A harrowing portrait of depression and the toxic legacy of abuse.

22 SCARS

When a teenager falls into a spiral of depression and self-harm, friends and family try to save her before it’s too late.

In this debut novel, a solitary teenage girl, dressed all in black, makes her way through the city to her friend’s apartment on a summer day. Amy is sensitive, quiet, and shy, with few close pals except for Bethany, an outgoing girl who is concerned that her friend seems depressed. Amy was close to another classmate named Jason, until he dropped out of school after his girlfriend became pregnant. As their friendship deepens, Beth discovers that Amy’s depression includes damaging actions. At times of intense personal stress, Amy cuts her arms and legs. Despite her attempts to connect with Jason and Beth’s efforts to help her, Amy slides further into a cycle of depression and cutting. Amy’s parents are bitterly divided over how best to help her; her mother encourages therapy, but her father believes her problems are a cry for attention. When tragedy strikes, Amy finds herself in an emotional free fall that culminates in hospitalization after cutting her arm. A new friendship offers her another opportunity for connection, but it may not be enough to save her from her depression. Meanwhile, a young couple fall in love after meeting at a party. Their marriage soon plunges into a cycle of addiction and abuse—a pattern whose effects last for generations. North’s book delivers a riveting and dynamic examination of depression and self-mutilation in a teenage girl and the lasting effects of abuse within a family. But the multilayered narrative approach is not perfectly seamless. Amy is a strong and sympathetic protagonist whose struggle with depression and cutting affects every aspect of her life, from relationships with family and friends to performance at work and school. Although her depression is primarily viewed through the lens of the people who know her best, her diary entries provide valuable insights. In one passage describing her love of black clothing and goth culture, she asserts: “I don’t know how to explain it other than there’s a comfort in misery, something dark and familiar and soothing, like feeling protected by shadow. No one can find me, no one can hurt me, no one can even see me.” The author utilizes a singular structure in telling Amy’s story. Most of the narrative is in the third person; however, chapters narrated by Beth, Beth’s father, a nurse, and two of Amy’s classmates supply additional perspectives on their efforts to help Amy. North’s novel also includes a parallel tale about a young couple whose marriage gradually disintegrates under the weight of addiction and abuse. The pacing of the couple’s story is intense as innocent domestic arguments gradually escalate into a shocking breach of trust, but the transitions between their tale and Amy’s are abrupt, and the characters are never referred to by name. While the couple are pivotal to the narrative, Amy’s story offers stronger overall character development.

A harrowing portrait of depression and the toxic legacy of abuse.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5467-0594-9

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2018

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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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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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