No sign of sophomore slump in this masterful illumination of character.

MS. HEMPEL CHRONICLES

A subtle, dazzling novel about a fledgling middle-school teacher who reveals herself slowly, in layers, as if she isn’t quite sure how much to show—to her students, to their parents, to the reader.

Like a seventh-grade teacher on the first day of school, Ms. Hempel initially seems generic in this second novel from Bynum (whose debut, Madeleine Is Sleeping, was a National Book Award finalist in 2004). It’s as if she’s more of a type—the young schoolteacher who is just out of school herself—than an individual. But the individual emerges as the novel unfolds. Initially defined by her job, she gradually defines herself by so much more: her ethnicity (Chinese), her affinity for punk rock (the angrier and more abrasive the better), her family life (in her roles as a daughter and sister), her personal life (engaged, then not, then much later married and pregnant). There is so much elliptical richness in the multifaceted character of Ms. Hempel that every chapter in this short, taut novel brings revelation. As Ms. Hempel reveals herself to be “Beatrice” (and, much later, “Bea”), she struggles with how much of her life is appropriate to share with her students, for whom she is, inevitably, “the object of ferocious scrutiny.” Some of the choices that she makes suggest either her uniqueness or her inexperience—her assignment of This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff, with language perhaps not appropriate for seventh-grade readers; her sharing of her personal life in sex ed; her student evaluations written by the students themselves. So much is new for Ms. Hempel—she is new at being a teacher, new at being engaged (to a man whose sexual proclivities she neither shares nor understands), new at being an adult. These chronicles represent Ms. Hempel’s education, as the teacher discovers what it means to be herself.

No sign of sophomore slump in this masterful illumination of character.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-15-101496-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

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There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

TELL ME LIES

Passion, friendship, heartbreak, and forgiveness ring true in Lovering's debut, the tale of a young woman's obsession with a man who's "good at being charming."

Long Island native Lucy Albright, starts her freshman year at Baird College in Southern California, intending to study English and journalism and become a travel writer. Stephen DeMarco, an upperclassman, is a political science major who plans to become a lawyer. Soon after they meet, Lucy tells Stephen an intensely personal story about the Unforgivable Thing, a betrayal that turned Lucy against her mother. Stephen pretends to listen to Lucy's painful disclosure, but all his thoughts are about her exposed black bra strap and her nipples pressing against her thin cotton T-shirt. It doesn't take Lucy long to realize Stephen's a "manipulative jerk" and she is "beyond pathetic" in her desire for him, but their lives are now intertwined. Their story takes seven years to unfold, but it's a fast-paced ride through hookups, breakups, and infidelities fueled by alcohol and cocaine and with oodles of sizzling sexual tension. "Lucy was an itch, a song stuck in your head or a movie you need to rewatch or a food you suddenly crave," Stephen says in one of his point-of-view chapters, which alternate with Lucy's. The ending is perfect, as Lucy figures out the dark secret Stephen has kept hidden and learns the difference between lustful addiction and mature love.

There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6964-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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