Parker does a fine job exploring Joel’s pain, but the overworked music/love connection is not enough to give his story...


Soul music acts as a lifeline for a tormented adolescent whose family is disintegrating.

Three things about this very short novel hit you immediately. The first is the voice of the narrator, 14-year-old Joel Junior; the second is the invocation of America’s rhythm-and-blues singers; and the third is the terrible plight of Joel and his little brothers, Carter and Tank. For his fifth work of fiction, Parker (Towns Without Rivers, 2001, etc.) takes us back to Trent, North Carolina. Joel’s daddy is not right in the head. When he’s having one of his spells, he hears voices; he has destroyed the TV with his golf clubs, though he hasn’t (yet) laid a hand on his kids. Joel’s mama was the first to jump ship, followed by her firstborn, Angela. Now Joel is father and mother to both his kid brothers. He expresses perfectly his lost Southern self, as he tries to make sense of the inexplicable. What sustains this beaten-down white boy is his love of the great black soul singers, a taste he has inherited from his father, who has just broken down again. Fearing the worst, Joel bundles his brothers into the pickup, but Carter gets loose; their daddy ties him up and cuts his hair, snipping off an earlobe. Joel has seen enough; he drives Tank and himself to the coastal town where Angela is waiting tables, but she’s a tough cookie and disinclined to help. After failing to track down their mother, Joel and Tank return home to a catastrophe. That’s not much storyline in a novel that is all about love: love promised, love withheld, love struggling against the odds.

Parker does a fine job exploring Joel’s pain, but the overworked music/love connection is not enough to give his story ballast.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2005

ISBN: 1-56512-484-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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