This true and telling novel is optimistic, realistic and sensitively told.


Three siblings balance family dysfunction and love in Olevin’s (The Breath of Juno, 1996) new novel.

Real families don’t function in vacuums, and during every crisis there are a dozen other smaller crises that need to be handled simultaneously—and are usually ignored. When baby sister Florence jumps off a bridge, her brother Peter must temporarily abandon the ferocious pace of his New York brokerage to fly to Seattle and help. Big sister Sara is used to managing Florence—the family division of labor has Peter responsible for their footloose mother—but this latest misadventure, an apparent suicide attempt, may signal an escalation in the family’s problems. Meanwhile, Peter can’t help but notice Sara’s rundown house; post-divorce, she seems resigned to poverty and a solitary life. At the same time, Florence takes note of Peter’s agitation, which the Xanax barely contains and the market crash of 2008 only exacerbates. Told over the course of an eventful year, this drama subtly and accurately examines the ways in which families interact. Alternating among voices, with chapters headed by each narrator’s name, the book reveals the layers of denial and habit that sustain patterns established in childhood. While all three characters come to life, it is Florence, with her delusions, who is the most intriguing. Olevin inhabits her fear—of the “black hoods,” of losing herself—with an artist’s touch, and her short-lived romance with Dennis, another troubled soul, is heartrending. As the cumulative crises break through each character’s reserve, we come to see that each is in crisis, a body in motion. Jarred from their accustomed paths, each takes risks and begins to grow. The resolution isn’t fairy tale perfection and shows how flawed humans may be able to find a fragile peace.

This true and telling novel is optimistic, realistic and sensitively told.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-935052-35-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2010

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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