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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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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