The novel hobbles itself with excessive details, but Lance’s journey is a lively, satisfying one.

SEEDS IN THE CONCRETE

CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION, CHANGE YOUR REALITY

Debut author Joevon presents an urban novel about an aspiring songwriter’s quest to transcend his surroundings.

When the reader first meets Lance Adams, he’s not happy. Lance wrote a smash song for the rapper J-Money and, although Lance received $10,000 for his efforts, he feels he deserves more (“He’s making MILLIONS off of my LIFE!”). As the reader learns, Lance’s life certainly makes for good hip-hop copy. He grew up in the Marcus Garvey Projects in Brooklyn surrounded by drug abuse and violence. He spent three years in prison and is quick to throw a punch. Now that he’s a free man, he dreams of making music and spends long hours at Barnes & Noble writing lyrics. At the bookstore, he meets the thoughtful Ayana, and they eventually have a son together. Lance looks to be on the right path, but his old troubles haunt him. His is a world where slighting the wrong person can end poorly, and drugs can drain resources and end lives in a flash. Lance points out the stupidity of stealing an iPhone, saying that the $700 phone isn’t worth the risk: “A crackhead can smoke that away in ten seconds!” Halfway through the story, following an incident with a gun, Lance enters a strange realm where he is taught various life lessons. He emerges as someone who has journeyed to the recesses of his own mind. He also emerges as a very different person. The excitement for the reader comes in finding out how Lance will succeed now that he is both physically and mentally changed. And there is plenty of excitement to be had: bullets fly, egos collide, and music is made even if the storyline sometimes sags with mundane details, including Polonius-like advice Lance gives his young son about borrowing money. The reader need not know so many specifics, but the payoff is with the protagonist. Lance is often down but will he ever be out? It’s a question that keeps the story moving until the very end.

The novel hobbles itself with excessive details, but Lance’s journey is a lively, satisfying one.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5136-1473-1

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Movement Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2018

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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