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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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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