An unevenly written anti-war, gender-fluid, and environmentally conscious tale.

SWIMMING UPSTREAM

A NOVEL

In this novel, Anderson-Minshall (co-author: Queerly Beloved, 2014, etc.) tells the stories of a transgender man, the son he adopts, and the daughter he gave up.

Flint Douglas, an intersex teenager, counts himself blessed to have found Coyote “Ki” Douglas, who adopts him after he experiences years of abuse from foster parents. Ki’s compassionate act gets Flint off the streets and into a protective environment, where he’s allowed to grow into his body and emotions. This comfortable hideaway begins to crumble, however, when Ki is informed that his biological daughter, Brooke, has become ill while serving in Iraq and needs a kidney transplant. While reconnecting with his daughter and traveling with his adopted son, Ki’s past is revealed. Flint learns about his father’s origins, the abuse he suffered as a child, and the salvation he eventually found from “a well-dressed middle-aged gay man.” The more Ki tells Flint about his life, the more the teen relates to him. In the end, Ki passes on his wisdom and knowledge to the young man, who believes the key to keeping Ki’s lessons alive is sharing a fable of the Salmon People, which Ki used to tell to schoolchildren. Anderson-Minshall manages to juggle several major political topics, including war, green living, and even video game violence. Some of the plotline involving gender identity brings to mind Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and the Iraq-set war scenes are reminiscent of the Afghanistan-set 2007 book Lone Survivor. There’s a particularly significant anti-war theme; at one point, Flint thinks that American combat soldiers fighting had no guilt about their actions, which “made them far from innocent, and he kind of thought they deserved to get hurt or at least become shell-shocked.” Anderson-Minshall’s descriptions, however, can be overly thorough and misplaced: An early chapter is spent distinguishing Sunni from Shi‘ite Muslims and the treatment of Iraqi Muslims versus Native Americans, with Brooke as an incidental detail in the background, thinking that she’s dying. And despite all the political dialogue in this book, there’s little real conversation for the first 40 pages or so. 

An unevenly written anti-war, gender-fluid, and environmentally conscious tale.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9982521-7-9

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Transgress Press

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2018

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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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