Engrossing, imperfect characters in a riveting intergalactic tale.

THE CURIOUS CONSPIRACY ON GAMMA CETI

In this sci-fi debut, two teenagers suspect something diabolical lies behind the mysteriously locked supply closet in their school’s subbasement.

Dex Carpenter knows he has a low social standing at Saint McIntyre’s Academy on the colonized planet Gamma Ceti. This is primarily due to Travis Bannon, the much-respected star athlete who’s bullied him for years. So Dex doesn’t have the confidence to strike up a conversation with beguiling Tabitha Tempest, who transferred from an Earth school not long ago. His first one-on-one encounter with Tabitha is happenstance: Dex gets sick and is late to Morning Mass, which he then decides to skip altogether. It turns out Tabitha has been missing Mass every day, and she convinces Dex to make it a daily routine as well. The two bond and soon develop romantic feelings. But Tabitha believes the academy has secrets, starting with the principal having off-world tech, which the colony’s Pleiades Catholic society expressly forbids. She further claims that students return from Mass in some kind of trance lasting a couple of hours. Dex notices this, too, and Tabitha suggests Saint McIntyre’s is up to something sinister, like brainwashing. Assuming that the Masses have compromised students for years (and that adult colonists are brainwashed former pupils), Tabitha and Dex need hard evidence to take to Federal agents at the colonial outpost. They set their sights on the academy’s subbasement supply closet, which has a crypto-circuit lock that the principal’s special key likely opens. What the two find inside that room is much worse—and more dangerous—than they anticipated. West’s multigenre novel successfully blends sci-fi, mystery, and teen drama. For example, the tech, though minimal, is apparent. Tabitha’s Earth device, a Digit, “can do pretty much anything,” such as scanning for other tech in the school. The mystery, meanwhile, is sound: Tabitha and Dex’s eventual discovery in the subbasement leads to more questions than answers, which only deepens the conspiracy. But the author’s most laudable achievement is the deconstruction of teen-drama clichés, most notably involving the characters. The socially awkward protagonist, for one, earns sympathy as a bully’s victim. But Tabitha’s lament of drawing unwanted attention based solely on her looks is critical of most boys, including Dex, who initially pines for her for the same reason. And in a short but effective scene, Travis’ father, Nick, physically assaults his son, signaling lifelong abuse that is ostensibly the genesis of the student’s bullying. West’s simplified narrative concentrates on Tabitha and Dex, with much of the story set at Saint McIntyre’s and few appearances from adults. This makes the expedited romance convincing. There’s plenty of shared time for Tabitha to admire Dex’s confidence and later have her doubts when that assurance seemingly dissipates. The prose is often playful, as in this sci-fi-inspired interaction: “Soon a potent charge rose between them, like the rumble of booster engines priming for blast-off.” Unquestionable peril, unveiled villains, and a chase sequence constitute the final act, and though the book has a definite and memorable ending, there’s series potential here.

Engrossing, imperfect characters in a riveting intergalactic tale.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9892839-6-0

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Kenneth E. Floro III

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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