WHAT GIRLS LEARN

From the Brooklyn-based Cook, an earnest coming-of-age tale featuring two sisters from Atlanta whose mother dies of breast cancer—standard first-novel fare that never provokes, never offends, and never sparks much interest, either. Twelve-year-old Tilden has always been a quiet observer, lingering on the edge of the more vibrant world inhabited by her prettier younger sister, Elizabeth, and by Frances, their optimistic, homily-spouting, divorced mother. When Frances returns home to Atlanta from a wedding up north, Tilden watches anxiously as a flurry of romantic correspondence with a man she met there turns into yet another move. Happily, though, this journey to Nick Olsen's home on Long Island turns out to be a healthy one: Nick, the owner of a limousine service, is a good guy who helps the girls with their homework, cleans up around the house, and works hard to live up to his new role of substitute dad. The girls' adjustment to this new life would appear relatively painless, in fact, if it weren't for Frances's discovery of a lump in her breast, her subsequent mastectomy, and her lingering death over the course of Tilden's 13th year—an event that leaves the two girls with no one to look after them but bumbling Nick. This bomb dropped into the center of Tilden's life might be expected to cause some interesting shock waves, but in fact the adults who surround Tilden and Elizabeth prove so adept at helping the girls adjust to the pain of losing their beloved mother that there's little doubt they'll land on their feet. Even when Frances's no-account brother, Rand, turns up for a visit and makes a half-hearted sexual pass at Tilden, he so deeply regrets his transgression that there's nothing for the reader to sink her teeth into. In the end, this drama remains, like its sturdy heroine, well- intentioned but bland.

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-44828-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1996

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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