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THE PLACE YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO LAUGH

A thoughtful, caring examination of race, class, and wealth in America.

A black teenager struggles to come to terms with his identity, his troubled past, and his broken home in Silicon Valley.

The year is 2002, and 14-year-old Chad Loudermilk is trying to cope as best he can. He’s black, but everyone in his surrounding community of Palo Alto is white, the parents who adopted him included. His family is falling apart—his father, Ray, is struggling to make ends meet while constantly comparing himself to their wealthy neighbors, the MacAvoys, while his mother, Allison, is struggling with the recent death of her mother. When Chad’s only friend, Walter Chen, falls ill, things with the MacAvoys reach a breaking point, and Palo Alto begins to turn into modern Silicon Valley, Chad finds himself thinking more and more about his birthparents in a quest to connect with where he came from and figure out who he wants to be. An array of diverse characters peppers Rossmann’s debut, which brims with the essence of the early years of the century. Allison’s sister, Diana Marchese, feels the fullest of the cast, and scenes of her romantic entanglements at academic conferences and reflections on romance, aging, and life feel fresh and true to life. Rossmann, who is white, takes on the tough challenge of making her main character a black teenager, and though Chad is vivid and his growth drives the narrative, certain moments that center on race and racial anxiety can feel grating, such as when Rossmann describes a party crowd as “black and Latino, throbbing to the beat of the music as if organically connected to it.” Though the novel suffers from slight lethargy at its outset, it picks up quite effectively, has a strong finish, and stands as a testament to a changing city in a changing country at a defining time in history.

A thoughtful, caring examination of race, class, and wealth in America.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9913687-2-3

Page Count: 330

Publisher: 7.13 Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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