WHERE WE BELONG

Giffin’s moving storyline offers great pacing, believable, disparate characters and a plot that could easily careen into...

Kirby Rose turns 18, hops on a Greyhound bus from St. Louis to Manhattan and with no warning, knocks on the Fifth Avenue apartment door of her birth mother, Marian Caldwell—a move that will send them both on a journey of rediscovery, questioning everything they thought they knew about love, family, secrets and second chances.

Kirby is a classic underachiever in a family who values things she scorns and is mystified by the things she loves. Adopted when she was days old to a couple who’d concluded they’d never have kids, she’s grown up on the story, as much a part of the family history as the surprise of her sister’s “real” birth 11 months later. It’s only when she gets to high school that she feels disconnected to her adoptive family, and by the time she’s a senior, there’s a frustration on all sides that Kirby has failed in some way. Not clear on her own motivations, Kirby sets out to find her birth mother, landing unannounced on Marian’s Manhattan penthouse doorstep. Connecting with her daughter knocks Marian off her content, polished life path—and forces her to question the choices she’s made, the secrets she’s kept, the people she loves and the ones she’s left behind. Ultimately, Kirby and Marian will set off together to find the one person they both need to put all the pieces together, offering Kirby the confidence to embrace who she really is and Marian the opportunity to right some long-standing transgressions. Along the way, both women will revisit questions of family, identity, secrets and love—and what it truly means to belong. Giffin delivers an emotionally poignant and reflective look at teen pregnancy through a rearview mirror and how 18 years later, one woman’s hindsight is sometimes too easy, and sometimes too hard, on her adolescent self. And yet, on a certain level, as all parties come to understand, it doesn’t exactly matter. What really matters is how one chooses to live today—to express love, to live authentically and to embrace life itself, even when it lands on your doorstep in unexpected ways when you’re least prepared for it. 

Giffin’s moving storyline offers great pacing, believable, disparate characters and a plot that could easily careen into maudlin territory, unlikable stereotypes or over-the-top emotionalism but never does: a sweet, even-keeled winner.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-55419-4

Page Count: 383

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2012

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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