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GEEKS & GREEKS

An affectionate and entertaining glimpse at a renowned college’s offbeat campus life.

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In this graphic novel, an MIT freshman quickly finds himself immersed in the university’s long-standing tradition of elaborate pranks.

Jim Walden has had aspirations of becoming an astronaut since he was a child. His dream becomes a real possibility once he earns a full-tuition scholarship to MIT. He manages this with a viral video of himself solving a Rubik’s Cube, or at least that’s the effect he hoped to achieve. At MIT, senior Luke Bardolf spots Jim’s video trickery and uses it as blackmail. The university is notorious for student “hacks” (pranks), and each year the best one wins the anonymously bestowed Golden Dome trophy. If Jim doesn’t help fraternity Alpha Zeta Omicron garner its fourth consecutive Golden Dome, Luke will inform MIT of the apparent fraud. Jim accepts the terms though he’s reluctant, especially because, prior to his university admission, he had been kicked out of high school for a prank. He befriends fellow freshman Dexter Garfinkel, a socially awkward nerd who was recruited by AZO so he could do all the “problem sets” (homework) for the pledge class. As the days pass, the pledges pull—and occasionally suffer from—various hacks while Jim acts on his romantic interest in Natalie, a receptionist at a fertility clinic. But devising a trophy-winning hack takes a back seat to Luke’s incessant pranks, some of which blatantly violate MIT’s rules (including the one requiring nondestructive results). He and Jim initiate a prank war that could end up with someone seriously injured—or with Jim once again expelled from school. This novel from Altes (The Little Book of Bad Business Advice, 1997, etc.) and illustrator Fish (The Misadventures of Adam West, 2015, etc.) is a surprisingly lighthearted tale of college pranks. Altes explains in his introduction that, while the story is set in the smartphone era, some elements coincide with his time at MIT in the 1980s (for example, a lack of women on campus). It gives the book an old-school appeal, reinforced by blond Jim donning a red jacket and resembling James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Fish’s sharp, naturalistic images are gleefully offset by visual jokes, like the AZO trophy case housing a few Eisner Awards (comic-book awards). In the same vein, pranks are generally amusing, especially considering their complexities, and not outright malicious until the hack war begins. That conflict is also indicative of how pranks can go wrong. Altes’ introduction details the potential dangers of hacks as well as fraternity and sorority hazing. As MIT students populate the story, intellectual comedy is in abundance and, thankfully, never highfalutin. For example, when Luke presents the 12-sided Dice of Doom to determine a pledge’s specific punishment, someone wisely notes that, as there’s only one, it should be called the Die of Doom. Subplots give both the narrative and protagonist depth, such as Jim’s attempts to drop off food for the “bridge troll,” a burly, eccentric man who hangs out daily under the Harvard Bridge. Altes’ concluding notes list a wealth of information on Easter eggs and real-life prank inspirations.

An affectionate and entertaining glimpse at a renowned college’s offbeat campus life.

Pub Date: March 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9963504-4-0

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Relentless Goat Productions

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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