Praying for Rain

The intricately plotted story of a love affair with both a man and a culture, and the painful lessons learned from each.
Gates (Private Lines, 2014, etc.) received her master’s degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies from Thunderbird School of Global Management and lived for five years in Saudi Arabia; she appears to draw on both her academic and personal experiences in the atmospheric, evocative descriptions that enliven this fictional account of a young American ESL teacher abroad. Leaving behind a life of relative aimlessness and a pile of student loan debt, 24-year-old Arden Armstrong accepts a one-year contract teaching English to female college students in Saudi Arabia. Although her motivations were initially adventure and money, she soon finds herself increasingly invested in her students and in her host culture. Despite her fascination with the country, though, she can’t keep herself from agitating for some Western-style reforms, especially with regard to women’s academic achievements. And when a chance meeting with the attractive archaeologist Dr. Faisal Al Ansary turns into multiple chance meetings, and an unexpected connection with one of her students, Arden finds that even the repressive religious and legal strictures can’t keep her from pursuing her desire. But this dangerous relationship turns out to have risks far beyond what she had imagined, and Arden stands to lose everything. Gates’ book overcomes a somewhat slow start to build in intensity toward a satisfying, emotionally resonant conclusion. Along the way, deft pacing and a number of unexpected but credible plot twists will keep readers interested. Dialogue is generally fresh and authentic, main characters are well-developed, and even minor characters have unique personalities skillfully sketched out. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia comes alive as well, with Gates’ poignant depictions providing a haunting backdrop for the fast-paced action. Overall, this complex, enjoyable read will leave readers hoping for more from this talented new writer.

Romance, geopolitical instability and coming-of-age angst in a well-crafted tale.

Pub Date: April 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0988890671

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Wells Street Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2014

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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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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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