IMANI ALL MINE

African-American Porter (All-Bright Court, 1991) has again created a protagonist with her own voice and an affirming take on life in Buffalo’s inner city—where guns kill the innocent and where teenagers too often end up having babies. High-schooler Tasha, the 15-year-old narrator, tells her story with an authenticity that adds even more grit and realism to a tale that’s often a headline. She lives with her baby daughter Imani (meaning faith —in some African language—) and her mother Earlene. Imani looks just like Tasha, which makes Tasha, who doesn’t have much else of her own, rather happy. Her story builds quietly, almost off-handedly, to its tragic end as the girl describes her exhausting daily routine in the most matter-of-fact terms: not only must she care for Imani, but she also has to bring the baby along to school. While Imani is taken care of in the school’s daycare center, Tasha conscientiously attends classes. Her own mother, never married, was too busy with her boyfriends to comfort Tasha on the night she was raped at knife-point in a nearby park, and she was even too busy to notice (until labor began) that her daughter was pregnant. The rapist and father of Imani is a fellow student, a boy who, Tasha thought, —really liked— her (—As fat as I am. As black as I am—), which is why she left the Skate-A-Rama with him that evening. Now, thankfully, he doesn—t even seem to recognize her. Meanwhile, as she tries to build a life for herself and her newborn, Tasha records all of Imani’s milestones; nervously observes her neighbor’s drug-dealing; grudgingly grows fond of her mother’s white boyfriend Mitch; and stoically tries to keep up with her schoolwork. At end, random gunfire will break apart—for a time, it seems, almost completely—Tasha’s already fragile world. An unsparing, remarkably unsentimental tale of a typically unsung heroine. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-83808-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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