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FITTING OUT

THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT

A funny tale with great advice for those who “fit out,” not in.

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A boy has only a month before school starts to run friendship experiments in this illustrated children’s novel.

Maximilian Alexander McConk is 9.85 years old—he enjoys being precise—and is about to enter fourth grade. Although science makes sense to him, people don’t. Ever since preschool, his best friend Miguel has been the one who initiates conversations with other kids. Max isn’t shy all the time, but he’s self-conscious about not fitting in. Unlike most kids he meets, Max loves to read and gather facts, and he loves rhyming words. He also has a few other unusual quirks, such as wearing racing goggles and a cape, geocaching for fun, and taking banjo lessons. In sum, says Max, “Lonely + different + shy = YIKES!” After Miguel moves away, Max decides to use the scientific method to find new friend. He tries out several hypotheses, including changing his behavior in order to fit in with other kids, before eventually settling on just being himself. At first, his experiments at a nearby park end in tongue-tied embarrassment and flight, but he keeps trying. Max’s mother, referencing the “bee girl” in the music video for Blind Melon’s 1992 song “No Rain,” says that “you just need to find YOUR bees!” The advice eventually works, and Max celebrates his three new friends in rhyme: “I GET my new bros, and my new bros GET me, / and oh, by the way, one new bro is a SHE!” In her debut novel, author/illustrator Giles cleverly uses composition-notebook graphics to emphasize the science experiment format of the story. Max’s voice is believable, funny, and fresh—he sounds like he’d be a great kid to know. The book acknowledges, with compassion, how difficult it is for offbeat, shy kids to make friends, and it offers useful guidelines to “Finding YOUR Bees.” Its perspective on “fitting in” is also useful: “Just because I don’t fit IN doesn’t mean that I don’t fit somewhere.” The pleasingly jaunty illustrations depict a diverse group of kids with various skin tones; Max has “LOTS of curly black hair” and light brown skin.

A funny tale with great advice for those who “fit out,” not in.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948889-00-1

Page Count: 125

Publisher: Birch Books

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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