A great young-adult novel—as it should be billed.

DEAR MR. CARSON

Plucky pre-teen breaks out of fat camp and embarks upon a cross-country adventure in search of her late-night TV idol.

Adolescence doesn’t hold much promise for 13-year-old Sunnie Sundstrom. She’s sandwiched between a sullen older sister and an overachieving younger brother, her classmates tease her mercilessly and it often seems like her mother won’t love her anymore if she doesn’t drop 18 pounds by the end of eighth grade. The only people who seem to see past Sunnie’s “Huskies for Her” jeans are her beloved Grannie Lassen and Johnny Carson, who makes her nights a bit less lonely. Things promise only to get worse when Grannie suddenly dies and Sunnie is shuttled off to the dreaded “Summer Slim-Down Retreat.” Much to her surprise, though, she finds herself making real friends for the first time, and an unexpected visit from the Pentecostal Bible Camp across the lake brings a handsome boy named Asher Gideon into her life. After an Asher-inspired prank gets her kicked out of camp, Sunnie’s newfound confidence kicks in. She trades her bus ticket back home to suburban Milwaukee for one to Los Angeles, where she vows to meet her hero. Though she clearly faces obstacles along the way, including an old man with unsavory intentions, persistence pays off and Sunnie comes to realize exactly how far she’s come. Sunnie navigates the world with grit and gumption, even if she’s the last person to realize it, and her ugly-duckling story will resonate with teenagers who aren’t sure they like what they see in the mirror. But for adults more removed from the injustices of middle school, the sweet premise and likable narrator won’t quite be enough.

A great young-adult novel—as it should be billed.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2006

ISBN: 1-57962-125-2

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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