Deftly plotted though occasionally heavy-handed, as the boys shoulder more symbolic weight than 11-year-olds should.


A political parable that operates on various levels, from suspense to polemic.

Originally published in the author’s native Italy in 2008, this debut novel details the events of 30 years earlier, when the Red Brigades kidnapped the leader of the Christian Democratics, committed murder and wreaked terror upon the country. Against that political backdrop (which recedes as the novel progresses), three 11-year-old boys from the Sicilian city of Palermo find their lives transformed by the inspiration of the Red Brigades and the cultural critique that its seemingly senseless violence has visited on their homeland. “I was an ideological, focused, intense little boy, a non-ironic, anti-ironic, refractory little boy—a non-little boy,” writes the narrator, who has taken the name Nimbus, in solidarity with his comrades, led by the oddly charismatic, reductively ruthless Flight. The three of them (Radius completes the trio) escalate their fantasy subversion from coded language and assumed identities into crimes with real consequences—arson, kidnapping, murder. “We must abandon identity, relinquish the ego in favor of the group,” proclaims Flight, who is also prepared to relinquish morality and basic human values for the sake of a greater good, which is never really defined, either by the three boys or by the Red Brigades they aspire to emulate. Yet, says the narrator after watching a film, “it was the epitome of 1978, its mannerisms and its poses: wandering around aimlessly while claiming to have a strategy, indulging in lachrymose self-criticism, and continually regurgitating the same tired language.” Language in the novel is variously an epidemic, a crime, a tool, a means of exile, a boundless existence. Ultimately, the precociously innocent, language-obsessed narrator must make a choice between the inchoate ideology that has given him new life and identity and a girl he barely knows: “Whenever I looked at her I felt a religion form within me, a need for tenderness—the very need that the struggle daily excluded.”

Deftly plotted though occasionally heavy-handed, as the boys shoulder more symbolic weight than 11-year-olds should.

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-86547-937-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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