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ICY SPARKS

Well intentioned, for sure, but Icy is too much the poster child for great success as fiction.

An overwritten, underdeveloped story celebrating Appalachia and a young woman who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome.

Kentucky’s backwoodsy mountains are the setting for this chronicle of a girl who, as an infant, was called —Icy— by her dying mother because she was as “cold as the bottom of Icy creek.” Here in the hollows, where coal is still mined, country ways prevail: people are mostly kind, but ignorance and fear can also make them behave cruelly. Descriptions (of them and the countryside) augment the rather thin tale of Icy, for the most part a sequence of vivid and brutal set-pieces: the girl’s encounter with a sadistic fourth-grade teacher; her spell in the state asylum; her first and failed romance at 13. Icy also does a lot of walking around the hollows and visiting with her family and few good friends. Lovingly raised by her grandparents, and befriended by the overweight Miss Emily, who encourages Icy to dream of college and a different life, she first experiences alarming symptoms at age ten. When stressed, she begins croaking like a frog, her eyes pop, and she helplessly lets loose a string of offensive epithets. But it’s the 1950s, and not even the kindly asylum’s doctor knows what’s wrong. Once she’s home again, Icy (called —Frog Child— by some), now shunned by her peers and feared by the locals, leads a lonely life studying the books provided by Miss Emily and a generous school principal. When her grandfather dies, her grandmother joins a church, and Icy, persuaded to come along, learns that her beautiful singing voice can be an asset to the choir. Eventually, this will win her the acceptance she’s long yearned for. An epilogue details the diagnosis she receives at college, which finally vindicates her.

Well intentioned, for sure, but Icy is too much the poster child for great success as fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-87311-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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