A dark, deeply stirring novel about the quiet tragedy of growing up in a broken family.


A Texas boy grapples with his parents’ estrangement in McNeely’s debut novel.

Eleven-year-old Buddy lives with his mother in 1970s Houston at a time when proper, white middle-class living means that mothers don’t work, parents don’t divorce, and white children don’t befriend the Mexican children down the street. Buddy’s young life has missed all these supposed marks of propriety: His mother, Margot, works in a hospital laboratory; his absentee father, Jimmy, has blown back into town and wants a divorce; and Buddy spends much of his time with his Latino best friend, Alex, who’s working on a film about a ghost horse. Buddy’s torment slowly, steadily grows throughout this sensitive novel as his immature father and his bafflingly stubborn mother make him choose between them again and again. His cold grandparents, meanwhile, only exacerbate the bitter divide. He finally tries to find solace in a new friendship with a fellow student whose home life is similarly caustic. As he struggles to survive the failures of the adults around him, he careens down a path of unhappiness and destruction. McNeely beautifully portrays the confusion of a boy doing his best to deal with matters that are beyond his understanding but fully capable of doing him harm (“He wishes a sheet of fire would cut through the yard; he wishes [his mother] would disappear. But the questions still pulse, there, in the darkness: What will happen when his father comes back?”). The author effectively shows how evil is not born but made; as the grown-ups continue to pile their burdens on him, something hateful begins to bloom in Buddy that wasn’t there before. Overall, the novel will be a haunting read for anyone who’s experienced the childhood anguish of divorce and a powerful reminder to mothers and fathers of the unseen damage that their behavior can inflict on their children.

A dark, deeply stirring novel about the quiet tragedy of growing up in a broken family.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1928589914

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Gival Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?