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NO FENCES IN ALASKA

An affecting portrayal of a troubled teen’s journey toward redemption despite a facile ending.

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In this YA novel for older teens, a hard-partying, drug-using teenage girl in trouble asks for help from her long-estranged grandfather, who’s facing a challenge of his own.

Harper, a spirited 16-year-old girl in Texas, doesn’t remember the last time that her parents praised her or told her they loved her. Her condemnatory father, Greg, the head of an ultraconservative religious private school, has already driven her older brother away; Harper has found personal validation in flaunting her sexuality and uses heroin with her college-age, drug-dealing boyfriend. A confrontation with her father is followed by her boyfriend’s betrayal and the discovery that she’s pregnant. Desperate to escape the mess that her life has become, Harper calls her grandfather Cooper—a novelist and songwriter in Alaska whom she hasn’t seen or talked to in 10 years—and asks for refuge. Cooper’s own life is crumbling after a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s disease, but he’s determined to give Harper the help and unconditional love that he didn’t give his own daughter, whom he lost to drug addiction years ago. Sobey (The War Blog, 2018) vividly realizes the Alaska setting, and he frankly develops themes involving families torn apart by drug use and the sexual objectification of girls and women. He also offers a strong female protagonist who finds her voice and self-respect. The novel could be read as a just-say-no cautionary tale, as Sobey offers numerous, graphic examples of drug-related tragedy and ugly dysfunction, but its upbeat outcome feels unlikely. Harper and Cooper, however, are dynamic, complex, introspective characters who find, in each other, an accepting family at last. The warmth of their relationship leads a bit too conveniently to other familial reconciliations, new and rekindled romances, and an idealized resolution of Harper’s baby dilemma, but it has a lingering resonance.

An affecting portrayal of a troubled teen’s journey toward redemption despite a facile ending.

Pub Date: June 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68433-297-7

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2019

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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