Smart, shrewdly observed, and highly readable.

THE EXPECTATIONS

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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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