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THE LAUGHING

An environmental message lies at the heart of this often gripping tale.

Clarkin’s (Cold Open, 2012) YA novel sees three kids working to protect a special tree, which is connected to a magical realm.

Ten-year-old Gabby Wilson lives in Marshall Township with her mother, Amanda; her older sister, Natalie; and her grandfather Tom. On the way home from school one day, she, Natalie, and their young neighbor, Ian Jennings, cut through a park. Next to the park is mean, old Patrick Skinner’s property, guarded by three vicious dogs. Also nearby is a grove of trees—also owned by Skinner—which is the neighborhood’s last scrap of wilderness. Gabby, after hearing a “really nice sound,” enters the woods to investigate; it seems to be the sound of children laughing. One tree’s bark has the raised initials “EM” on it, and when the kids touch them, a rumbling begins. Gabby and company suddenly find themselves rolling down a unfamiliar hillside, and they land in a field of lush, green grass under a bright, blue sky. A boy named Nelson greets them and reveals the existence of a self-contained community where young people exercise their creativity and live sustainably. When Gabby asks where they are, Nelson says, “This place is for you three smart young folks to figure out.” In this ecologically minded YA puzzler, Clarkin writes primarily for younger audiences, but his adult characters often give the narrative a dark streak. For example, when Skinner threatens to remove the trees from his property, Amanda initially wants to avoid battling the “pervert”—a reference that goes unexplained. It’s heartening, however, when Tom, a former state trooper, later encourages Amanda to stand by Gabby. The secret place comes across as a utopia, where life is an ongoing science fair and people focus on bettering the world through agriculture, solar power, and more efficient transportation; its exact location, though, is never explicitly stated. The ending, which involves some frightening gunplay, provides an emotional plot turn that makes a sequel welcome.

An environmental message lies at the heart of this often gripping tale.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9993952-2-6

Page Count: 212

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2018

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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