A well-described setting adds strength to this coming-of-age novel.

BLUES HARP GREEN

In this YA novel, a teenage girl deals with family, relationships, and limitations, growing up in the process.

For 16-year-old Francie Mills, tennis is the only thing that matters and the only thing she can control. She’d rather ignore her doctor’s warning to stop stressing torn cartilage in her knee than go without the freedom she feels on the court. She certainly has no power over her father Hank’s drinking and how it makes him obnoxious and embarrassing. Hank coordinates transportation for movie shoots, and on location with him in Austin, Texas, Francie meets 17-year-old Chet Jones, who plays with Blues Harp Jones, a band appearing in the film. Like her, Chet lives in Southern California, though he possesses an appealing Aussie accent. He’s also cute, charming, understanding about her father, and wants to keep in touch. But Francie struggles with self-consciousness, anger, and her father’s criticism: “he made her feel like a big, fat, worthless, useless, nothing loser.” Eddie, a would-be Martin Scorsese and brother of Francie’s friend Stella, also likes Francie, but he seems safe where Chet is exciting. As Francie struggles with her feelings, her tennis, and her father’s alcoholism, she learns some hard truths and comes to a new understanding about human connections. In her debut novel, Schubert captures the melodramatic roller-coaster emotions that come with being a teenager: “Chet had to write to her. Or she would disappear into a black, hopeless abyss.” The theme does get overworked, however, and readers may tire of Francie’s self-absorption; at times, she seems more embarrassed by her dad than worried about him. Also overworked to the point of tedium are sentence fragments and many sentences beginning with “And.” It’s meant to convey urgency and drama, but overuse robs the technique of effect. A screenwriter and film editor, Schubert uses her insider knowledge well to provide an intriguing background for Francie, friends, and family among the nonfamous entertainment world of struggling bands and costume assistants. Another plus—Chet and Eddie aren’t black hat/white hat romantic choices but complex individuals.

A well-described setting adds strength to this coming-of-age novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9985202-0-9

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Earnest Parc Press

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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