A novel that carefully presents an unusual situation, offering plenty of poignant moments along the way.

THE SECRET STRAND

In Eklund’s debut novel, a middle-aged cancer patient discovers a startling secret about her family while searching for information about her past.

After enduring an abusive childhood and, later, her own divorce, Jenna Waring pursued a successful career in social work; raised her son, Drew; and got happily married to her high school sweetheart. Now, as she approaches 50, her life is upended by a devastating diagnosis: stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As she begins the process of arranging treatment, telling the news to her family, and coming to terms with her condition, she’s buoyed by a new source of happiness—a previously unknown 3-year-old granddaughter named Violet. Jenna made the discovery through a DNA-sequencing service that listed them as close relatives. After corresponding with Violet’s mother, Maddy Kansel, Jenna learns that Violet was conceived using an anonymous sperm donor, who turns out to be Jenna’s son. Jenna has tremendous love for her son, but because of Drew’s reserved nature and difficulty expressing emotion, their relationship is somewhat delicate. Out of fear about Maddy’s motives, Drew forbids his mother from having any further contact with Violet. Jenna must now determine whether she can have a relationship with her granddaughter without driving her son away while knowing that her time left with her family is limited. Over the course of the novel, hints of magical realism, in the form of prophetic dreams, lend the story a mysterious quality and draw focus to considerations of the afterlife. Eklund’s treatment of the moral, social, and legal implications of DNA-sharing technology is also balanced and thought-provoking. Even more striking is the presentation of Jenna’s condition; her progression of emotions, from dismay to resolve and much in between, is relatable, and she retains an admirable humor and warmth of character throughout. The supporting cast, which includes Jenna’s husband, Sam; her best friend, Eric; and her beloved sister, Mary Grace, is fairly well conceived. However, the most stirring scenes are those between Jenna and Violet, as the elder woman rediscovers some of herself in her young granddaughter.

A novel that carefully presents an unusual situation, offering plenty of poignant moments along the way.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-983581-34-2

Page Count: 391

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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