THE FAT GIRL

An unusual, cross-generational study in the corruptions of power—with strongly limned if poisonously weak adults, and fuzzier stand-in teens. Expediently signing up for ceramics, glamor-boy drifter Jeff falls hard for gorgeous whiz Norma—an interesting, self-composed sort besides, and (for no apparent reason) equally smitten. Yet why is he so bugged by the clumsy, doting "fat girl" in their class, Ellen De Luca? She keeps watching him, Jeff complains to Norma—who reminds him that he keeps eyeing her too. Then Ellen overhears him mock her, breaks into tears, and stays out of school. Jeff, less contrite than resentful (at being made "angry and cruel"), pays an apologetic call; Ellen sniffles that she's going to kill herself; his mopey, divorced nurse-mother, suffering from her own rejection by Jeff's father, says suicide-threats can't be discounted; and Jeff, jealous in turn of his remarried father's two young sons, takes up Ellen—to mold into a kind of statuesque Earth Mother, and display as his own, exotic creation. The ceramics parallel is implicit: Ellen becomes left's all-consuming project, his answer to what he sees as Norma's preoccupation with, and recognition for, her pots. The parallel with his demanding, complaining mother's need to exercise control—which impels his younger sister to flee to their father's easier-going household—is more open and ultimately explicit. Adoring, not-very-bright Ellen stops gorging herself and loses weight—desirous only of being an ordinary, pretty girl with a handsome boyfriend. She also takes a dogged, untalented fancy to potting (in lieu of college). And when she rejects the gold caftan Jeff has selected for her Senior Prom smash appearance, happily squeezing herself into an ordinary white gown, Jeff is outraged: "It wasn't my Ellen at all." She has the wit to know why he's sore, and the gumption to break off: "it was the power—that's all you ever wanted." Just like his mother, Jeff realizes, when she goes on about ingratitude to console him. You can't properly sympathize with anyone here, nor are you really meant to: the situation is compelling in its very awfulness, and gets edgier as Sachs cleverly, with each detail, tightens the screws.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 1984

ISBN: 0738710008

Page Count: 241

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984

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With appeal to cynics and romantics alike, this profound exploration of life and love tempers harsh realities with the...

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THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR

Natasha and Daniel meet, get existential, and fall in love during 12 intense hours in New York City.

Natasha believes in science and facts, things she can quantify. Fact: undocumented immigrants in the U.S., her family is being deported to Jamaica in a matter of hours. Daniel’s a poet who believes in love, something that can’t be explained. Fact: his parents, Korean immigrants, expect him to attend an Ivy League school and become an M.D. When Natasha and Daniel meet, Natasha’s understandably distracted—and doesn’t want to be distracted by Daniel. Daniel feels what in Japanese is called koi no yokan, “the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them.” The narrative alternates between the pair, their first-person accounts punctuated by musings that include compelling character histories. Daniel—sure they’re meant to be—is determined to get Natasha to fall in love with him (using a scientific list). Meanwhile, Natasha desperately attempts to forestall her family’s deportation and, despite herself, begins to fall for sweet, disarmingly earnest Daniel. This could be a sappy, saccharine story of love conquering all, but Yoon’s lush prose chronicles an authentic romance that’s also a meditation on family, immigration, and fate.

With appeal to cynics and romantics alike, this profound exploration of life and love tempers harsh realities with the beauty of hope in a way that is both deeply moving and satisfying. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-49668-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably.

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ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES

Two struggling teens develop an unlikely relationship in a moving exploration of grief, suicide and young love.

Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, has withdrawn from her friends and from school activities since her sister died in a car accident nine months earlier. Finch, known to his classmates as "Theodore Freak," is famously impulsive and eccentric. Following their meeting in the school bell tower, Finch makes it his mission to re-engage Violet with the world, partially through a school project that sends them to offbeat Indiana landmarks and partially through simple persistence. (Violet and Finch live, fortunately for all involved, in the sort of romantic universe where his throwing rocks at her window in the middle of the night comes off more charming than stalker-esque.) The teens alternate narration chapter by chapter, each in a unique and well-realized voice. Finch's self-destructive streak and suicidal impulses are never far from the surface, and the chapters he narrates are interspersed with facts about suicide methods and quotations from Virginia Woolf and poet Cesare Pavese. When the story inevitably turns tragic, a cast of carefully drawn side characters brings to life both the pain of loss and the possibility of moving forward, though some notes of hope are more believable than others.

Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-75588-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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