This well-meant collection offers few realistic solutions.

ZERO TURNED HERO

These illustrated short stories concern ethical dilemmas, fears, and hard choices.

Most of these eight tales are apparently set in the present day, and many of the protagonists are children. In “Tip Top Finds Hope,” the title character, about age 12, is “slow at learning.” He’s lonely and sad, spending many hours sitting on the stoop outside, where kids torment him. His mother just tells him to “speak up for yourself.” He prays for someone to play with. One day, a man appears and gathers the neighborhood kids, reminding them of the golden rule. After that, Tip Top has hope and strength, and the local boys ask him to play. Other stories teach similar morals, as in “Victor Learns a Lesson” (about not saying mean things behind others’ backs) and “The Onion” (don’t shoplift). Some tales also focus on moral choices but feature adults, like “Jennifer’s Luck,” about a 60-year-old woman with unattractive features, such as (puzzlingly) “eyes shaped like peanuts.” Children mock her; adults pity her. An angel, whose fate is tied to Jennifer’s, offers her a choice: She can be young again and ugly or pretty and old. She chooses youth at first, then beauty, but despite the advantages of each (Jennifer loves it when construction workers whistle at her), she decides to accept herself as she originally was. When a little boy starts in on her looks, she sneers at him: “Are you sure you have a face to be proud of?” The boy’s friend takes her side, and Jennifer feels a great inner peace. The final work, “The Stone King,” is set in a mythical kingdom where its rich and tyrannical ruler learns the error of his ways through love and forgiveness. These clear, well-intentioned stories deliver some intriguing situations and diverse characters. But as is in common with many writers of morality tales, Frazier (Decisions, 2009, etc.) presents solutions that tend to be unconvincingly simplistic. For example, it usually takes more than one talk to transform a neighborhood of bullies. And getting over bad dreams will surely require more than the one encouraging speech and special talisman featured in “Nightmares.” Meanwhile, “The End of an Era,” in which a boy’s father has forced him to arm-wrestle since the age of 6, seems to glorify aggression. The parent’s treatment makes the boy strong enough, at 14, to challenge and win a bloody victory from the school bullies taking his money. The next day, “word had gotten out that I was crazy,” and his cash was safe. Is this the golden rule? In addition, the author’s dialogue is sometimes stilted, and she overuses ellipses, as in this example from “Victor Learns a Lesson”: “ ‘I don’t really like Lorrance…with his fat self.’ I think he has an odor.” The rather flat, uncredited illustrations often render human figures clumsily, as when an ice cream stick thrown at Tip Top appears to be jutting from his head like an off-center unicorn’s horn. A few pictures have more energy, and the images do show the cast’s varied skin tones.

This well-meant collection offers few realistic solutions.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64398-052-2

Page Count: 88

Publisher: LitFire Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 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 steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.

THE CHASE

From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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