An affecting YA novel that will linger in readers’ minds.

ABSOLUTE VALUE

Henrik’s debut novel tells the story of two teenagers dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.

Nate Stanek is about to begin his junior year of high school, and he’s excited to be doing so with his first girlfriend, Gabrielle Brandt. They’ve been inseparable all summer, sneaking away to spend time together whenever possible: “He would never say this to Gabrielle—not cool—but he had it in his head that the two of them were sort of their own little family.” Just as summer ends, however, Gabrielle starts to act oddly. Nate figures out what’s wrong during a visit to the state fair; she vomits while on the Ferris wheel: She’s pregnant. Gabrielle, who’s still reeling from her parents’ divorce, is worried about what this will mean for her future. Will she go to college? Will she even finish high school? She’s certain that her reputation will be forever tainted. Nate is more worried about the reaction from his conservative Christian parents. The possibility of abortion never even enters his mind until Gabrielle brings it up: “I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I’ve been considering maybe…maybe not having this baby at all.” Nate initially reacts with anger, thinking that if a pregnancy would bring on the wrath of his parents, an abortion will get him disowned—but he ultimately agrees to stand by Gabrielle, whatever she decides. She faces her own troubles when she tells her family and friends about her situation; many react more judgmentally than she expected. Can the two high schoolers figure out a solution, and can their relationship survive whatever decision they make? The style of Henrik’s prose is breezy yet restrained even when she gets deep into the conflicting emotions of her two main characters. She depicts their inner voices in a manner that’s completely believable and yet also unexpectedly poignant: “He’d barely started figuring out who he was, and yet this tiny being inside Gabrielle already contained more of him than he even knew existed. And more of Gabrielle, too. How could she just throw that away?” The book is paced more slowly than most other modern YA novels, and it lacks any melodramatic tendencies. Instead, Henrik simply allows the teens’ situation to play out in an organic way. Nate is flawed but sympathetic, and Gabrielle is heroic without losing an ounce of verisimilitude. The latter’s interest in numerical facts—she writes a blog in which she discusses mathematical concepts, such as the Pythagorean theorem—becomes a motif of the book; it effectively illustrates how some decisions require one to use a cold calculus, as well as the limited solace that such calculations bring. The author seems to have no agenda other than to show how impossibly difficult such a situation can be for those involved. She delivers a book about hope, youth, innocence, the pain of first love, and how major trials in life seem to come far too early.

An affecting YA novel that will linger in readers’ minds.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4801-7901-1

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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