A captivating Jewish twist on the classic American campus novel.


In Hopen’s ambitious debut, an Orthodox Jewish high school student finds his world transformed when his family moves to South Florida.

When protagonist Ari Eden leaves his bland life in Brooklyn—where he never felt deeply rooted—for a glitzy, competitive Modern Orthodox day school in the Miami suburbs, both readers and Ari himself are primed to expect a fish-out-of-water narrative. And indeed, Ari finds that his new classmates, though also traditionally observant by many standards, enjoy a lifestyle that is far more permissive than his own (a shade of Orthodoxy that is known as “yeshiva”). Suddenly Ari’s modest, pious world is replaced with a Technicolor whirlwind that includes rowdy parties, casual sex, drinking, drugs, and far more liberal interpretations of Jewish law than he has ever known. With its representation of multiple kinds of traditional Judaism, Hopen’s novel is a refreshing corrective to the popular tendency to erase the nuanced variations that exist under the umbrella of “Orthodoxy.” It also stands out for its stereotype-defying portrayal of Ari and his friends as teenagers with typical teenage concerns. But this is not just a novel about reorienting oneself socially or even religiously; though Ari’s level of observance certainly shifts, this is also not a simple “off the derech” (Jewish secularization) narrative. Ari’s new friend group, particularly its charismatic, enigmatic leader, Evan—a sort of foil for Ari—pushes him to consider new philosophical and existential norms as well as social, academic, and religious ones. The result is an entirely surprising tale, rich with literary allusions and Talmudic connections, about the powerful allure of belonging. This novel will likely elicit comparisons to the work of Chaim Potok: Like Potok’s protagonists, Ari is a religious Jew with a deep passion for literature, Jewish texts, and intellectual inquiry, and as in Potok’s fiction, his horizons are broadened when he encounters other forms of Orthodoxy. But Hopen’s debut may actually have more in common with campus novels like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Tobias Wolff’s Old School; its narrator’s involvement in an intense intellectual community leads him down an unexpected path that profoundly alters his worldview. The novel suffers due to its lamentably one-dimensional, archetypal female characters: the tortured-artist love interest, the ditsy blond, the girl next door. Hopen’s prose, and the scale of his project, occasionally feels overindulgent, but in that sense, form and content converge: This stylistic expansiveness is actually perfectly in tune with the world of the novel. Overall, Hopen’s debut signals a promising new literary talent; in vivid prose, the novel thoughtfully explores cultural particularity while telling a story with universal resonances.

A captivating Jewish twist on the classic American campus novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297474-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.


A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

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An inspirational novel about a disaster and an answered prayer by the author of The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003).

What if you call out for the Lord and he actually appears before you? Days after billionaire Jason Lambert’s luxury yacht Galaxy suddenly sinks in the North Atlantic with many illustrious passengers aboard, a few survivors float in a life raft. Among them is Benji, a deckhand who narrates the ordeal in a notebook while they desperately hope for rescue. Lambert is a caricature of a greedy capitalist pig who thinks only of himself and his lost ship and mocks Benji as “scribble boy,” but the main character is a young stranger pulled out of the water. “Well, thank the Lord we found you,” a woman tells him. “I am the Lord,” he whispers in reply. Imagine the others’ skepticism: If you’re not lying, then why won’t you save us? Why don’t you answer our prayers? I always answer people’s prayers, he replies, “but sometimes the answer is no.” Meanwhile, the ship’s disappearance is big news as searchers scour the vast ocean in vain. The lost survivors are surrounded by water and dying of thirst, “a grim reminder of how little the natural world cares for our plans.” Out of desperation, one person succumbs to temptation and drinks ocean water—always a bad mistake. Another becomes shark food. The Lord says that for him to help, everyone must accept him first, and Lambert, for one, is having none of it. The storyline and characters aren’t deep, but they’re still entertaining. A disaffected crew member might or might not have sunk the ship with limpet mines. And whether the raft’s occupants survive seems beside the point—does a higher power exist that may pluck believers like Benji safely from the sea? Or is faith a sucker’s bet? Lord knows.

Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-288834-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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