Toews captures the spurts and lurches of adolescent growth in a tale as crude and fresh as its subject matter.

A COMPLICATED KINDNESS

An amusing if somewhat rambling account by Canadian author Toews (Swing Low: A Life, 2001) of a teenaged girl growing up in the middle of nowhere.

All adolescents think they live in the dorkiest place in the world, but 16-year-old Nomi Nickle maybe really does. Her hometown of East Village, Manitoba, you see, is populated almost entirely by Mennonites, an austere Christian sect. East Village has a movie theater but no bars, discos, pool halls, McDonald’s, or Starbucks—and even the theater specializes in films about Menno Simons (who founded the religion and named it after himself). So it’s not really an MTV kind of place. But that doesn’t keep Nomi or her sister Tash from throwing themselves into the usual adolescent cauldron of hormones, scorn, and rebellion. Tash eventually runs away from home with her boyfriend Ian, and Nomi dreams of moving to the real East Village (in New York) and hanging out with Lou Reed. Even Nomi’s mother, Trudie, whose brother Hans (“the mouth”) is the town’s equivalent of the Pope, gets fed up with life among the elect and runs off to parts unknown, leaving Nomi alone with her sweet-hearted but ineffectual and very depressed father, Ray. Nomi copes by ignoring her studies, partying with the other slackers, and hanging out with her boyfriend Travis (who plays guitar and likes to run naked through wheat fields). It’s all on the gloomy side, but, if Nomi is to be believed, that’s what Mennonite life is all about (“A Mennonite telephone survey might consist of questions like, would you prefer to live or die a cruel death, and if you answer ‘live’ the Menno doing the survey hangs up on you”). Still, like any normal teenager, Nomi can’t imagine anything right about her family. Perhaps she’s the one who has the changing to do.

Toews captures the spurts and lurches of adolescent growth in a tale as crude and fresh as its subject matter.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2004

ISBN: 1-58243-321-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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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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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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