An earnest, worthy, well-crafted debut.

A DISOBEDIENT GIRL

Human-rights activist Freeman considers selfhood, desire and social status in her first novel.

Purchased as a five-year-old and taken to a wealthy home in Colombo, Latha is raised to be a companion and servant to Thara. The girls are the same age, they live in the same house, but they grow up at opposite ends of Sri Lanka’s rigid class system. Latha gets encouragement from a teacher with communist leanings, and she takes inspiration from the example of Princess Diana, who worked as a nanny before she became royalty. Ultimately, though, she ends up using one of the only forms of power generally available to disenfranchised women: When her employers refuse to give her any of the money she has supposedly earned so that she can buy new shoes, she takes her revenge by seducing the upper-class boy Thara loves. This relationship does not work out quite the way it would on the soap operas that provide Latha with all her knowledge of romance. Meanwhile, Biso travels from the city to the countryside with her three children. She is fleeing her husband, who has murdered her lover. During her journey, she recalls the series of events that brought her to this unfortunate pass. Freeman does an outstanding job of depicting tragically circumscribed lives without turning her characters into cartoonish victims; the childhood scenes between Latha and Thara are especially subtle explorations of class dynamics. Latha is utterly aware of the disparity between her experience and that of her “mistress,” but she is—in the way of adolescents everywhere—too vain to be cowed. Thara’s unselfconscious sense of entitlement gives her relationship with Latha complex depths, and that relationship, in turn, reveals a great deal about the fluid, often paradoxical bond between ruler and ruled. Although Freeman has been an advocate for women and workers, she does not lecture the reader; she lets the story and her characters speak for themselves.

An earnest, worthy, well-crafted debut.

Pub Date: July 21, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0195-7

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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