Undisciplined, weakly plotted first novel—about a young drug- runner who wants out—that offers the most visceral portrait of crack-curdled inner-city life since Richard Price's Clockers, and likely the most authentic ever: Rodriguez is a native of the South Bronx, which he also brought to vividly garish life in the collection The Boy Without a Flag. While Price worked a large canvas, covering cop-life as well as crack-life, Rodriguez sticks to the ghetto—and his is Hispanic, not African-American. This narrow focus serves him well as he unfold what's at heart a very simple—and familiar—plotline. His 16-year-old hero, Miguel, delivers crack for a rising druglord named Spider. But Miguel—who doesn't do crack himself—is ready to quit: He's too sensitive and smart to carry on, despite the fast money, the arguments of his arsonist roommate, Firebug, and the threats of Spider. Miguel's resolve is boosted by the urgings of his crackhead friend Amelia, and it's cemented when he falls for a prototypical good girl who can't bear his way of life. When Miguel tries to make his break, he's set up by Spider and takes two bullets—but he survives and, partly thanks to a father-figure Hispanic cop, finds the courage to walk away for good. But this highly moral plot, which could fly as a TV Afternoon Special for teens, is only a rickety scaffold for Rodriguez's real triumph: his stunning depiction—in slang-and-dialect-ridden prose (``I can still see huh, puttin' on huh putona clothes t`go out't some social club...'') that's so freewheeling it sometimes rolls right off the page—of life in Spidertown. Burrowing deep into his characters' complex souls, he makes each rich and sympathetic, even Firebug, who lives for his ``wienie roasts''—and that's some achievement. Despite the slack plotting: a piercing and unforgettable cry from the heart of crack-hell.

Pub Date: June 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-56282-845-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1993

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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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