A highly recommended novel that appeals to both the heart and the head.

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LIFE LONG

To be fleeing cops and bad guys is scary enough, but imagine, as novelist Ruiz (Giuseppe Rocco, 2017, etc.) does, that you’re also schizophrenic—and on the run, as it were, from yourself.

The author tells his tale through the eyes and mind of Ray Lopez (aka Jimmy Ramirez), a poor kid from California’s Central Valley. Ray is a good kid who gets drawn into the schemes of his shady cousin, ex-con Billy Cisneros, which involve shepherding bags of cash. On top of that, Ray has recently had his first psychotic episode. The drug Zyprexa keeps him stabilized and keeps the voices at bay, but paranoid Ray feels that he has to get out of town, as he’s convinced that Billy’s associates or the cops are hot on his trail. He flees with a duffel bag of clothes and a gym bag full of C-notes. He makes it to Los Angeles and is advised by a fellow bus passenger that Mexico might mean safety—but he must go to Nuevo Laredo, not Tijuana or Juarez. So he boards a Greyhound bus (which he calls “ridin’ the Dog”); it’s a miserable trek, as Ruiz makes clear, for people who cannot afford to travel any other way. All the while, Ray is terrified of being found out and has precious few Zyprexa pills left. In Laredo, he warily makes friends with a street-wise kid named Joey Reyes, who offers to get him into Mexico to get his prescription filled. Ruiz is a strikingly good writer, and his chapter detailing Ray’s “break”—and the terrifying, evil voices in his head—is a sojourn in hell; readers will understand why Ray is in a panic to get his prescription refilled and why the voices terrify him. Obstacles multiply endlessly, and the descriptions of Ray’s long days and nights on the bus, and of the dreary and dehumanizing bus terminals, will likely make many readers deeply grateful for their better circumstances. Ruiz proves to be a very sharp social critic, and no detail gets past him in this richly imagined book.

A highly recommended novel that appeals to both the heart and the head.

Pub Date: June 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937484-53-8

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Amika Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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