Big Shuffle

The Big Shuffle

by Laura Pedersen

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I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen. There’s nothing wrong with using your own life to create fiction, especially if you’ve lived a juicy life. Ms. Pedersen was the youngest person ever to sit on the American Stock Exchange, and the youngest columnist in the history of The New York Times, then she wrote her memoirs and hosted a show on the Oxygen Network. Then she retired. The End.

Just kidding! Ms Pedersen, who I guess will be an astronaut or maybe a ballerina next, turned to fiction and has just released The Big Shuffle, her third novel about teenage poker ace Hallie Palmer. I hesitate to jump into a series in the middle, but it’s sort of like the way you meet people every day. You have to figure out who they were before you met them, and decide if you want to hang around to find out what happens. (Plus Patty the publicist is really nice and she convinced me.)

We meet Hallie — or at least I did — at a kegger in a frat house (sweet!) where she’s talked into a game of strip poker (oh, Hallie). But remember, Hallie’s a card shark, and she keeps her shirt on. Good thing, because bad news is about to arrive — her dad has suffered a fatal heart attack, and Hallie has to kiss the frat boys goodbye and head home. I didn’t know Hallie’s dad, but he was either patient to a Gandhi degree or worked really long hours, because Hallie has nine brothers and sisters.

Now, when I was growing up, everyone — and I mean everyone — had one, maybe two siblings. Oh, don’t look at me like that; I know the whole world isn’t Long Island. But I found myself terribly distracted by the idea of having that many kids. I felt like a horrible snob, I kept asking, why? Why would you want so many?  The Palmers live in the exotic upper Midwest so the little ones can’t run around in their altogether (as my grandmother used to say) without freezing to death and Hallie is suddenly in charge of feeding, cleaning, laundry (3 loads a day? Why?) and all the details of keeping the family afloat — her older sister is a useless drama queen and her mother Isn’t Taking the News Well. Enter the Church Ladies — something else we didn’t have in abundance on the South Shore. We also meet her wacky neighbors and even wackier relatives. Here I felt like I was coming in the middle of the cocktail party — her wealthy neighbor seems to have a nanny who’s a well trained chimp, and I’m not just saying that to be mean — I think Rocky is supposed to be an actual chimp.

I felt for Hallie — I don’t think I could’ve kept up, much less remembered everyone’s names. Pedersen draws a clear picture of her dislocation and sense of isolation. Her friends at college are going to class and having fun, not getting a small army ready for school. I was exhausted right along with her. (I knew just how she felt, one time I had to fire the maid!)

There was plenty of good stuff in The Big Shuffle. I liked the private war she wages with the school principal; he’s obviously her old arch enemy from the earlier books and this time he can’t try to expel her. I also liked Pedersen’s style very much. The book is full of Hallie’s witty remarks, some of which I wanted to jot down. Even though she’s saddled with responsibilities far beyond her years, Hallie tries to do her best while still occasionally acting like a teenager. Admittedly, it was hard for me to imagine waiting for the bathroom while the 7th Fleet took showers first, but Hallie’s grief over her dad and love for her family, that’s the sort of thing that could happen anywhere.

The Big Shuffle is by Laura Pedersen.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen.

This is the third book in the series about teen card shark Hallie Palmer, but for the most part I kept up with no trouble. This book finds Hallie in college for about three pages, until bad news about her father forces her to drop everything and head home. Home, by the way, is where her nine brothers and sisters live. I’d have headed the other way. Now Hallie must both grieve for her dad and care for this enormous group — she’s still a witty and charming narrator despite her loneliness and dishpan hands. The Big Shuffle has less poker and a more interesting heroine than I was expecting. Even though I came in in the middle, Pedersen really made me care about Hallie, not enough to baby-sit, though. The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen, the third book about teen poker hustler Hallie Palmer.

College student Hallie has just learned of her father’s death; now someone has to care for her 9 siblings.Who has ten kids? That part I found hard to relate to, but that’s on me, not the writer. There are some interesting negotiations with her older brothers and sisters as to who drops college, who stays home, and who simply takes off. The volume of laundry alone made me want to get on a train. But Hallie is a responsible sort and does her best, with the assistance of her friends, neighbors and wacky relatives. The best thing about The Big Shuffle was looking at how the internal politics of a large family evolves when there’s a tragedy. I also have to mention the clever writing — Hallie is a fine narrator. The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen. I’m Kim Alexander on Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen.

I went into this book knowing it was the third in a series, so I found I cared much more about the heroine, card shark Hallie Palmer and her new crises much more than characters that were introduced and developed in the last books. That said, Pedersen does a fine job with Hallie’s narration; she’s clever, but as a teenager, she acts her age. Hallie’s dad has a fatal heart attack practically on page one, and the rest of the book follows the Palmer family as they try and sort out who will care for the 10 of them. Ten kids! To me, that’s much more exotic than space aliens, and tougher to clean up after. The Big Shuffle takes Hallie through a very hard year, and she doesn’t get to play much poker but she certainly does a lot of growing up. The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen. I’m Kim Alexander on Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


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