An empathetic story of faith and desire.

YELED TOV

Jaffe’s (The Genealogy of Understanding, 2014, etc.) coming-of-age novel tells the story of a Jewish adolescent attempting to square his homosexuality with the teachings of his religion.

On the cusp of his 16th birthday, Jake Stein notices a prohibition in the book of Leviticus that never caught his eye before: “ ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.’…Jake read further still: anyone who committed such abomination ‘shall be cut off from among their people.’ ” As part of a Conservative Jewish family in 1970s South Jersey, the dictates of his religion are important to Jake—and even more important to his father, Sol. At the same time, Jake has been fantasizing about some of his male teachers and engaging in sexual exploration with his best friend, Dave. Jake joins the school play in hopes of finding a distraction from this identity crisis, but it only makes things worse: The play is The Diary of Anne Frank, a story laden with heavy guilt, and he quickly becomes obsessed with the lead actor, Steve. Jake concocts daydreams around his unrequited attraction but ends up feeling as lonely as ever. He attends Princeton University after high school, still committed to trying to be a yeled tov—a good Jewish boy—but the temptations at college prove even greater than those in high school. Throughout the novel, Jaffe writes in a polished prose style that successfully captures Jake’s anxiety from his perspective: “Jake glanced quickly down at his book, but couldn’t read what now appeared to be one big blur. His stomach clutched and his breathing nearly halted. Streams of perspiration jetted out under his arms.” Along the way, he does an admirable job of locating Jake’s conflict in the particulars of Judaism and Jewish culture while also presenting a story that will feel relatable to a wide audience. Jake’s road to self-acceptance is a long one, and it will perhaps frustrate some readers. But the details of his experience are so particular and humanizing that most people will stick right with him to the end.

An empathetic story of faith and desire.

Pub Date: April 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59021-671-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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