A smart, highly entertaining update on a classic story.

THE BALLAD OF HUCK & MIGUEL

DeRoche reimagines Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in modern Los Angeles.

The story starts, like Twain’s, in St. Petersburg, Missouri. There, Huckleberry Finn is looking to get loose of his abusive father, Pap, who has a get-rich-quick scheme that involves moving to Los Angeles. Huck can’t get away before Pap bundles them both into their camper to head west. Soon, the youngster finds out that his father is involved in a drug deal, which goes sour. However, Huck and his new friend, Tom Sawyer, find a way for the LAPD to capture the drug kingpin; the boys collect a reward while Pap goes on the lam. A judge then puts Huck in the care of a lesbian couple, Miss Watson and Ms. Douglas, who try to “civilize” Huck, just as their namesakes did in the original novel. Huck also finds himself drawn to his new friend, Miguel, a stable hand and undocumented immigrant. Pap had always told Huck that so-called “Mexigrants” were ruining the country and that homosexuality was evil—but in Los Angeles, Huck sees the wrongness of these notions. Pap resurfaces to try to get some of Huck’s reward, and he injures Ms. Watson and Ms. Douglas in the process. Miguel defends Huck and fends off Pap, who appears to be dead. Because Miguel is undocumented, he can’t tell his side of the story to police. He and Huck wind up traversing LA’s man-made rivers, meeting helpful folks and rapscallions. Overall, this is a charming, politically minded tale. What DeRoche truly understands about the Huck Finn character is his outsider’s perspective. For example, the book addresses a range of explosive topics, such as religion, revolution, electoral politics, and even a bit of reality television, but because Huck is encountering all of these things for the first time, he has no preconceived notions about any of them. This allows the author to mine different situations for pointed humor without ever turning the narrative into an obvious polemic. Along the way, debut illustrator González’s occasional black-and-white, woodcut-style images are nice additions.

A smart, highly entertaining update on a classic story.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9992776-7-6

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Redtail Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2017

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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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