A funny, thoughtful campus tale.

Haylow

A Georgia college professor attempts to escape the ghosts of history in Stewart’s debut novel.

Atlanta, 1996: the Olympics have just left town, and historian Travis Hemperly has returned there to take up a temporary teaching position at a historically black college. The white Hemperly’s previous teaching experience includes three years at the University of Minnesota followed by a year of performing Viking re-enactments at a tourist destination in Newfoundland, Canada—neither of which has sufficiently prepared him for a career in what Abraham Baldwin Longman, one of his new colleagues, jokingly refers to as “Blackademia”: “Travis is out of his element. He has never taught on a historically black campus, has never been a minority on any piece of real estate he has ever set foot on.” It’s a difficult transition, though one that Travis is willing to make if only because there aren’t many other options for him in the shrinking academic market. Despite cultural differences and disparate sensitivities, things begin to improve—until another colleague discovers that Travis’ conspiracy-obsessed father, Henry Hemperly, hosts the racist AM-radio call-in show “Confederate Talk Radio.” What’s more, a discussion of lynching reminds Travis of a story that his father told him when he was boy about an event Henry witnessed in the tiny village of Haylow, where a man was tied to a tree and murdered with an ax. In order to remain in his new position, Travis will have to come to terms with some history outside his area of specialization—that of his family and that of the South. Stewart tells Travis’ story in lucid, observant prose (“There is a lot to look at up in the sky tonight, a lot of action going on in the cosmos….All of this astronomical activity must mean something, so it seems like the right night for an appeal to the universe”), and he gives his novel a buoyant satirical gloss without teetering too far into ridiculousness. His characters are well-drawn and generally quite complex—even the largely unsympathetic ones—and the dialogue in particular crackles with personality. The book does drag in some sections and might have been improved with a bit of condensing. Even so, it represents an amusing and sometimes quite scathing look at academia, racial tensions, and the oppressive weight of the past that still characterizes life in the South.

A funny, thoughtful campus tale.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60489-173-7

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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