A first novel as beautifully wrought but as emotionally remote as a stylized Chinese painting, detailing a young Chinese-American woman's bittersweet journey through memory and the present in search of meaning and self. Born in a small midwestern town where her parents, both first- generation immigrants, had settled and prospered, narrator Maya Li opens her account of her journey at its end—the southern tip of China, where she is spending the last night before leaving for home. Maya's voyage has a long history. As she begins the recollections that intersect with descriptions of the tour she's just made, she recalls that her odyssey began with a futile childhood search in her all-American hometown for moon cakes, traditional symbols of wholeness honored by her father, a doctor whose warm nature contrasted with the cool perfectionism of her mother and older sister. Depressed by her dead-end New York job and haunted by the past, Maya is searching for a completeness that her hyphenated background has not offered so far. As her tour group visits the major sights from a Mongolian yurt camp to the tombs of Xian, Maya begins to understand herself and her Chinese heritage. She recalls her father's early death; her undistinguished adolescence; her futile love for Lance, who later died of AIDS; and the great love of her life, Hong Kong native Alex, who left her because loyalty drew him home. Now she understands that she has also been looking for ``that pull of home'' Alex had obeyed and her father had listened for even in America. Wonderful rendering of details, both domestic and foreign—the sections on China are especially vivid—but Maya, like so many first-novel protagonists, is overwhelmed by her mission to relate and remember. Still, a writer to watch.

Pub Date: June 12, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-38554-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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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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