This promising first novel stumbles too often for its young narrator to come fully to life.


A portrait of immigrant life in 1920s Chicago, focused on a Jewish girl’s coming-of-age, yields mixed results in short story writer Wineberg’s (Second Language, 2005) first novel.

Life in America for young, artistically inclined Lena Czernitski proves terribly difficult after her family flees violence in 1922 Russia, where her grandfather was murdered at the dinner table and people on the street chanted, “Peace, land and bread. Kill Jews and save Russia.” Arriving in Chicago at age 10, Lena writes lists of her fears, worrying at first about her safety and never learning English, evolving over six years to despair that she’ll never be happy again. Wineberg heaps endless tsuris, or troubles as the family calls them in Yiddish, upon Lena, her older brother, Simon, and her parents. A new hardship arises in almost every early chapter, including a lecherous relative, the death of a child, an anti-Semitic schoolteacher who threatens to fail Lena and mysterious strife between her hardworking parents. There are strong scenes of Lena in conversation with her father, who supports her talent for drawing but whose goodness is in constant question. Lena’s disgust with her mother’s pessimism, grief and need to keep secrets drives her to take risks to find happiness, and she does, dating a boy named Max and declaring that as an artist, “I wanted to rip open the world.” But Wineberg has Lena tell her story in the moment rather than in retrospect, devoting too little to Lena’s thoughts and reflections on her life. Weighed down in key moments by clichéd language, the book becomes an unfortunate series of repetitive scenes rather than a unified whole.  

This promising first novel stumbles too often for its young narrator to come fully to life.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9847648-1-5

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Relegation Books

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?