A charity sends Jonas to live with the Martins, an evangelical family in Pennsylvania. There he attends high school, an...

THE BOOK OF JONAS

In Dau’s debut fiction, Younis, a perceptive, observant boy in a nameless Central Asian land, is caught up in the war on terror. His village has been destroyed, his family killed, and now he must remake himself as Jonas Iskander, refugee.

A charity sends Jonas to live with the Martins, an evangelical family in Pennsylvania. There he attends high school, an outcast, haunting the library to seal himself “inside a bastion of knowledge.” There he is also bullied, until he finally responds to an ugly attack by beating the bully senseless. The school mandates counseling, and the psychologist pressures Jonas to explore the trauma that destroyed family and home. Emotionally trapped between past and future, Jonas only remembers “half dreams that flicker.” Later admitted to the city’s university, Jonas meets a beautiful pre-med student from India and befriends other refugee students. He also begins to drink to the point of blackout. As the psychologist pushes Jonas to uncover suppressed truths about an American soldier who saved his life, the young refugee’s fractured recollections lead the counselor to connect Jonas' story with that of Rose Henderson, whose son, Christopher, went missing while in combat in Jonas’ home country. To Rose, trapped in a limbo of loss, Jonas reluctantly tells his story—of the attack on his village and of his mountain cave sanctuary where he was found by the soldier, “adding and subtracting, substituting what should have been said for what he fails to remember accurately.” While leaving one minor narrative thread dangling, Dau sketches Jonas brilliantly, empathetically, writing with spare, clear language in the third person, a point of view encompassing the distance necessary for emotional clarity. Rich with symbolism, marvelously descriptive in language—“the expression of a young boy playing poker with grown men”—Dau’s novel offers deeply resonating truths about war and culture, about family and loss that only art can reveal.

Pub Date: March 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-15845-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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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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