A skilled first novel that chronicles a young Chinese-American woman's breakdown and recovery, and her concurrent exploration of her family's murky emotional landscape. When the story begins, 28-year-old Sally Wang is on 24-hour suicide watch at a mental institution that looks like the New England boarding school she once attended. With fellow patients like Lillith, who thinks that she's Joan of Arc, and 19-year-old Mel, who's flirty and prone to violence, Sally endures endless group therapy. Eventually, she begins to talk about her family. Originally from a small Chinese farming village, Sally's father had come to the US with dreams of being a physicist, but his sponsors died, and he ended up gloomy, frustrated, a failure. He also repeatedly raped Sally. Sally's tight-lipped mother didn't intervene and now, at family therapy, accuses Sally of having made up the incest thing. Sally's boy-crazy sister Marty also fails to support her. Sprung from the facility, Sally goes to St. Petersburg, Florida, for what turns out to be an experience in corrective parenting with her mother's less rigid sister Mabel and her husband Richard, who's respectful, generous, and amiable. Still feeling out of sorts, Sally sifts through memories of her unhappy marriage while clearing the yard of bruised grapefruits. She also begins an affair with a stranger that triggers, amidst much pleasure, the memories of the abuse, an advance over the all- encompassing numbness she's felt most of her life. Chao, meantime, never seems to be working hard to bring all this about: Her piercing eye for detail and her mastery of structure go almost unnoticed as Sally's adventures, ruminations, and memories layer one upon the next. But the novel's real strength is psychological portraiture. Every character (including the father) is multidimensional, carried along on deep currents of feeling of which they are often thoroughly (and believably) unaware. Moving, lively, relentless, and deeply sad: an uncommonly accomplished debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-06-018681-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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