Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS

Greenwood’s powerful, provocative debut chronicles a desolate childhood and a discomfiting love affair.

Wavy (short for Wavonna) is only 5 when we meet her in 1975, but she’s already been thoroughly traumatized by her meth-addicted mother, Val, whose stint in jail sends the girl to her Aunt Brenda’s house in Tulsa. Wavy barely talks and doesn’t eat—or rather, her cousins discover one night, eats out of the garbage pail when everyone else is asleep. We learn after Val is paroled and reclaims Wavy that Scary Mama has been known to stick fingers down her daughter’s throat to remove “dirty” food and then wash out Wavy’s mouth with Listerine. Her drug-dealing husband, Liam, mostly keeps to his own quarters on their ranch compound; his open infidelities send Val into fits of immobilizing depression and catatonia-inducing substance abuse, while Wavy struggles to take care of baby brother Donal and keep attending school. Only Kellen, a low-level enforcer for Liam who is also the survivor of childhood neglect, shows her any kindness or care. As the years go by in Greenwood’s episodic tale, we see this affection-starved girl and damaged man fall in love. Wavy is only 13 when their relationship turns sexual, and when Aunt Brenda finds out, she labels Kellen a rapist and works to keep them apart. The multiple narrators don’t mince words as they describe a thoroughly sordid milieu and various squalid events that climax in a violent denouement that threatens to separate Wavy and Kellen permanently. Greenwood limns her characters with matter-of-fact empathy, inviting us to respect the resourcefulness and resilience with which Wavy surmounts her dangerously disordered circumstances to craft a life and a love. It’s no storybook romance, but the novel closes on a note of hard-won serenity, with people who deserve a second chance gathered together.

Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-07413-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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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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