A couple of gems in a so-so debut collection.

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NOT A MATTER OF LOVE

AND OTHER STORIES

Ten tales of broken families and fearless youths against the backdrop of Arizona’s searing heat and saguaros.

Alvarado’s stories touch not only on the clash of Hispanic and Anglo cultures, but on the places where they connect, however haphazardly. In “Just Family,” Tony has just been released from a five-year stint in prison. He’s trouble, and his family doesn’t expect much from him but more prison or an early end, but they play along at normality, hoping the tethers of family will save him. “Bastille Day” and “Limbo” bookend the collection as sad portraits of inevitability—both present young Mexican-American men trapped by circumstances rougher than they are, forced to live up to a kind of machismo that becomes their undoing. “In Box Canyon” is an affecting tale of two junkies, Lori and Tomás, trying to stay clean, but loving the drug just a bit more than they love each other. “Emily’s Exit” and “Can You Hear Me?” are the highlights here, examining the sometimes contentious relationship of siblings. Emily disappears, walks into the desert on some kind of trek of spiritual martyrdom, leaving behind a grieving mother who builds a Zen garden, and an irritated, slightly relieved younger sister. Found nearly dead in a Mexican desert, Emily is brought to the house of a reclusive woman to pray over the bodies of her dead children, two girls encased in glass. “Can You Hear Me?” finds artist Isabel in Italy, avoiding the phone calls of her anxious mother and possibly schizophrenic brother Van. While Isabel tries to soak up the local color, Van and his loser friends plot a scheme to import heroin from Afghanistan. If only Van could turn off the voices in his head, he might strike it rich. Alvarado’s stories are well-crafted, but lack the emotional power to elevate them to memorable stand-outs.

A couple of gems in a so-so debut collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-89823-233-3

Page Count: 180

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

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.

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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