THE NEW KID

The life of a 16-year-old boy goes from bad to worse when he leaves his financially strapped parents to become part of a wealthy family’s psychodrama.

Humphrey is, once again, the new kid at school. After years of his parents’ failing at jobs and moving from state to state to start anew, he’s used to it. This time around, it’s a Florida high school where he is wearing the wrong clothes and sitting next to the wrong kid on the bus and going “home” to a motel because his folks can’t afford the security deposit on an apartment. Eventually, Humphrey targets Wade—older, buff, at ease in his own skin—as the cool kid to give him entrée to the cafeteria society. Soon they are lifting weights together and hanging out with Wade’s slutty-but-nice mom, Brandy, and Wade’s hottie girlfriend Chantal. But then a party at Brandy’s gets out of control, and Humphrey winds up badly beaten. Enter Gretchen, Humphrey’s older half-sister, whom their mom resents because she had wanted to be an actress but quit when she became pregnant with Gretchen. Gretchen wants to help Humphrey, but she has a few problems of her own. Her character on a popular TV series has just been killed off, and her boyfriend of four years, Rajan Lansing, has just given her the boot. His mega-wealthy parents have always treated her like a daughter, so she doesn’t tell them about the break-up (Rajan is in L.A. looking for acting roles). Instead, she talks the Lansings into flying Humphrey to Europe to join them on their yacht for a summer-long Mediterranean cruise. The Lansings have a bad marriage, and the addition of Humphrey stirs up a storm. An all-hands-on-deck climax brings this implausible story to its inevitable, melodramatic conclusion. Schrefer (Glamorous Disasters, 2006) reaches for the psychological precision of Patricia Highsmith, but with cartoon characters and a preposterous plot, this reads more like a perverted Richie Rich.

Grim.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9909-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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