A wildly imaginative, occasionally haunting fantasy anchored by strong, evolving female characters.

BITS OF STRING TOO SMALL TO SAVE

A girl tumbles into a fantastical world imperiled by toxic babies, a shape-shifting disease, suspicious magic, dubious technology, and greedy entrepreneurs.

In this frequently giggle-out-loud debut novel for teens and adults, 10-year-old “persnickety” ElizabethAnn Von Earp leaves behind her late-21st-century arid, insecticide- and hot tar–smelling town to follow her free-spirited Grandma—and a talking monkey wearing a polo shirt and a gold watch—down an animal burrow that proves to be a portal to the failing kingdom of Bumblegreen. There, magic has been banned; portal travel to other worlds is punishable by death; parents have developed an allergy to their babies so severe that infants must be fostered by genetically engineered monkeys; and a disease causes animals to turn into humans. With nods to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there is a wealth of entertaining details to unpack here, and Peru keeps the narrative flowing, alternately shifting focus from ElizabethAnn to Grandma (a fugitive from Bumblegreen justice); monkey geneticist Zade Fandey; the duchess, a scheming hoarder (“to own is to exist”); wistful trout-turned-human Hank; pregnant cook Tammy, abandoned and seeking black magic vengeance; her seducer, Fast Eddie; Earl, the watch-wearing monkey; ElizabethAnn’s dog, Jackson; and Bumblegreen’s 13-year-old Queen Dahlia, who would rather make cheese than deal with affairs of state. Among her outlandish adventures, ElizabethAnn weathers capture by butterflies with dark intentions, a mad dash over the rainforest canopy, and a 20-foot growth spurt during a mob-fueled trial to depose the queen, eventually becoming aware that she has a stake in Bumblegreen’s survival. Indeed, the author deepens the fantasy with unexpectedly thoughtful moments as ElizabethAnn and Dahlia gain believable strength and insight over the course of the book. ElizabethAnn’s experience at one point with “the elusive nature of momentary inner peace,” tinged with sadness, is particularly evocative. The impressively creative novel is divided into four parts (“Five Syllables Worth of Girl,” “The Cumbersome Outriggings of Queenliness,” “The Understated Elegance of Impossible Tasks,” and “The Hue and Cry of a Bloodletting Mob”), each one introduced by an exquisitely detailed, pen-and-ink image by debut illustrator Harris.

A wildly imaginative, occasionally haunting fantasy anchored by strong, evolving female characters.

Pub Date: May 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-51348-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Pangloss Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2019

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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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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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