A novel of resonant stories that combine to form a powerful meditation on race.

COLORS OF THE WHEEL

Kraft’s debut novel explores the nuances of race, color, sex and identity while telling the stories of several women in three close families.

African-American Grace Brown and Polish immigrant Mrs. Elliott live in the same Columbus, Ohio, apartment building. Mrs. Elliott’s own children are grown, but she helps look after Grace’s daughters and son. She’s a good friend to Grace, whose white husband abruptly abandoned her and their children a few years earlier. Grace’s daughters, Becky and Leah, are younger than Mrs. Elliott’s oldest daughter, Margo, but they befriend Keisha, Margo’s 22-year-old adopted daughter. Similarly, Keisha makes friends with Emma and Jennifer Douglas, the mixed-race children of Margo’s friends, and they become her surrogate sisters. The children eventually grow up and start their own lives, but the entire clan reunites to support Keisha when she’s put on trial for the murder of a young white man. Since Keisha has very dark skin, the varied members of her multiracial extended family fear the trial’s outcome. Kraft tells each of the characters’ stories through detailed vignettes set in different times and places, but they all maintain a sense of interconnectedness. The author’s prose is often skillful, although some readers may find that she relies too much on similes; however, her astute, expressive imagery makes up for this flaw (“her wild mane of hair fluffs around her head, an effect softened only by a wide multi-colored headband, so that she seems a cross between a washerwoman and an African queen”). Although the book addresses issues such as motherhood, sexuality and self-awareness, its primary focus is skin color and what its spectrum means to those who fall within its many nonwhite shades. Some readers may feel that the many specific descriptions of characters’ skin colors seem repetitious; however, by using this device, Kraft refuses to allow readers to forget, even for a moment, about the impact of color in today’s society. Overall, she has produced a novel that’s certain to inspire and inform much-needed discourse.

A novel of resonant stories that combine to form a powerful meditation on race.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0741499905

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Infinity Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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