Sorrow Floats

For the heroine of this coming-of-age novel, surviving the prom is the easy part

At the beginning of Nellie Hermann's novel The Cure for Grief (Scribner; 272 pages), the heroine, Ruby Bronstein, has three brothers and two parents. Ten years later, her family has been effectively halved, its members picked off by illness and death. The question at the heart of this story is simple: How does a girl manage to grow up while fighting the gravitational pull of a Shakespearean succession of tragedies?

Hermann tells Ruby's story in a cluster of episodes that set her family's misfortunes in the context of classic adolescent moments--a summer at camp, the junior prom. There is the Ruby...

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