Somewhere! (Hunaak!)

Abbas’ (HWJN, 2013) latest novel mixes sci-fi, fantasy and pure adolescent adventure.
When Husam wakes up, he can’t even remember his own name. Even stranger, he’s in a place he’s never seen before—a huge, open room under one of several crystal-clear domes. And when he looks at himself, he realizes he’s about 20 centimeters taller, with the body of a fitness junkie instead of his usual couch potato physique and forgettable looks. Then the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen walks into the room and offers to show him around this strange place. Eventually introducing herself as Malak, she says she can only answer yes or no to his questions; if she were to simply explain where he is and what has happened to him, he could never go back to his own life. Husam insists that he has to return home to take care of his mother and sister, but the amazing world in which he finds himself—and the stunning Malak—is hard to resist. Then, after he has left the room, a stranger tries to kill him by crashing into Husam’s Jet Ski, and later, the mysterious Mr. Khaled tries to poison him. As his near-death experiences become more and more intense, Husam realizes that if he doesn’t figure things out quickly, he may never get the chance. Despite Husam’s overnight transformation—from a short, overweight wimp into a tall, fit action hero who can eat all he wants and have all the expensive toys he longed for—he doesn’t grow or change in a meaningful way. He was rather shallow and rudderless in the old world, and in the new world, though his supercharged brain makes it easy for him to do anything—outplaying Beethoven or out-fighting Bruce Lee, for example—he doesn’t develop the levels of discipline and responsibility needed to manage those skills wisely. Abbas seems to be trying to send a profound message through Husam’s story, but whatever that message is, it’s lost in a blur of heroics and fantasy—not to mention typos and muddled syntax: “I could not tell how much time I spent absorbed into my master piece, it was as if I was in a coma that I awakened from after I was done.”

A blur of self-indulgence and high-tech battles obscures a deeper message.

Pub Date: June 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-9948205838

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Yatakhayaloon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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