Earnest and sensitive—to a fault.

DEAR ZOE

In an epistolary first novel about the process of grieving, a 15-year-old girl writes letters to the younger sister whose death she feels responsible for.

First-timer Beard hangs his story on the coincidence that Tess’s three-year-old half-sister Zoe was killed in a car accident in the Pittsburgh area just as thousands were dying on September 11, 2001. Tess, who describes herself as a mediocre student who wears lots of makeup, had been watching Zoe but left her alone in the front yard for a few minutes to watch the news on television. Now she is racked with guilt. Although readers may consider Tess’s relationship with her parents more loving and healthy than most, she feels increasingly disconnected from her beautiful, grief-stricken mother and educated, hard-working stepfather, David. She resents being excluded from their anguish and is particularly uncomfortable around David despite his obvious caring sensitivity. She claims she feels a stronger connection to her birth father, with whom she has never lived and whom she knows is a loser drifting from job to job. She draws closer to her other half-sister, Emily, a precocious first-grader who depends on her support; but after Tess discovers that her mother has been flirting with another man to relieve her own sorrow, Tess leaves her middle-class home to stay with her birth father in his run-down neighborhood. There, she becomes involved with Jimmy, the pot-smoking “bad boy” next door, and realizes her father is a small-time dealer. Though undisciplined and shady, Jimmy and her father are nothing if not protective and sensitive where she’s concerned. Smoking dope and carrying on with Jimmy, she begins to enjoy herself, until a series of events on the eve of her 16th birthday causes her repressed grief to bubble over.

Earnest and sensitive—to a fault.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03401-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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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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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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