Vanessa V. Friedman
July 23, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

When Jorie’s mother dies, she leaves her three young children and doctor husband to fend for themselves. Their emotional survival is the subject of this lovely, subtle debut novel set in Los Angeles and narrated by the youngest child and only girl, Jorie. Her older brother copes by drinking, smoking, and skipping school; her middle brother bides his time until he can leave home; and Jorie tries to act the way she thinks girls are supposed to act, endearingly if ineffectively. The siblings exist in a sort of limbo, coming and going as they please, never knowing too much about each other, until their father has a heart attack. There isn’t a trace of pop psychology in Anitra Sheen’s Things Unspoken; Jorie and her brothers may be dented characters but they remain whole ones, and as such they are remarkably touching. A-

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