A near-miss from this uneven but always compelling writer.

THE STORY SISTERS

An act of child abuse has lasting consequences in Hoffman’s painfully moving novel (The Third Angel, 2008, etc.).

The summer Claire Story was 8 and her sister Elv was 11, a man tried to abduct Claire in his car; Elv jumped in, told Claire to jump out, and it was hours before she returned. They never told their mother Annie or middle sister Meg—their father walked out that same summer—and neither girl was ever the same. As the main narrative opens, when Elv is 15, she’s becoming an out-of-control adolescent increasingly at odds with careful, rule-following Meg. Racked with guilt over the unknown horrors her sister endured in her place, Claire tries to be loyal, but as Elv’s drug use and promiscuity escalate, she backs away. The desperate Annie finally takes Elv to a rehab facility, enlisting the reluctant support of her selfish ex-husband, who insists it’s all her fault. At the facility, Elv meets Lorry, a thief and addict who introduces her to heroin, but who also really loves her. The chronology speeds up after Elv comes home and a dreadful accident seals her alienation from her family. Hoffman paints wrenching scenes of tentative efforts at reconciliation that just barely fail, as Elv becomes pregnant and cleans up, but loses Lorry to his “fatal flaw.” A kindly detective brings late-life happiness to Annie and metes out delayed justice to Elv’s abuser, but the disasters keep coming. Two sisters grow into adulthood, dreadfully damaged by the losses they’ve endured and their punishing self-blame for the mistakes they made. Hoffman’s habitual allusions to mysterious supernatural forces are very jarring in this context, as is the endless interpolation of memories from the terrible abduction; she could have trusted her readers to get the point with out constant prodding. A radiant denouement shows love redeeming the surviving sisters, and there are beautiful moments throughout, but they don’t entirely compensate for Hoffman’s excesses of plot and tone.

A near-miss from this uneven but always compelling writer.

Pub Date: June 2, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-39386-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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