In a novel so light it threatens to drift free of the reader’s imagination with the first decent rerun of The Paper Chase, Boylan (The Planets, 1991; The Constellation, 1994) has contrived a fiction lacking in the richness of plot that made his earlier work such a hoot yet neglects to supply the compensations of well-developed characters, whose maturation is the theme here. Boylan makes admirable efforts to broaden the inert genre of Ivy League-style, white, proto-materialist teenhood by incorporating the parents of the hopeful youth here—who are trying to gain admission to at least one of nine New England colleges—into the cathartic tale. Ostensibly, the mission that sets the story in motion begins as Juddy (surfer dude), Polo (yuppie), Dylan (sensitive and shy), and Allison (sensitive and not shy) join adults Lefty, Ben, and Chloâ—who, in varying degrees, are parents to the three—in a Winnebago to travel the Ivy League circuit, with the teens interviewing at each stop. Ben and Lefty are brothers, whose latent rivalry is spiked with hidden secrets, while Chloâ, Lefty’s wife, is torn in her emerging affection for Ben. Mismatched lovers Allison and Polo are brought to their better senses somewhere around Connecticut, and Dylan comes to terms with his grief-tarnished past, ultimately getting the girl in a Wesleyan graveyard. While Boylan’s premise—that this stressful ordeal forces on everyone life-changing examinations of past and present—is exhausted fairly early; the sustaining. ambition of each member of the group seems to be: How to get sex with (select member of party) in good conscience? (Answer: Place friends in stressbox and shake.) Thus, the tiresome sexual irony of the title. Despite some genuine humor—particularly during the interviews themselves—Boylan’s uninspired creation suffers from another symptom of creative fatigue: improbably tidy resolutions of the half-dozen, imprecisely explored anxieties that salt the proceeding.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-446-67417-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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