Halpin, Brendan 1968–
Halpin, Brendan 1968–
Born 1968, in Cincinnati, OH; married Kirsten Shanks (deceased); married Suzanne Demarco; children: (first marriage) Rowen (daughter); (second marriage) Casey (son), Kylie (daughter). Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., 1990; Tufts University, M.A., 1993; attended University of Edinburgh, 1998-99. Hobbies and other interests: Playing guitar, vegetarian cooking, music, Muppets, fudge, public education, Harry Potter, reading.
Writer, novelist, memoirist, and educator. High school English teacher in Boston, MA, for ten years; writer.
It Takes a Worried Man (memoir), Villard (New York, NY), 2002.
Losing My Faculties: A Teacher's Story, Villard (New York, NY), 2003.
Donorboy (novel), Villard (New York, NY), 2004.
Long Way Back (novel), Villard (New York, NY), 2006.
How Ya Like Me Now, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.
Dear Catastrophe Waitress (novel), Villard (New York, NY), 2007.
Brendan Halpin's first book, It Takes a Worried Man, tells of his late wife, Kirsten Shanks, who was thirty-two when she was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer that had metastasized to her spine. Halpin kept a journal about their shared struggle in coping with the disease. The title is taken from lyrics by the country group the Carter Family. "His prose is breezy, his attitudes hip, but he vividly describes real anguish and fears," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Halpin writes of Kirsten's chemotherapy, his difficult relations with his mother and Kirsten's parents, a medical establishment he perceives as being indifferent, and his parenting of his and Kristen's young daughter, Rowen. Although his own faith falters, Halpin acknowledges the kindness of the congregation of their Unitarian church. Angela Culbertson reviewed the journal-turned-memoir for City Beat online, calling it "mostly upbeat and funny, but never fake. Of course there are moments where Halpin admits to bouts of tears—but, make no mistake, It Takes a Worried Man is definitively bitter-sweet."
Halpin was teaching high school English in Boston at the time of his wife's illness, and in his second memoir, Losing My Faculties: A Teacher's Story, he describes how he went from job to job in urban schools while he tried to find a position in the city's public school system. There he felt he could influence children who had greater needs. He writes of his frustration at being unable to control a roomful of rowdy students and of academically challenged students who amazed him with their interpretation of poetry. He eventually taught at a charter school but was frustrated by the inappropriately rigid administration and bureaucracy. A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded of Losing My Faculties that "this chronicle provides an irreverent yet earnest look at the vocation its author clearly loves."
After ten years of teaching, Halpin became a full-time writer. His fiction debut, Donorboy, is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl and her first meeting with her father. After Rosalind's two moms are killed in an accident, her sperm-donor father, Sean Cassidy, tries to take over. Sean tells Rosalind about how and why she was conceived and about himself through e-mails. The story unfolds through Roz's diary entries, as well as e-mails and text messages to their friends as well as each other. Their mutual loneliness becomes apparent, as well as Roz's confusion over her sexual identity and grief for the lesbian couple who raised her. Eventually, as father and daughter continue to communicate, they become closer. Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman commented that Donorboy "presents contemporary voices that are funny, tender, defiant, and immediate."
Francis Kelly loses his oncologist wife, Lourdes, in Long Way Back, a novel described by a Kirkus Reviews critic as "boy meets God, boy gets girl, boy loses girl and God, all to a soundtrack by Dee Dee Ramone." Fran's story is told by his sister Clare, who describes their childhood and his religious experience, which eventually leads Frances to be a youth-group leader for their diocese. After brother and sister finish college and are on their own, their parents, devout Catholics, move to South America to do missionary work. Clare, who becomes a nurse, marries, and has children; she speculates as to whether Francis should have entered the priesthood, but he marries Lourdes, then loses her. His faith is then shaken when the cardinal for whom he works becomes involved in a pedophilia scandal. Francis retreats into the punk rock music of his youth, joins a gay band, and gets a tattoo. Clare, who has been the glue holding the family together even as she faces problems in her own life, continues to support her little brother. In a Booklist review, Joanne Wilkinson commented on "Halpin's skill for mixing the sacred with the profane."
In How Ya Like Me Now, young Eddie has suffered tragedy as his father dies and his alcoholic mother enters a residential treatment program. Eddie's aunt and uncle take him in, and he lives with them and his cousin, Alex, in Boston. Eddie is allowed to attend the same charter school as Alex, and within this supportive, creative atmosphere, the boy thrives academically, socially, and personally. As the story progresses, he and his cousin become the closest of friends, and Alex's gregariousness and Eddie's studiousness counterpoint each other to both boys' benefit. When Eddie's mother is released from her treatment program, however, his newfound life of success and contentment is about to crumble, as his mother wants to take him back home and start over again. "Halpin does an excellent job of baring Eddie's emotions and his inner conflict about his mom," observed Anthony C. Doyle in School Library Journal. "This short novel about a suburban boy fitting into an inner-city charter school has charm and humor," commented Kliatt reviewer Claire Rosser. A Kirkus Reviews contributor named How Ya Like Me Now an "interesting exploration of serious issues, presented in a lighthearted tone."
Dear Catastrophe Waitress is a "funny and unlikely story about mending broken hearts," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The story concerns Philippa Strange and Mark Norris. A punk-rock princess just graduated from high school, Philippa divides her time between Cincinnati, where she lives with her alcoholic mother, and London, where she cohabitates with her rock-n-roll boyfriend. After Philippa cheats one time too many, her boyfriend immortalizes her lack of faithfulness in a song that becomes a hit, making the young woman an unlikely celebrity. Mark, recently graduated from college, has a similar experience when his ex-girlfriend also has a hit with a song, "Two-Minute Man," that explores his sexual malfunctions. As Mark pursues his career as an elementary school teacher, he also wends his way in and out of emotionally harrowing relationships. Elsewhere, the now-pregnant Philippa changes her name and takes up permanent residence in the United States in an attempt to evade an abusive boyfriend. Halpin "writes sweetly about young men and women trying to carve out a decent life in contemporary times," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic. Joanne Wilkinson, writing in Booklist, called Halpin "an insightful observer of contemporary relationships," and named Dear Catastrophe Waitress a "funny and touching, if somewhat predictable, tribute to the brokenhearted."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Halpin, Brendan, It Takes a Worried Man (memoir), Villard Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Halpin, Brendan, Losing My Faculties: A Teacher's Story, Villard Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Book, September-October, 2003, Steve Wilson, review of Losing My Faculties, p. 87.
Booklist, January 1, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of It Takes a Worried Man, p. 782; September 1, 2003, Terry Glover, review of Losing My Faculties, p. 29; July, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Donorboy, p. 1817; November 1, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Long Way Back, p. 24; January 1, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, p. 54.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of It Takes a Worried Man, p. 29; June 15, 2003, review of Losing My Faculties, p. 845; July 1, 2004, review of Donorboy, p. 596; November 1, 2005, review of Long Way Back, p. 1158; December 1, 2006, review of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, p. 1189; April 15, 2007, review of How Ya Like Me Now.
Kliatt, May 1, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of How Ya Like Me Now, p. 12.
Library Journal, January, 2002, Bette-Lee Fox, review of It Takes a Worried Man, p. 141; August, 2003, Leroy Hommerding, review of Losing My Faculties, p. 98.
Publishers Weekly, December 17, 2001, review of It Takes a Worried Man, p. 71; June 23, 2003, review of Losing My Faculties, p. 56; August 9, 2004, review of Donorboy, p. 233; October 3, 2005, review of Long Way Back, p. 47; November 27, 2006, review of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, p. 29.
School Library Journal, July 1, 2007, Anthony C. Doyle, review of How Ya Like Me Now, p. 103.
BBC News Web site,http://news.bbc.co.uk/ (July 11, 2002), "Breast Cancer: A Husband's Tale," review of It Takes a Worried Man.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 28, 2006), Shannon Bloomstran, review of It Takes a Worried Man.
Brendan Halpin Home Page,http://www.brendanhalpin.com (August 27, 2007).
Brendan Halpin Web log,http://brendanhalpin.typepad.com/ (August 27, 2007).
City Beat,http://www.citybeat.com/ (August 27, 2007), Angela Culbertson, review of It Takes a Worried Man.