A magnificent tribute, not just to the Sarajevans whose siege Simon reported, but to the indestructible human spirit.

PRETTY BIRDS

More civilians die in today’s wars than soldiers. But this extraordinary debut illuminates a time and place where civilians fought back: Sarajevo, 1992.

How do you write a novel about the savage ethnic cleansing of the Balkan Wars that isn’t unbearably depressing? Simon (award-winning NPR journalist) has the answer. First, you focus on a sidebar story, with a sympathetic protagonist (the movie Hotel Rwanda took the same tack). Second, you don’t minimize the horror, but you get the worst of it out of the way early. Sarajevo’s agony began in April 1992, when the multiethnic, cosmopolitan city’s belief that it was immune to ethnic hatred was smashed like an eggshell. The protagonist here, 17-year-old Irena Zaric, is a high-school basketball star. Her father is Serb, her mother Muslim; her brother is out of the country. The remaining member of the family is Pretty Bird, a beloved parrot with an amazing repertoire of sounds. Serb paramilitaries roust the family from their apartment building; Mr. Zaric is roughed up; Irena is raped. They trek to a Muslim neighborhood only to find grandmother shot dead; they camp out in her apartment. No heat, no light. Irena is recruited as a sniper by the wily Tedic, who, as an assistant principal, understands the adolescent: her athlete’s reflexes make her ideal. In a coming-of-age no parent would wish on his or her child, Irena asks the hard questions: What about innocent Serbs? How are we different from Serb snipers? But she overcomes initial misgivings and excels at her work, and the story zips along with crisp dialogue and plenty of gallows humor. Simon has an eye for the telling detail (the fascination with Western pop icons) and for the larger picture: the ineffectual Blue Helmets (UN troops), the shaky alliance between Bosnian Muslims and fundamentalist Arabs. He even manages a cliffhanger ending.

A magnificent tribute, not just to the Sarajevans whose siege Simon reported, but to the indestructible human spirit.

Pub Date: May 3, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6310-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

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

BAREFOOT

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.

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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