BLU'S HANGING

Yamanaka's giddy, bawdy, and genuinely moving second novel (Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, 1996) concerns three Hawaiian Huckleberry Finns, children left motherless and in poverty, who must fend for themselves against a harsh, indifferent world. When Ella Ogata dies, her husband Poppy vanishes into the drudgery of his menial night and day jobs, leaving 12-year-old daughter Ivah in charge. Ivah knows that everything is falling to pieces despite her efforts to feed the family on white-bread-and- mayonnaise sandwiches, with dinners of cold cream-of-mushroom soup poured over hot rice. Brother Blu is soon grotesquely overweight and drawn to an impressive panoply of local perverts. Little Maisie won't talk and wets her pants in school, where she is humiliated by some self-righteous Caucasian teachers. But setbacks or no, the children manage to create their own, often magical, world—one that is never lacking in energy and ingenuity (expressed in gloriously funny Hawaiian pidgin) and even allies (the kids' butch cousin Bib Sis and her schoolteacher girlfriend Sandi). They survive despite incursions from the feral Reyes family, a half-dozen violent, sex- happy sisters and their dope-dealing incestuous Uncle Paulo, who has his eye on both Maisie and, as it turns out, Blu. The plot turns on a secret that's revealed: Ella and Poppy were child lepers, raised in a remote colony, miraculously cured by sulfa drugs in 1949, afterward bravely (and vainly) trying to join the ``normal'' world—but then things hurtle toward melodrama as Ivah is about to depart for boarding school. Uncle Paulo chooses this moment to rape Blu, an act that leads Poppy to accuse Ivah of abandoning her family. Fortunately, Big Sis and Sandi are there to make everything right. A pungent mix of poetic observation and vulgar reality, and further evidence that a literary Renaissance is brewing out in Hawaii: Here's a novel that rejects exotic gush for an unflinching vision relayed by a unique voice. (For other Hawaii-set fiction, see Pamela Ball and Nora Okja Keller, above.)

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-11499-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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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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