The author nicely inhabits her three main characters but rarely risks escalating the tensions among them.

BEAUTIFUL AS YESTERDAY

Fan Wu (February Flowers, 2007) portrays two sisters on divergent life paths earnestly seeking common ground after their mother arrives in San Francisco from China.

Mary Chang lives comfortably in Silicon Valley, though she suffers the abuse of her harridan boss at a tech firm, and her husband works exceedingly long hours at a pre-IPO startup. (It’s 2000, and the dot-com boom is just going bust.) Her younger sister Ingrid struggles to make ends meet in New York as a translator and tour guide for Chinese visitors while trying to launch a career as a fiction writer. Mary feels Ingrid is flighty and doesn’t respect the financial support she gave when Ingrid left China for the United States as a college student; Ingrid thinks Mary is too settled and tried to force her sister’s career path. To help reconcile this tiff comes their mother, Wang Fenglan, whose arrival from China inspires Ingrid to move to San Francisco. That brings mother and daughters geographically and emotionally closer, but not in any especially compelling fashion. The book’s stiff structure and prose make it feel like an assemblage of set pieces in which each character advances by half-measures: Mary nearly has an affair with an old friend from China; Ingrid has a promising coffee date with a literary agent; Wang gets used to her new American neighborhood and enjoys spending time with Mary’s son. To liven up these modest incidents, Fan Wu has her characters look back. Wang recalls the violence of the Cultural Revolution, while Ingrid remembers her experiences during the Tiananmen Square protests. Some of those recollections are vividly turned, but the present-day story feels threadbare. It’s also quite nearly plotless; what seems to be a bombshell revelation about the family, introduced about halfway through, is largely neglected.

The author nicely inhabits her three main characters but rarely risks escalating the tensions among them.

Pub Date: July 7, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9889-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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