A dreamlike portrait done with a masterfully light hand: Smith (the YA novel Fast Company) moves us without crossing over...

MY BROTHER’S PASSION

A lyrical novel of rural California about a young Vietnam vet’s tragic unrequited love for a local girl.

With a tone of reminiscence, this is the story of a 12-year-old boy’s discovery of the grownup world of failure and grief. Young Dave lives in backwoods California in the early 1970s with Mom and Dad and brother Glen. Dad works at the local tractor factory that’s managed by Dave’s Uncle Aquilla and is being unionized by a Jewish labor organizer from Seattle. As the brother of the shop foreman, Dad can’t get mixed up with the union agitators, but as a worker on the line he has to walk off with the rest when they call a strike. His status as a man in the middle is heightened by his marriage to Mom, a Korean war bride, his half-Asian sons derided by local bigots as “white niggers.” (When Dave’s brother Glen comes home from Vietnam, he has to face, in addition to the standard homecoming traumas, the slur that he was fighting “against his own people.”) Aimless and deracinated, Glen drifts through his days, harboring an old infatuation for “his passion,” Mary Ann Sheeney, who lives on the outskirts of town and is now keeping company with the union organizer. As the strike becomes more entrenched, the strikers become increasingly bitter over the company’s use of scab workers, who are protected by a goon named Erin Bleacher. As if a mirror of the strife at the plant, Glen’s obsession for Mary Ann grows to a fever pitch and even infects his younger brother Dave, who begins to stalk Glen as Glen stalks his passion. That’s how Dave comes to witness scenes that 12-year-olds shouldn’t—and that, in turn, give him a perspective quite suddenly and definitively not that of a child.

A dreamlike portrait done with a masterfully light hand: Smith (the YA novel Fast Company) moves us without crossing over into melodrama or the sentimental.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-57962-107-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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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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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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