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STATE OF THE NATION

A mesmerizing tale of racial inequality and sexual discovery.

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In this debut novel, a trio of black teenagers grapples with racial prejudice while a serial killer preys on black children in Atlanta. 

Teens Santos, Luq, and Dion spend much of their days together “wilding out,” trying to pass the time and hustle up some cash. All three of them are perennially strapped for money—Dion, who dresses up like a girl and refers to himself as a lady, turns tricks with men for meager payouts. Santos makes regular visits to a clinic to participate in an experimental initiative that’s eerily similar to the infamous Tuskegee Experiment, darkly and poignantly depicted by Ambrose. At one point, Santos is reduced to fighting in a “faggot in a box,” a brawling match that pits one gay fighter against another, a debasement that fetches him an embarrassing $300 prize. Luq lives in a mostly white suburb—he’s one of seven black students at a high school of 435—and plans to attend the Pittsburgh School of Design after he graduates. Unlike Santos and Dion, he’s deeply conflicted about his sexual identity and a virgin, though he suffers sexual assault at the hands of men more than once in the story. All three wrestle with the burden of racial prejudice, are routinely treated with contemptuous suspicion by the police, and all but dismissed when they turn to officers for help. In his absorbing book, Ambrose hauntingly creates an atmosphere of dread and predation by continually referring to the serial murder of black children in Atlanta in the late 1970s and early ’80s, an epidemic of violent crime that reinforced for many the vulnerability of black communities. This isn’t a plot-driven novel, but the characters are richly drawn and the themes intelligently evoked. The writing swings between a poetically lyrical narrative and grittily authentic dialogue. An older black man, Silas, who still seethes with anger over his unwitting participation in the Tuskegee Experiment, affectingly describes the teens’ collective predicament: “The cops aren’t here to protect you. They here to protect the world FROM you. ‘Cause they convinced the world that we all criminals; ain’t got no value.”

A mesmerizing tale of racial inequality and sexual discovery. 

Pub Date: April 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9987993-9-1

Page Count: 314

Publisher: The TMG Firm

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2018

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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