Baker the social historian (he’s pretty good) trumps the novelist (not so hot) in this overstuffed novel whose parts are...

STRIVERS ROW

World War II Harlem is the setting for the parallel stories of a preacher (invented) and a hustler (the future Malcolm X) in Baker’s fourth novel, which concludes his New York–based trilogy.

A Harlem minister, Jonah Dove, is returning by train to New York from Martha’s Vineyard with his wife Amanda. Jonah, light enough to pass for white, and his much darker wife are saved from a mob of racist soldiers by an intrepid railroad sandwich man, 18-year-old Malcolm Little, leaving Jonah feeling impotent and humiliated. His famous father Milton (now 94) once led former slaves out of Virginia to form his first congregation. On retirement, he installed Jonah as his successor and even arranged his marriage; no surprise, then, that Jonah feels unworthy of his congregation and the too-perfect Amanda. Meanwhile, Malcolm, new to Harlem, is like a kid at Christmas, checking out the Savoy, Small’s Paradise and an anything-goes rent party. He falls in love with a beautiful white girl at the Savoy; he works as a waiter, a numbers runner, a drug dealer and a john-walker; he even has visions of Elijah Muhammad, though this reckless young blood has yet to touch bottom. Baker alternates between his two leads (goodbye, narrative momentum) while dipping frequently into their pasts. Scenes from Malcolm’s grim Michigan childhood are interwoven with striking vignettes of Elijah and Wallace Fard, his bizarre mentor; Jonah’s darkest hour occurred after rejection by his college buddies (they discovered he was colored). Affecting both men is a Harlem seething with anger at its army of occupation (the white cops) while black soldiers are being brutalized down South. Baker ends with an unlikely transformation. Wimpy Jonah, who has even botched his brief the-hell-with-it-all departure from home and church, returns to deliver a triumphant sermon, rescue Malcolm from a cop and defuse a race riot.

Baker the social historian (he’s pretty good) trumps the novelist (not so hot) in this overstuffed novel whose parts are better than the whole.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-019583-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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