A frustrating debut that doesn’t reach nearly far enough. But don’t bet that it won’t become very, very popular.

COLUMBUS SLAUGHTERS BRAVES

Echoes of Bang the Drum Slowly, The Natural, and Brian’s Song are heard throughout this literate weeper about an athlete dying young: an intermittently incisive though ultimately flat first novel.

The story’s narrated—in a pleasingly lucid, confident voice—by Joe Columbus, the older brother who watches with mingled amazement, subdued pride, and rancorous envy as his sibling CJ becomes a baseball phenom and a beloved public figure. Joe drifts into marriage with his college girlfriend Beth, then settles into a career as a high-school science teacher as she moves into a high-pressure law firm. Meanwhile, golden boy CJ—as intelligent, friendly, and generous as he is athletically gifted—rises from sandlot prominence in their southern California neighborhood to dazzling success as the Chicago Cubs’ All Star third baseman, even challenging Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive game-hitting streak. Friedman forcefully communicates the jealousy even Joe knows is irrational and unfair (“What I really wanted was that some thing, the smallest thing, would be denied him”). But there isn’t really a whole lot of novel here. Subplots involving Joe’s dealings with a problem student, Beth’s relationship with a colleague who uses her as model for a character in his fiction, and the couple’s incompatibility, seemingly cured by her surprise pregnancy, bear a token relation to the main plot here, but really only manage to distract our attention from it. Even potentially strong scenes, like Joe’s nighttime visit with his father to “Nikeland” while CJ lies gravely ill in a hospital, are inexplicably truncated, as if Friedman saw no need to develop them. Still, there’s no doubt that the Cain-and-Abel tension between the brothers engages our attention, or that the emotional closing pages do not have genuine impact.

A frustrating debut that doesn’t reach nearly far enough. But don’t bet that it won’t become very, very popular.

Pub Date: March 29, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-02520-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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While the love triangle is interesting, perhaps most compelling is the story of one woman's single-minded pursuit of her...

LITTLE GODS

Love and ambition clash in a novel depicting China's turbulent 1980s.

Jin's debut is at heart a mystery, as a young Chinese American woman returns to China to try to understand her recently deceased mother's decisions and to find her biological father. Liya grew up with a single mother, the brilliant but troubled physicist Su Lan, who refused to talk about Liya's missing father. Mother and daughter grew increasingly estranged as Su Lan obsessed over her theoretical research. Complicating Liya's search for truth is the fact she was born in Beijing on June 4, 1989, the very night of the government crackdown on the protesters at Tiananmen Square. Su Lan changed Liya's birth year on her papers to obscure this fact in America. The reader is meant to wonder if Liya's father perhaps died during the crackdown. However, this is not a novel about the idealism of the student reform movement or even the decisions behind the government's use of lethal force. Instead Jin focuses on the personalities of three students: the young Su Lan as well as Zhang Bo and Li Yongzong, two of her high school classmates who were rivals for her affection. The novel shifts point of view and jumps back and forth in time, obscuring vital pieces of information from the reader in order to prolong the mystery. Not all the plot contrivances make sense, but Su Lan is a fascinating character of a type rarely seen in fiction, an ambitious woman whose intellect and drive allow her to envision changing the very nature of time. The title refers to the thoughts of a nurse, musing about the similarities that she sees between the Tiananmen student demonstrators and the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution: "A hunger for revolution, any Great Revolution, whatever it stands for, so long as where you stand is behind its angry fist. Little gods, she thinks."

While the love triangle is interesting, perhaps most compelling is the story of one woman's single-minded pursuit of her ambition.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-293595-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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