Beautiful and necessary.

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GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER

A magnificent chorus of black British voices and a winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.

“Amma / is walking along the promenade of the waterway that bisects her city, a few early morning barges cruise slowly by.” These are the opening lines of Evaristo’s eighth novel. The unexpected line breaks, the paucity of punctuation and capitalization: These stylistic choices are, at first, disorienting—and that makes perfect thematic sense. Amma is a black woman, a lesbian, and a fiercely feminist playwright who is gaining mainstream attention after decades of working on the margins. Each of the 12 characters Evaristo conjures here have had to work hard to make a place for themselves in a culture that regards them as outsiders even if they’ve lived in the United Kingdom their entire lives. Instead of forcing her creations to code-switch to make their lives comfortable for general consumption, Evaristo compels the reader to accommodate and adjust. The rewards for this tiny bit of mental labor are extraordinary. There is no overarching story, but the lives of these women and one "gender-free" character intersect in revelatory ways. For example, Shirley is both one of Amma’s oldest friends and the teacher who helps Carole work her way out of a council flat and into Oxford. For Amma, Shirley grew from being “the only other brown girl” on the playground to being the straight-laced friend who always supported her unconventional career—and loaned her money when necessary. For Carole, Shirley is “Mrs King,” the no-nonsense taskmaster who only cared about her when her grades were perfect. When she takes center stage herself, we discover that Shirley is both of these people and much more. As she creates a space for immigrants and the children of immigrants to tell their stories, Evaristo explores a range of topics both contemporary and timeless. There is room for everyone to find a home in this extraordinary novel.

Beautiful and necessary.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5698-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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