Smart, shrewdly observed, and highly readable.


Prep school isn’t what it used to be, as Ben Weeks discovers during his first year at the elite St. James School.

Debut author Tilney deftly limns the unchanging eponymous expectations: that students will graduate to the Ivy League and real-world leadership; that while at St. James they will uphold such dubious traditions as ferocious competitiveness in sports and brutal hazing of new students. But Tilney also nails the changing social climate of the mid-1990s, when Ben arrives more than 125 years after the first Weeks attended St. James. There are female students now as well as students from such previously unheard-of places as Dubai, like Ben’s roommate, Ahmed. Ben eagerly looks forward to following in the footsteps of just-graduated older brother Teddy, legendary for his rule-breaking panache, and he’s also excited to join the school’s equally legendary squash team. So he’s mortified by Ahmed, whose clothes and accessories are too obviously expensive for the school’s ostentatiously modest ethos and who calmly walks out of the hazing ceremony, incurring the malice of a clique of upperclassmen determined to “hold the line” for “our kind.” They are the cool kids Ben is desperate to be accepted by, his insecurity exacerbated by the knowledge that his father is in financial trouble and hasn’t paid his tuition. He engages in some petty cruelty and stupid escapades, but he also feels grudging admiration for Ahmed’s ability to simply be himself. Tilney’s inexperience occasionally shows as he cogently traces Ben’s trajectory toward his own version of that self-assurance. The third-person narrative is mostly from Ben’s perspective but from time to time pulls back jarringly to tell us what another character is thinking or to offer an Olympian overview of the shifting social landscape. Despite such infelicities, the novel paints a compassionate portrait of a confused young man groping for maturity and comes to a trenchant conclusion about St. James: “The school’s ethics were a scrim over its animal need to survive. Just manners over its unforgiving appetite.”

Smart, shrewdly observed, and highly readable.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-45037-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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