be familiar to most American mothers except perhaps the very wealthy.

Salter Reynolds is a writer living in Los Angeles.