Fans of magical realism à la Alice Hoffman will feel at home with this story.

The Tree of Life

Debut novelist Davis spins a time-travel story that features an unstoppable young heroine.

Charlotte, a Toronto fifth-grader, is a girl who dominates everyone around her by force of her determined imagination. She’s being raised by her grandfather Leo after suffering a childhood injury and the deaths of her parents, and he keeps a light hand on the reins of the stubborn but fragile girl. Her best friend is Henry, and one day, the two are hiding in the forbidden tower room of Leo’s house when his friend Gwendolyn comes to call. They hear her describe a missing brooch, carved with an image of a tree from Welsh legend, and then they’re suddenly whisked from their hiding place to 1939 Toronto. The elderly Gwendolyn is now Charlotte’s age—a snooty girl who’s splendidly equal to Charlotte in bossiness and quite uninterested in her unexpected guests. The children soon discover the adult Leo working in the family’s kitchen. It turns out that he’s time traveled before, and he tells Charlotte that she must accomplish a mission here in the past. She isn’t thrilled that her quest involves the unlikable Gwendolyn, but she takes to the adventure with aplomb. Henry also flourishes, finding boyhood in the 1930s much more congenial than its 1990s version. Charlotte and Henry aren’t always convincingly childlike, particularly in the book’s quirkier moments, but they effectively carry the story. Charlotte’s boldness and Henry’s irritated devotion will make young readers grin. The period history is detailed and intriguing, as well, and includes ugly glimpses of anti-Semitism half a world away from the coming war in Europe. The story of the brooch ties lightly into past world events as well as those of Charlotte and Henry’s own decade. A few plot threads remain unresolved, particularly regarding Charlotte’s rather vague back story and a subplot about a royal visit. Overall, however, Davis is a very engaging storyteller, and Charlotte is a wonderful creation.

Fans of magical realism à la Alice Hoffman will feel at home with this story.

Pub Date: June 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4602-6633-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

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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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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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