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Circle the Soul Softly    by Davida Wills Hurwin order for
Circle the Soul Softly
by Davida Wills Hurwin
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Katie O'Connor faces a new life in Brentwood, a suburb of Los Angeles, where she lives with Mom, older brother Michael, and stepdad-to-be Robert amongst the rich and famous (very different from their residence in Santa Rosa, where Dad died from cancer a few years ago.) Katie begins tenth year at an exclusive private school, Bentley Evans Prep. Her life should be perfect, but it's not; past secrets are waiting to surface. Nervousness encircles her first day at school. She has a phobia of running into (literally) people and things, like the pile of textbooks she knocks over when standing in line. She smiles through her lack of self-confidence, even if the smile is phony, and she has this sense that a presence follows her ... a Monster, who enters her dreams at night.

Katie is cast as a central character in the school's first play of the year. Invited to her first Brentwood party, her thoughts follow her: 'I wander ... smile at people and say 'Hey,' but the most I get back is a brief nod-almost-smile from a girl in my acting class. My brain dissolves to mush and my new Briefly Confident Self slides into the murk. Stupid Katie takes stage right on cue and finds me a place on a couch'. Michael exhibits stick-up-for-my-sister actions. He is amazed by her stage performance on opening night and presents her with a bouquet of roses. Katie drinks her first beer at an after-the-play cast party at David's house, getting wasted and ill. Mother lays down strict rules as her grades begin to nosedive, but life looks up as David and she become an item. As final exams approach, Katie's thoughts return to her childhood, and someone coming into her room at night - 'I reach slowly for my light and turn it on. He disappears ... For a second or two, I don't recognize my own room; I feel drunk - altered ... Because I know. I don't want to - but I do ... I recognize the Monster.'

Davida Wills Hurwin addresses the passage of time and post-traumatic stress disorder. Suddenly bits and pieces enter the conscious mind, and as painful as they are to face, ignoring or wishing them away eventually takes its toll. This is what Hurwin captures ever so gently and sensitively in Circle the Soul Softly. Though the mood starts off mellow, the reader is in for unexpected electricity, becoming dramatically hooked, spiraling into Katie's life, and having difficulty putting the book aside. With first-person monologue narrative, short-clipped chapters, and meaningful dialog, Hurwin's creation is tender, thought-provoking, and emotionally profound, with an inescapable crescendo.

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