Hard to figure how this ugly-duckling first novel landed Barrett a three-book deal.


Heartbroken lawyer trades bagels and briefcases for salsa and self-discovery.

Newly divorced and lacking a game plan for her future, Claire St. John leaves New York City and skedaddles home to Austin, Texas. Surrounded by girlfriends and family, Claire mulls over her next step. She’s in her early 30s, but lacks focus and direction. Being a lawyer simply didn’t suit this impetuous minx. She fancies herself witty, and she owns a laptop: Heck—why not become a writer? Thanks to a rent-free house provided by Mom, Claire’s in no rush to deliver a finished product. She whiles away her days at the local coffee shop, munching on junk food and recording her attempts at observational humor. She decides to pen a humorous self-help book targeting men. Though neither especially funny nor particularly insightful about romance, she more than overcompensates with confidence for what she lacks in raw talent. As she pecks away at her laptop, she finds time to cultivate a new romance. She and Jake seem to be hitting it off, but Claire’s sassy tongue gets her into trouble. Single and broke, she makes a last-ditch effort to launch her writing career and salvage the “Year of Claire.” Risks have their rewards. Claire’s unorthodox approach to relationships and business should fail, but Barrett revels in letting this underdog win. Unfortunately, her narrative is as undisciplined as her main character. Claire’s boorish behavior is occasionally endearing, but for the most part, the characters are stereotypical and the comedy amateurish.

Hard to figure how this ugly-duckling first novel landed Barrett a three-book deal.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-112861-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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