An elegiac, hopeful historical novel.


An accomplished novel that looks at the true wildness of the wilderness and the stakes of rugged individualism.

In 1806, a massive swamp stretches across northeastern Ohio. In the not-so-distant town of Severne, separated from the swamp by the Thieving Forest, there live five sisters who are just starting to learn how to get along following the deaths of their parents. It seems bearable enough until a band of Potawatomi tribesmen emerges from the woods, loots the girls’ home, and kidnaps Aurelia, Penelope and Naomi. Aurelia, partially scalped by one of her captors, is found by searchers not long afterward and dies a few days later; Penelope and Naomi remain missing, and Susanna and Beatrice begin what seems an impossible journey to find them. A trying, harrowing search follows, vitiated by uncertainty and the dangers of shifting geography as well as racial and political disputes. The story is a careful consideration of the strength and flexibility of family bonds, as the sisters each go their own ways in the aftermath of the attack, though not always by choice. Susanna dreams of reuniting with her sisters, even when the dream seems destined to remain unfulfilled; after a long expedition with a native woman as a guide, for example, she finds that one of her sisters has married into a Native American tribe. Conway’s (12 Bliss Street, 2003) historical novel features prose as rich as its characters; throughout, it looks at the hard facts of settling the American frontier and the capacity of the imagination to surpass the limitations of one’s surroundings. The stark, solid plot never plods, moving deftly between the characters’ physical and spiritual trials. Overall, it’s a hypnotic, capacious and cutting evocation of a bleak period of American history.

An elegiac, hopeful historical novel.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9916185-0-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Noontime Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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