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

GEEKS & GREEKS

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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