A promising concept from a talented writer, though the novel fails to deliver.


A high school trip to Washington, D.C., borders on bacchanal in Benincasa’s (Great, 2014, etc.) new novel.

Alicia Deats, a rookie teacher at Flemington High School, has no idea what she's getting herself into when she volunteers to chaperone the sophomore class trip. Though only 23 years old, she’s a hippie holdover, decked out in flowing skirts, political T-shirts, and Birkenstock sandals. Her motivations for signing up to chaperone, however, have little to do with the well-being of her students and more to do with the fact that Brian Kenner, the dreamy yet aloof math teacher, will be along for the ride. Much of the drama that occurs on the trip—including drug use, vicious fighting, and breaking curfew—occurs at the hands of two groups of rival teen girls. The action follows Rachel, Gertie, and Sivan—a tightknit though oddly matched group—as they sneak out after dark to try to make contact with Gertie’s crush from summer camp, who just happens to be in D.C. Along the way, they face off repeatedly with Brooklynn, Peighton, and Kaylee, the members of an enemy clique. The other students are mostly filler, though there are some touching scenes between the nerdy Carter Bump and the handsome and popular Brock Chuddford. The story of what occurs on the trip is framed within two emails sent by Alicia eight years later, an unnecessary structural choice that distances the reader. While Benincasa is well-known as a comedian, much of the humor feels contrived. The wordplay falls flat as many characters end up sounding the same: crass and sarcastic. Despite the dependence on a wide array of swear words, the teenage storyline feels juvenile, while the teachers’ comes across as uneven.

A promising concept from a talented writer, though the novel fails to deliver.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9960666-3-1

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Adaptive Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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


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.


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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