Potent and intoxicating: a dangerously seductive book.

THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT

A twisting, Rashomon-like novel about a high-school girl who vanishes for several weeks, then returns, to accusations that she faked her abduction.

On Nov. 7, 1985, 16-year-old Mary Veal slipped away from field-hockey practice at her posh suburban Boston school. On New Year’s Eve, she reappeared, sitting on a bench near the athletic fields, claiming to have been abducted. Forced into therapy by her domineering mother, Mary faces her toughest challenge yet. The book begins omniscient in a glimpse entitled “What Might Have Happened.” The story then deftly shifts from Mary’s life in 1999 to that of Dr. Hammer, her therapist in 1986. As the three voices alternate, Julavits slowly reveals the totality of Mary’s experience. Hammer’s perspective is clinical, but Mary is no ordinary patient. In Mary’s therapy sessions, we see the power of a girl in bloom. Mary is petulant, frustrated, caged. Hammer opines that she is extremely intelligent and crafty. There are substantial similarities to an earlier case involving another girl from the same school, ultimately proven to be false. Mary’s mother, Paula, the proud offspring of a Salem witch, lives up to her family heritage by condemning Mary’s act as one of pure defiance. For Paula Veal, damage control for the family reputation is far more important. Hammer goes on to author a bestselling book about a hypothetical Miriam, a young girl with a pathological gift for imagination. Mary’s disappearance seems to begin and end as fiction. Branded a liar, she becomes a pariah. In 1999, however, Mary has returned home for the funeral of her mother. As ghosts from her past swirl around her, she begins a ritual that opens up dark places. What really happened in 1985 is a fragment of a much larger story. An older, wiser Mary is now ready to confront her demons. Julavits (The Effects of Living Backwards, 2003, etc.), a founding editor of The Believer, perfectly captures the siren call of adolescent women, and the aftermath of those who are lured in.

Potent and intoxicating: a dangerously seductive book.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51323-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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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