An overly episodic story that still captures the fear, excitement, and eroticism of a young lesbian’s awakening in the 1940s.

Juliana

VOL 1: 1941-1944

In this debut historical novel, a girl seeks stardom on Broadway but instead discovers unexpected feelings when she meets a charismatic lesbian singer.

Alice “Al” Huffman has just graduated from high school in June 1941. She and her best friend, Aggie Wright, giddily depart the potato fields of Long Island for New York City, following their boyfriends Danny Boyd and Dickie Dunn. They all plan to act on Broadway except for Danny, who wants to write novels. For Al, moving is also a chance “to start my life away from the mother who tried to kill me” and to see new sights, such as celebrities and “real homosexuals.” The foursome’s prospects brighten when they meet Broadway producer Maxwell P. Harlington III, who offers his services. Soon, Al is intrigued and unsettled by Juliana Styles, a singer whose voice sounds “like warm milk slipping down the whole of my body,” but she tries to block out such thoughts. She believes that marrying Danny will give her security—but then she discovers Danny naked in Max’s apartment, and soon after, she has an encounter with Juliana, which results in Al’s first orgasm. Wartime brings changes to the foursome’s relationship, and Al’s misgivings about exploring her sexuality deepen. As the book ends, Al has new hopes, both for her producing career and for her relationship with Juliana. Playwright Vanda (The Forgetting Curve, 2014, etc.) offers a well-researched, richly textured look at LGBTQ life in 1940s New York City, a time when women could get into trouble just for wearing trousers. She gives a good sense of the gay world’s sub rosa signals, codes, secret celebrities, and in-jokes. Her dialogue, fittingly for a playwright, is sharp and does much to aid characterization and add historical flavor; for example, unsophisticated Al expresses her reactions to an erotic explosion with “Oh, gosh, gosh, oh, gosh, gosh.” However, the plot largely lacks structure; important encounters often happen by chance, and many events could have been shaped and condensed to greater effect.

An overly episodic story that still captures the fear, excitement, and eroticism of a young lesbian’s awakening in the 1940s.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5137-0221-6

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Booktrope Editions

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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