ROUSTABOUT

First-novelist Chalfoun has relied on her own experiences as a circus worker to create this decidedly unglamorous view of a circus orphan's life—a bleak tale with occasional sparks of originality and insight glimmering from beneath the ashes. Mat hardly remembers her earliest years, before her mother took her along to live in an Airstream trailer with Enis, a circus crewman. Then, when Mat was nine, her mother fled, leaving Mat with her lover, who promptly began sexually abusing the little girl. Regularly raped by the man she calls ``Pa,'' Mat grows up unkempt and uneducated among the travelling performers, finding happiness only in her work as a roustabout, swinging a sledgehammer to secure the stays of the circus tent, apparently unaware of how different her life is from those of the townies she holds in such contempt. At the age of 15, though, Mat is ``rescued'' by Jayson, the 35- year-old ringcrew chief, who moves her into a sleeper with Al, a transvestite cook happy to act as surrogate mother, and puts her to work in the costume truck with Tante, a burn-scarred crone whose own terrible past throws an even deeper shadow over Mat's grim life. Somehow the teenaged Mat dares to hope for romance and domesticity, even as Jayson, now her lover, casually betrays and abuses her. Barely able to spell out a simple love letter, Mat cannot imagine a life outside this strange, peripatetic world, yet she must learn how to escape its no-win rules if she is to survive at all. Grim stuff, clearly, but Chalfoun's characters are not easy to forget. One wonders where the author's unflinching eye will light next. (Film rights to Twentieth Century Fox; $40,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-017297-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1996

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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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