A likable bildungsroman that cannily evokes how music transforms teenage identity.

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC

A teenager in 1970s Detroit takes his first steps toward hard-rock rebellion after a soft-rock upbringing.

Zadoorian’s third novel (The Leisure Seeker, 2009, etc.) is narrated by Danny, a white kid in Detroit who’s slowly getting pushed out of his bubble. The 1967 race riots introduced him to racial divides, starting high school makes him absurdly anxious about becoming a drug addict, and a classmate who prankishly played the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” in class reveals the existence of a louder, more profane world. His father’s tastes run to the “beautiful music” of the title (the Carpenters, John Denver, etc.), but after he dies, Danny begins a slow-motion process of acting out, developing an affection for Led Zeppelin and Iggy Pop. That connects him to a fellow record nerd named John, who introduces him to the charms of British rock mags and weed. Increasingly confident thanks to John's friendship and a stint at the school radio station, Danny begins to push back against his grieving mother, who’s been drinking heavily. The novel is notable for being a coming-of-age story without a romantic peg, Danny being too emotionally formless to pursue a relationship. But Zadoorian keeps the tone upbeat in other ways: He’s skilled at capturing the feeling of release that music can provide (“something snaps in your heart and a jolt of pure happiness shoots through you better than all the dope in the world”) as well as the anxiety the novelty of that experience can produce in a sheltered kid. The emphasis on those lighter elements soft-focuses the drama of the final pages, where racial tensions and mom’s drinking come to a head. But that captures Danny’s character too: The real world is encroaching, but he can keep it at arm’s length just a while longer.

A likable bildungsroman that cannily evokes how music transforms teenage identity.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61775-617-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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