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ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS

Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.

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 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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