A captivating Jewish twist on the classic American campus novel.


In Hopen’s ambitious debut, an Orthodox Jewish high school student finds his world transformed when his family moves to South Florida.

When protagonist Ari Eden leaves his bland life in Brooklyn—where he never felt deeply rooted—for a glitzy, competitive Modern Orthodox day school in the Miami suburbs, both readers and Ari himself are primed to expect a fish-out-of-water narrative. And indeed, Ari finds that his new classmates, though also traditionally observant by many standards, enjoy a lifestyle that is far more permissive than his own (a shade of Orthodoxy that is known as “yeshiva”). Suddenly Ari’s modest, pious world is replaced with a Technicolor whirlwind that includes rowdy parties, casual sex, drinking, drugs, and far more liberal interpretations of Jewish law than he has ever known. With its representation of multiple kinds of traditional Judaism, Hopen’s novel is a refreshing corrective to the popular tendency to erase the nuanced variations that exist under the umbrella of “Orthodoxy.” It also stands out for its stereotype-defying portrayal of Ari and his friends as teenagers with typical teenage concerns. But this is not just a novel about reorienting oneself socially or even religiously; though Ari’s level of observance certainly shifts, this is also not a simple “off the derech” (Jewish secularization) narrative. Ari’s new friend group, particularly its charismatic, enigmatic leader, Evan—a sort of foil for Ari—pushes him to consider new philosophical and existential norms as well as social, academic, and religious ones. The result is an entirely surprising tale, rich with literary allusions and Talmudic connections, about the powerful allure of belonging. This novel will likely elicit comparisons to the work of Chaim Potok: Like Potok’s protagonists, Ari is a religious Jew with a deep passion for literature, Jewish texts, and intellectual inquiry, and as in Potok’s fiction, his horizons are broadened when he encounters other forms of Orthodoxy. But Hopen’s debut may actually have more in common with campus novels like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Tobias Wolff’s Old School; its narrator’s involvement in an intense intellectual community leads him down an unexpected path that profoundly alters his worldview. The novel suffers due to its lamentably one-dimensional, archetypal female characters: the tortured-artist love interest, the ditsy blond, the girl next door. Hopen’s prose, and the scale of his project, occasionally feels overindulgent, but in that sense, form and content converge: This stylistic expansiveness is actually perfectly in tune with the world of the novel. Overall, Hopen’s debut signals a promising new literary talent; in vivid prose, the novel thoughtfully explores cultural particularity while telling a story with universal resonances.

A captivating Jewish twist on the classic American campus novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297474-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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