A sensitive work from a very promising author.

THE EXISTENCE OF PITY

In Zokan’s debut novel, the members of an American Baptist missionary family in Cali, Colombia, confront some surprising secrets.

Teenager Josie Wales, the kid sister of Aaron and the daughter of Henry and Astrid, narrates this story of a fateful summer in the family’s lives. It’s 1976, Josie is soon to enter her junior year of high school, and Aaron, his senior year. The season’s first bombshell hits when Josie discovers that her father’s mysterious errands are to see and support a woman with whom he secretly fathered a child. Henry is contrite, and he and Astrid try to work through the situation. The other woman, Samara, then tricks them into taking care of the baby, whose name is Piedad Maria. If the mission hierarchy finds out that the child is Henry’s, he could lose his position, which would put the family back in the United States, adrift. Then a second bombshell goes off, involving Astrid, which shakes the family to its roots. Josie’s only confidante is young Blanca, a Colombian housekeeper, and the teen begins to flirt with Catholicism. To her parents, this nascent apostasy is morally worse than what they’ve done—even though sneaky, unpleasant Aaron is hardly a model child. As Josie navigates her family situation, she deals with typical, young-love issues with her boyfriend. Overall, this is an offbeat coming-of-age story, albeit a brutal one, and Josie is perfect in her role as the story’s protagonist and moral center. Zokan effectively shows how the teenager heroically tries to make things right and to get her family members to stop their denial and hypocritical behavior—and they are revealed to be very ugly Americans indeed. The reader aches for a happier ending, as Henry, Astrid, and Aaron appear to have learned nothing, satisfying themselves that somehow all their misfortunes were Josie’s fault. Intriguingly, however, they haven’t ostracized the protagonist at all—they’ve liberated her.

A sensitive work from a very promising author.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940215-80-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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