BLU'S HANGING

Yamanaka's giddy, bawdy, and genuinely moving second novel (Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, 1996) concerns three Hawaiian Huckleberry Finns, children left motherless and in poverty, who must fend for themselves against a harsh, indifferent world. When Ella Ogata dies, her husband Poppy vanishes into the drudgery of his menial night and day jobs, leaving 12-year-old daughter Ivah in charge. Ivah knows that everything is falling to pieces despite her efforts to feed the family on white-bread-and- mayonnaise sandwiches, with dinners of cold cream-of-mushroom soup poured over hot rice. Brother Blu is soon grotesquely overweight and drawn to an impressive panoply of local perverts. Little Maisie won't talk and wets her pants in school, where she is humiliated by some self-righteous Caucasian teachers. But setbacks or no, the children manage to create their own, often magical, world—one that is never lacking in energy and ingenuity (expressed in gloriously funny Hawaiian pidgin) and even allies (the kids' butch cousin Bib Sis and her schoolteacher girlfriend Sandi). They survive despite incursions from the feral Reyes family, a half-dozen violent, sex- happy sisters and their dope-dealing incestuous Uncle Paulo, who has his eye on both Maisie and, as it turns out, Blu. The plot turns on a secret that's revealed: Ella and Poppy were child lepers, raised in a remote colony, miraculously cured by sulfa drugs in 1949, afterward bravely (and vainly) trying to join the ``normal'' world—but then things hurtle toward melodrama as Ivah is about to depart for boarding school. Uncle Paulo chooses this moment to rape Blu, an act that leads Poppy to accuse Ivah of abandoning her family. Fortunately, Big Sis and Sandi are there to make everything right. A pungent mix of poetic observation and vulgar reality, and further evidence that a literary Renaissance is brewing out in Hawaii: Here's a novel that rejects exotic gush for an unflinching vision relayed by a unique voice. (For other Hawaii-set fiction, see Pamela Ball and Nora Okja Keller, above.)

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-11499-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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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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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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