An entertaining, thoughtful look at a complicated historical, religious, artistic, and cultural crossroads.

STREET OF STORYTELLERS

In this YA thriller, an American teenager in Peshawar faces an ethical conundrum when he’s recruited by jihadis to destroy his father’s project.

It’s December 1984, and Luke Sands, 15, is angry that because of his parents’ recent divorce, he has to spend Christmas vacation with his father in Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Professor Sands is so obsessed with writing a book about an ancient civilization in the Peshawar Valley that it broke apart his marriage, and Luke wants nothing to do with the project. Luke shuts down and refuses to go sightseeing, preferring to listen to Bob Marley on his Walkman. But when father and son reconnect with the Shaheens, a Pashtun family they’d known back home in Saratoga, New York, Luke is drawn to the rebelliousness of their son, Rasheed, or “Rashi,” and to the beauty and intelligence of Rashi’s younger sister, Danisha, “Dani.” Although Luke makes a rash promise to help carry out a fatwa against his father’s book, he also gains a new appreciation for Pakistan’s rich cultural past when he’s introduced to Pir Sahib, a wise Sufi teacher, and hears traditional music at the shrine of a Sufi poet. Meanwhile, Luke struggles with his feelings for Dani, because any interaction is forbidden in strict Pashtun culture. A dangerous culture clash brews that puts people, artifacts, and scholarship at risk. Wilhelm (Treasure Town, 2016, etc.), a prolific writer of middle school, YA, and Choose Your Own Adventure books, offers an absorbing, rich historical tale. The thriller educates readers about the mid-'80s forces that led up to 9/11, and Wilhelm also provides a useful historical afterword covering 1985 to the present day. An especially strong, moving, and well-described theme is the power of music to overcome barriers of many kinds while the book also honestly acknowledges limitations and challenges in fighting extremism. Luke is a believable character who makes mistakes but also redeems himself with courage and generosity.

An entertaining, thoughtful look at a complicated historical, religious, artistic, and cultural crossroads.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-57869-016-9

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Rootstock Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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