THE GIRL I WANTED TO BE

Though marketed to an adult crowd, this story’s focus and the voice are unmistakably YA.

A family secret forces a gawky teen to grow up quickly, in McCandless’s second stab at fiction.

Fourteen-year-old Presley Moran has always worshiped her reckless Aunt Betsi, who gave her, among other gift she deems priceless, her cool name. It is the summer before Presley is to start high school, and, though nervous, she has two exciting family figures around who promise to help ease the transition: Aunt Betsi, who is recovering at Presley’s family’s cushy suburban house after a stint in rehab, and Barry, her handsome 17-year-old cousin who will be a senior and star football player at the same school. Presley nurses her awkward crushes on both, borrowing Betsi’s clothes and confiding in her about boys, and reveling in Barry’s nonchalant attention at school. But caught up in her own adolescent dramas, she doesn’t realize how much time Barry and Betsi are spending with each other—and how dangerous their relationship will become. When she realizes that these two idealized figures have been lying to her, Presley begins to question whom she can trust. Her parents have their own issues, her younger brother Peter is essentially a well-behaved robot and her school friends bail when her problems extend beyond gym class. In a surprising turn, she finds a confidante in Barry’s best friend, Jack, and realizes that painful discoveries can also bring comforting and happy ones. McCandless (Grosse Point Girl, 2004) does capture some of the nuances of adolescence, but while the story hangs together well, it isn’t deep enough to transcend the alienating tone of youth.

Though marketed to an adult crowd, this story’s focus and the voice are unmistakably YA.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-8518-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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